September 2013 Article

Back in April we started telling the tale of Esmont and how it was founded and now we continue on with the story on how Esmont grew as the interchange point between the C&O and the N&A...
This Month's Article - September 2013
Tales of Esmont, Part 2 
From the 1890's, Esmont was experiencing vibrant growth for the small village area.  The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway had taken ownership of the Alberene Railroad and when the Nelson & Albemarle Railway Esmont 1917 Viewwas formed and agreements reached between the two railroads, the interchange point became Esmont with the N&A leasing that part of the line extending to Alberene and the soapstone mill.  Those early years around the turn of the century were ones of growth with many small businesses and industrial companies setting up operations in the immediate area.  To support this growth in the area, several general and hardware stores opened either directly in town or nearby including the Esmont Bank.  While the discovery of slate deposits had been one of the reasons that the Alberene Railroad was formed, the merger of the soapstone companies provided greater rail traffic and a competitive shipping arrangement for moving soapstone products out to the world.  By 1917, the C&O had a turntable to turn their local engine unlike the Nelson & Albemarle Railway which traditionally bought saddle tank locomotives designed with pilot and headlamps on both ends removing the need to turn the engine.  In the diagram, you can see how each railroad had it's own bypass track so that a train could be 'made up' and the engine either moved around the cars or turned by the C&O to head in the right direction.  This interchange point would be less important as the N&A started to handle trains through to Warren and the N&A would service not only the local pulpwood industry, but also the Slate Works.  Regardless of the great economic conditions that brought business & industrial companies into the area, the Great Depression had the greatest negative impact for the community.  The bank closed.  While most people think of the Great Depression as starting in October 1929, it was 1933 when the locality faced tremendous risk.  Not only was the financial fortunes lost to many people, the N&A lost business records that were held in the bank when they were unceremoniously dumped in a field near town.  Of little value at the time (and of huge historical value now) there was no one to collect and deliver the records to the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  As well, the records of other local companies were likely lost at the time possibly including those of the Lane Construction Company.  The people around Esmont were also different than people in big cities.  Negative financial consequences pulled people together rather than splintering the population.   However, it took the entry of the country into the second great war to bring contracts back to lower-Albemarle and Nelson and allow the railroad to resume pre-depression style operations.  Post-war business boom allowed the N&A to start acting like a big railroad instead of a 17-mile short line and the first new equipment was ordered since 1920.  30 years had elapsed when the railroad ordered it's first diesel (this would be the only locomotive ordered by the railroad as all earlier and later equipment was purchased by the soapstone company).  This meant much for Esmont as the diesel was much cleaner than the steam locomotives that plied the lines through the industrial period of first 1st half of the century.  Later in the 1950's this would again become an issue as the Slate Works would shut down over air pollution issues.  Notably, the first #1 diesel would feature Esmont in full-page ads for Caterpillar Railroad Diesels showing the locomotive before yellow stripes were added front and rear after an accident with a car while crossing State Route 6 nearby.  Esmont would change however as the nation changed to a more mobile society for both individuals and businesses.  With improved roadways and the advent of the Interstate Highway system starting in 1958 under the Eisenhower administration, trucks would become the preferred method of shipping soapstone products and the need for the interconnection to the C&O Railroad ended.  In 1963 the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, founded in 1903, would cease to operate and all of it's equipment would be shipped out (leaving few remnants of it's existence such as a Combine and Ballast car from the C&O sitting forlorn on sidings in Schuyler).  Esmont, like many small railroad towns, would be left behind with torn up roadbed, an aged depot and only memories of a time when commerce was it's mainstay.  A recent visit to Esmont revealed a quiet community with a field where the C&O rail lines and turntable once existed and a grassy patch spread through the middle of town that once held the Nelson & Albemarle Railway lines end terminus.
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