October 2012 Article

This Month's Article - October 2012
Tales of Warren, VIrginia

Warren, Virginia was an important point on the James River & Kanawha Canal with a ferry connecting farmers from south of the James River with the important transportation hub. While nearby Scottsville had been founded in 1744, Warren Mill was established along Ballenger Creek in 1792. This point of convergence for commerce took on even more importance with the sale of the canal property to the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad in May of 1880. Warren would be a most important waypoint on the rail line that would become the James River Division of the Chesapeake & Ohio within the following 18 years. The early days of canal travel are remembered well in Canal-Boat Days in Virginia, an article by Marshall Fishwick in West Virginia History: A Quarterly Magazine (Volume XVI, Number 3; April 1955) published by their State Department of Archives and History, where “Much has been written about the leisurely and pleasant travel on the ‘very elegant’ boats, which by law were limited to four miles per hour…”. The failure of the canal financially led to the eventual and logical sale to railroading interests which used the towpath as right-of-way. A station was founded along the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad at Warren and the Alberene Railroad would eventually extend northward into Southern Albemarle County following along or nearby to Ballenger Creek until diverging to reach the Albemarle Soapstone Company mill at Alberene. The ferry would continue to bring agricultural freight into Warren making this a vibrant hub. The depot, shown in this copyrighted C&O Valuation Photo (available from the C&O Historical Society, cohs.org) , may have been constructed by the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad, but the earliest noted reference is from 1901 with the C&O not mentioning the origin of the structure.

The evolution of this area in a time when rail was the primary mode of transportation was evident in the number of stores and taverns that would be founded immediately adjacent to the railroad properties. Today, much of this is but a memory though Warren Mill still exists today but as a rental property for families seeking to get away from the bustle of life. The terrain around the depot rises quickly from the depot’s 295’ above sea level to more than 400’. Views of the area show these hills sloping upward nearby but falling to Ballenger Creek along the route chosen by Henry L. Lane for the Alberene Railroad to follow. A flat profile view of the area drawn by the Electrical Cooperative shows the depot, Stores, Post Office, Water Tower, Cattle Pen, Pulpwood Yard, a Garage and what looks to be a Corn Crib. In the close up detail shown here, it’s easy to see that the focal of the area is the railroad depot. Thanks to Mark Chase of Richmond, Virginia for sharing this profile.

The C&O James River Division was double-tracked from east of Warren to some distance westward as a passing track.There aren’t a lot of photographs of the Warren area so the ones available from the C&O Historical Society, cohs.org such as the Water Tower are valuable resources for both modelers and historians alike. The continued effort to locate and secure photographs and postcards defining the area served by the Nelson & Albemarle Railway during the very early years from 1900 to 1920 of the rail lines existence has always been ongoing though without much success. A trip to the area in the early 1990’s proved that ghost towns get blown away in the wind as the only remaining structures nearby were some homes, Warren Mill (there since the 18th century) and otherwise quite barren with the depot having been razed during the 1970’s.

The depot was of a standard design well documented by Walter G. Berg, C.E. in his book, Buildings and Structures of American Railroads as a Combination Depot, Class “A” of the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad shown on page 251 in Chapter 19: Combination Depots. While the book was originally published by John Wiley & Sons as A Reference Book for Railroad Managers, Superintendents, Master Mechanics, Engineers, Architects, and Students, it was also excerpted in several volumes of “Train Shed Cyclopedia” with this specific section found in Number 24, Buildings and Structures of American Railroads, 1893 (Part 4) as reprinted from the Original Edition by Newton K. Gregg, Publisher in October, 1974.

John Farmer and Mark Kearney, students of K. Edward Lay, who at the time was Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia, were part of student teams that documented many structures in the immediate area of the university including the C&O’s Warren Depot. Though digitized versions of these documents were created for the Library of Congress, somehow the digitization of Warren Depot’s seven drawings would not occur until the Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society paid the Library of Virginia (Commonwealth of Virginia library) to have the work done during this past summer (NEARHS will donate the digitized images to the Library of Congress in December). Drawing 5 of the set is shown here denoting the floor plan as existing when the survey was undertaken. K. Edward Lay is the Cary D. Langhorne Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Virginia and while being an Historic Preservation Consultant since 1967 he is also now Architecture Advisor to the National Park Service.

One of my favorite photos of the Warren Depot is from December 18th, 1962 and found in the Virginia Tech Library at http://imagebase.lib.vt.edu/imagebase/drake/full/DR021.jpg of C&O engine 6271 standing on the track next to the station. This is from the Drake Railroad Photograph Collection and has the date stamped as shown on the photograph. What makes this photo of interest is the little locomotive sitting between the building and the C&O engine. In this closeup of the Drake Collection photograph, you can clearly see a Nelson & Albemarle diesel at the terminal. My original view of this had me thinking it was N&A #1, a GE 44-ton diesel that went for about 2 years before having visibility stripes added to both ends to help prevent grade crossing accidents. This locomotive, in 1962, does not seem to have those stripes and is likely the similar looking N&A #2, a GE 35-ton diesel one year newer than the 44-ton unit.

Visiting Warren, Virginia today you’ll find some homes nearby, the Warren Mill (now used as a Bed & Breakfast) but not much more. The area where the depot once stood is now overgrown with weeds, the trains still rumble by on the James River Division line but the vibrant commercial community that once stood here is no longer present.

Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2012 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.