May 2012 Article

This Month's Article - May 2012
The Richmond & Alleghany Railroad
Before James Serene moved to Albemarle, Virginia to purchase land and build a soapstone works in a village that would later become Alberene, the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad was chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia to purchase the properties of the James River and Kanawha Canal company.  This creation of a railroad line along the James River provided for a much needed conveyance for farmers, merchants, and industrial enterprises that would allow new markets to be tapped and to continue the tradition started by the canal of a freight and passenger route connecting the larger cities of Virginia and allowing interchange with other railroads which reached across the nation.  In May of 1880, the Richmond & Alleghany was presented with a deed to the canal and a requirement to build the railroad from Richmond to Clifton Forge, Virginia within 16 months. According to the Hinton News (WV) newspaper column, "Railroad Recollections" by Roy C. Long in the October 17th, 2006 issue, "Construction began immediately and by June 1881, a total of 175 miles of track had been laid using the old tow path of the canal for a roadbed.  The work was progressing at a rate of two miles a day and was expected to reach Clifton Forge within the next two months." 
B257cdB25 -  Richmond and Alleghany Railroad begins laying railroad track on the tow path of the old James River and Kanawha Canal tow path ca. 1880.
B257cdB25 - Richmond and Alleghany Railroad begins laying railroad track on the tow path of the old James River and Kanawha Canal tow path ca. 1880.  (Use of photo courtesy the Scottsville Museum)
The approximate 77 miles between Richmond and Warren, Virginia where the future Alberene Railroad would eventually interchange, was completed in the first months.  The Scottsville Museum graciously provided the photograh here of ties being set out for the commencement of laying track along the canal tow path near the town.  Warren was an important point on the former James River Canal where a cable ferry had been founded crossing the river allowing access to the canal for farmers and merchants from the south side.  Warren was also situated along Ballinger Creek which flowed into the James River and alongside which the route
of the Alberene Railroad would be built northward to serve the Albemarle Soapstone Company.
While the history of the canal in many documents show that George Washington surveyed the original canal and path, in the book, "History of the James River & Kanawha Company" by Wayland Fuller Dunaway, Associate Professor of History at The Pennsylvania State College, published by Columbia University (Press), September, 1922, it states "The first survey of the route of the canal was perfomed by Eliot Lacy in 1786."  It is from this survey that the canal is engineered and the tow path graded.  Professor Dunaway accomplished the majority of his research for his book in the Virginia State Library and this survey detail came from an article in the Richmond Standard (newspaper) on February 15, 1879, entilted "Canals" by R. A. Brock.   As a new railroad working to grow traffic as the line was being progressed and completed, the R&A pursued new avenues of creating that revenue by seeking out opportunities for new businesses to locate along the line. By June of 1881, the Baltimore Sun newspaper was reporting that "Professor J. L. Campbell of Washington & Lee University had been hired by the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad in the capacity of geologist to investigate scientifically, the mineral deposits that might exist along the valley of the James River."  Like any railroad the Richmond & Alleghany worked to increase traffic flow on the line by working to identify and expand industrial opportunities in the immediate areas along the route.  It is this marketing of the possible commercial businesses that made connecting with the R&A look favorable to industrial concerns and this would eventually entice the connection of the Alberene Railroad to this route rather than continuing to seek the Virginia Midland/Southern Railway (1894 on) to build over Fan Mountain to reach the soapstone works. As the canal tow path became the rail line between Richmond and Clifton Forge, this water level route would provide for an easy eastbound flow of trains once the rail line was completed.  It is this advantage that allowed the R&A to also become a target for acquisition by the C&O Railway within the first years of the R&A's operations.  The C&O route to and from the coal mines of West Virginia was greatly enhanced by being able to bring long, heavy coal trains down the mountains and to Newport News, Virginia by the water-level route beside the James River.  In continued use today, this remains the Eastbound preferred route to Richmond and cargo ships serving other parts of the United States and other countries. 
Warren, west of Scottsville on the James River, would become the interchange for the Alberene Railroad and later of course, the C&O Alberene Division which would be operated by the Nelson & Albemarle Railway between 1903~05 and 1963. 
The Richmond & Alleghany likely built a station at Warren, however, the station most frequently noted at Warren is a depot referenced as built in 1900 by the C&O Railway (as identified by the C&O Historical Society,  In the photo here as obtained from the Scottsville Library ( former Howardsville native, Alan Bruns (who was a telegraph operator) is shown standing near the C&O depot at Warren in the 1940's era. 
Next month, we'll pick up with the next segment on the terrain of the Nelson & Albemarle with the building northward from Warren of the Alberene Railroad.
Send email to if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2012 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.