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The Railroad Comes to Salisbury
In the 1820s the roads the stagecoaches took in North Carolina were notoriously bad. Heavy rains washed the roads away, and mail delivery was often delayed. The route from Goldsboro to Charlotte took three and one-half days even in fair weather. It was not cost effective for farmers to haul crops to larger cities. Where plank roads existed, they provided a much speedier journey, but North Carolina was slow to utilize these. The first serious railroad proposal in North Carolina came around 1828. A line in Charleston, South Carolina, and a line in Maryland were already under construction. Joseph Caldwell proposed a state-wide mountain to sea system at a meeting in Chatham County in August of that year. Over 200 attended. This project did not get off the ground for nearly 20 years.
In 1840, two railroad lines opened in the eastern part of the state. The Raleigh and Gaston connected Raleigh to Gaston on the Roanoke River and the Wilmington and Weldon line linked the port of Wilmington to Weldon, also on the Roanoke. In the 1850s construction finally began on the North Carolina Railroad. The first segment from Charlotte to Goldsboro would connect with the Wilmington and Weldon at Goldsboro and the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad in Charlotte. Track and supplies were delivered to complete the western end by the via the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad and to the eastern end via the Wilmington and Weldon line. Track laying went slowly, but each crew worked towards the center, at first completing only about one and one-half miles per week. The Salisbury Banner reported that the company had employed 55 hands to lay the track above Charlotte, the maximum amount they could use efficiently.
The Carolina Watchman ran an advertisement on December 21, 1854, telling the people of Salisbury that on January 4, 1855, a Railroad Barbecue would be held to celebrate the arrival of the railroad in Salisbury. Rufus Barringer led a procession from the courthouse to the depot, which was still unfinished. Brass bands from Salisbury and Concord played while the first locomotive arrived at 11 AM. There were speeches by Judge John W. Ellis and John Motley Morehead. All in all, 24 hogs, 16 sheep, and assorted other animals were served with 1400 pounds of bread and a ball was held at Murphy’s Hall. The huge turnout estimated at up to 15,000 people exceeded the barbecue and the sleeping accommodations available.
The two ends of the line were connected a year later east of Greensboro. The North Carolina Railroad line between Goldsboro and Charlotte, carried passengers, freight, and mail, and by 1856, ran daily. Construction of the Western North Carolina Railroad was begun in Salisbury in 1857, and the town became a junction. A joint freight and passenger depot was planned. The line was to extend to the Tennessee border, but by 1861 had only reached Morganton, when work was halted due to the war. The railroads brought some prosperity to Salisbury; in 1857, a manufacturer of wheat fans, two farm implement factories, a railroad car shop for the Western North Carolina Railroad, and a distillery opened. The economy shifted with the coming of the railroad; farming went from an emphasis on subsistence crops to cash crops, and the railroads brought in ready made consumer goods, made travel easier, and even brought entertainments such as the circus to railroad towns.
The Civil War left the railroads in North Carolina in disarray. The Western North Carolina Railroad was built and operated by the State of North Carolina until they sold the line in 1886 to the Richmond and Danville Railroad. In 1894, it was bought by the Southern Railway, which operated the line from 1896-1975.
The North Carolina Railroad is now a management company owned by the State of North Carolina. It owns a railroad corridor extending from Morehead City through Raleigh and Greensboro and terminating in Charlotte.
Two of NCRR’s Presidents were from Salisbury and were quite influential in its management. Charles F. Fisher served as president from 1855-1861 and Nathaniel Boyden served from 1865-66.
Trelease, Allen W. The North Carolina Railroad 1849-1871 and the Modernization of North Carolina Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
North Carolina Railroad Company Corridor http://www.robl.w1.com/pix-6/ncrr-pix.htm
History of Western North Carolina - Chapter XX – Railroads By John Preston Arthur, 1914 http://www.ls.net/~newriver/nc/wnc20.htm