September 2019 Article

This Month's Article:  September 2019
Continuing to Build the new Nelson & Albemarle Railway Map
For five years, a search was made seeking details on the Nelson & Albemarle Railway track arrangement at Rockfish, Virginia.  Creation of a new Nelson & Albemarle map was started but then stalled as the detail for Rockfish was no where to be found.  Key to the new map was the plans for inclusion of various elements in the lifecycle of both the predecessor lines and the Nelson & Albemarle Railway's own evolution.  The time period in question runs between 1901 and 1944 and featured the Schuyler Railway, the electric line originally established to support rail transport between the Rockfish Depot and the soapstone mill at Schuyler, Virginia and the rebuilt line providing proper roadbed for the Nelson & Albemarle steam trains that would include the former electric trolleys as part of operations from 1903 to 1944 when a serious flood of the Rockfish river and valley did irreparable harm to the rails and roadbed. There was so much damage that any option to rebuild that line was a financial impossibility if the same route was utilized.  Thus ended the rail service between Rockfish and Schuyler and the move to have all rail transport served by the C&O interchange in Esmont/Warren.   Because the line to Rockfish was not well documented in photographs, the importance of securing any detail became paramount to creating that new map.  As mentioned earlier this year, a new source was identified and purchased to support as much detail as could be possible for the early era when the Schuyler Railway was in service. 
This Soils Map, developed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Soils, was based on a U. S. Geological Survey Sheet (map) of 1892 identified as the Buckingham Sheet.  The soil survey (Field Operations) was conducted by Charles N. Mooney and F. E. Bonsteel in 1902 and the map is dated that same year.  Fortunately also shown on the Soils Map are railway lines, roadways, and significant buildings (which includes the soapstone mill building at Schuyler, the Southern Railway depot at Rockfish, and the soapstone warehouse at Rockfish where the trolley line ran through the center of the building just across the tracks opposite the Southern Railway depot).  As noted in 2015 only  a year after our search for detail on the Rockfish trackage began, it was noted that the new map was using 7 sources to compile data but that list grew to 10 sources over the last year and they are shown here in chronological order:

1. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Soils, Virginia, Buckingham Sheet, Soils Map, dated 1902 - a single 20" x 30" map of portions of Albemarle, Nelson, and Buckingham Counties in Virginia (color enhanced for soil definitions)
2. Right of Way / Track / Valuation Maps of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, 1915 (as found in the National Archives) - Four full size drawings with track detail
3. Topographic Map of Virginia, Covesville Quadrangle, surveyed in 1926 with topography by E. I. Ireland - standard topographic map showing elements of industry that were removed in later publication of the same map
4. Steam Locomotive and Railroad Tradition (magazine), May 1963 -  Article: An Upcountry Romance: A reminiscence of the N&A by H. Reid; A system diagram depicting all things N&A
5. C&O Historical Newsletter, September 1977 - Volume IX, Number 9 -  Article: The Story of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway Company - including a "Map of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway Company and Connections"; A general map of the system & interchanges
6. The Short Line: The Journal of Shortline & Industrial Railroads - Volume 6, Number 1; TSL #31 (magazine), January/February 1978 - Article: Nelson & Albemarle Railway - Alberene Stone Co. - by Ed Fielding including very general system map (with scale) and Commonwealth of Virginia outline noting where the rail line and accompanying system map was generally located
7. Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette, March/April 1989 - Article: The Story of Alberene Stone and Its Railroads by Garth G. Groff; includes track diagrams at terminals Warren, Esmont
8. Soapstone Shortlines: Alberene Stone and it's Railroads (booklet), 1991 by Garth Groff (separate publication from Drop Leaf Press); System route and track diagrams
9. Soapstone Shortlines: Alberene Stone and it's Railroads (book - unpublished), circa 1991 - Garth Groff's 'unpublished' full manuscript of the condensed booklet version from the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia includes additional track diagrams which were consulted for detail
10. C&O Historical Magazine, April 1992 - Volume XXIV, Number 4 - Article: Nelson & Albemarle: Early Days on a Soapstone Shortline; early system route and interchanges

As part of this discovery, the Alberene Railroad was also shown on the map but with a route along the creek rather than direct through Esmont.  This was important to note as there was no mention of the rebuilding of the Alberene line in N&A history, but may have been done to service other industry (slate mill at Esmont) by the C&O leading into Esmont.  To identify whether the C&O actually made this change will require some serious research in the C&O Historical Society records that were donated to them by the railroad.  The view shown shows the line coming out of Warren, going west of Esmont and then circling into the north end of Alberene.  One thing that should be added to the map (or wait for a later update) is the route difference between what was originally laid out for the Alberene Railroad and the roadbed/tracks that were then laid to have the line come through Esmont along side the Lane Brothers Construction Company building (across the roadway from the Esmont Depot).

It's unfortunate that photographs of the early days of Rockfish were not plentiful.  There is a single photograph of some early buildings on the Rockfish Depot side of the tracks (west) but nothing showing the soapstone warehouse on the east side of the Southern Railway tracks.  The Southern Railway depot had two photographs that were found during this search, one from 1957 and the other unidentified as to the date taken.  The addition of this Soils Map provided great data to allow continuation of the new N&A map's detail.  There are now more questions (Alberene Railroad to N&A) that will also have to be researched to finish this overall view of the N&A and it's predecessors but it may have to be an updated version for the future.

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