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Virginia Central Railroad was chartered as the Louisa Railroad in 1836 by the Virginia Board of Public Works and had its name changed to Virginia Central Railroad in 1850. It connected Richmondmarker with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at Gordonsvillemarker in 1854, and had expanded westward past the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah Valleymarker as the American Civil War began in 1861.

Heavily damaged, it was rebuilt after the War, and merged with the Covington and Ohio Railroad in 1868 to form the new Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O). Under the leadership of Collis P. Huntington, the C&O line was completed to the Ohio River in 1873, and the Peninsula Extension was built east from Richmond to reached the harbor of Hampton Roadsmarker at Newport Newsmarker by 1882.


The eastern terminus of the Virginia Central was originally at Hanover Junction (now known as Doswell)marker with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. The charter of that line protected it from construction of a parallel competitor, and a Virginia Supreme Courtmarker decision was necessary before the Virginia Central was allowed to extend its tracks easterly through Hanovermarker and Henricomarker Counties to reach Richmondmarker.

From Gordonsville, the Virginia Central was originally planned to connect Eastern Virginia with Harrisonburgmarker, crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains at Swift Run Gapmarker, but construction costs were prohibitive. Instead, the route was redirected to Charlottesvillemarker.

The Commonwealth of Virginiamarker, always keen to help with "internal improvements" not only owned a portion of Virginia Central stock, but incorporated and financed the Blue Ridge Railroad to accomplish the hard and expensive task of crossing the first mountain barrier to the west. Rather than attempting the more formidable Swift Run Gap, under the leadership of the great early civil engineer Claudius Crozet, the state-owned Blue Ridge Railroad built over the mountains at the next gap to the south, Rockfish Gapmarker near Afton Mountainmarker, using four tunnels, including the 4,263-foot (1,312m) Blue Ridge Tunnelmarker at the top of the pass, then one of the longest tunnels in the world.

While the Blue Ridge Mountain section was being breached, the Virginia Central was busy building westward from the west foot of the mountains, across the Shenandoah Valleymarker through Stauntonmarker and a water gap at Goshenmarker at Great North Mountainmarker, reaching a point known as Jackson's River Stationmarker, at the foot of the Alleghany Mountains (note that in Virginia Alleghany is spelled with an "a"), in 1856. This is the site that would later be called Clifton Forgemarker.

The road eventually connected Richmond to the southwestern Shenandoah Valleymarker at the point where the proposed Covington and Ohio Railroad would have started. To finish its line across the mountainous territory of the Alleghany Plateau (known in old Virginia as the "Transmountaine"), the Commonwealth again chartered a state-subsidized railroad called the Covington and Ohio Railroad. This company completed important grading work on the Alleghany grade and did considerable work on numerous tunnels over the mountains and in the west. It also did a good deal of roadway work around Charleston on the Kanawha River. Then the American Civil War intervened, and work was stopped on the westward expansion.

Civil War

During the war the Virginia Central was one of the Confederacy's most important lines, carrying food from the Shenandoah region to Richmond, and ferrying troops and supplies back and forth as the campaigns surrounded its tracks frequently. On more than one occasion it was used in actual tactical operations, transporting troops directly to the battlefield. The Blue Ridge Tunnels and the Virginia Central were key tools in the fast mobilization of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's famous "foot cavalry". But, it was a prime target for Federal armies, and by the end of the war had only about five miles of track still in operation, and $40 in gold in its treasury.

Post bellum

After the War, the Virginia Central Railroad was merged with the Covington and Ohio Railroad in 1868 to form the new Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, headed by former Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham. He needed to find adequate financing to resume the westward work through the challenging mountainous terrain, as the Virginia Board of Public Works was no longer in a position to help as it had in the past. After failing in the impoverished southern states and with British investors, Wickham found new capital and financing by recruiting Collis P. Huntington, one of the so called "Big Four", a group of businessmen who had recently completed the western portion of the transcontinental railroad. Under Huntington's leadership, and with millions in new financing from New York Citymarker, westward construction resumed. Virginia deeded over the Blue Ridge Railroad to the new C&O in 1869.

The final spike ceremony for the 428-mile long line from Richmond to the Ohio River was held on January 29, 1873 at Hawk's Nest railroad bridge in the New River Valley, near the town of Anstedmarker in Fayette County, West Virginiamarker.

Coal to Newport News

Huntington was also aware of the potential to ship eastbound coal from West Virginia's untapped natural resources with the completion of the new railroad. His agents began acquiring property in Warwick County in eastern Virginia. In the 1880s, he oversaw extension of the C&O's new Peninsula Subdivision, which extended from the Church Hill Tunnel in Richmondmarker southeast down the peninsula through Williamsburgmarker to Newport News, where the company developed coal piers on the harbor of Hampton Roads. to extend the C&O to what would become new coal piers at Newport Newsmarker.

In 1889 the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad company, which had been built along the tow-path of the defunct James River and Kanawha Canal, was merged into the C&O, giving it a down grade "water level" line from Clifton Forgemarker to Richmond, avoiding the heavy grades of North Mountain and the Blue Ridge on the original Virginia Central route. On this line, trains descend nearly 1,000 in elevation to Richmond (54 feet elevation) following the path of the river. This "James River Line" became the principal artery of eastbound coal transportation down to the present day, with earlier Virginia Central line used for westbound empty hoppers. From the convergence of the lines in Richmond, both eastbound and westbound coal trains utilize the Peninsula Subdivision through Williamsburg to service the coal piers in the East End of Newport News.

Modern times

In modern times, portions of the Virginia Central Railroad are in use by CSX Transportation and the Buckingham Branch Railroad, a Virginia-based short-line railroad.

Other uses of the Virginia Central name

  • Many years after the original Virginia Central became part of the Chesapeake and Ohio in the 1868, another railroad between Fredericksburgmarker and Orangemarker used the name "Virginia Central." The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad (PF&P RR) operated 38 miles (61 km) of 3 foot gauge railroad between Fredericksburg (with a connection to the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad) and Orange (with a connection to the Orange & Alexandria railroad). It operated as narrow gauge until after World War I. In 1926, the line was standard gauged and the name changed to the Virginia Central Railway. In 1938, the entire line was abandoned except for a one mile segment in Fredericksburg which lasted until 1983.
  • In the 1990s, an excursion company headed by Jack Showalter assumed the historic name Virginia Central Railroad, and operated trips on CSX Transportation tracks from a base in Staunton, Virginiamarker. Increased liability insurance requirements forced suspension of the trips and the equipment into storage. In February, 2005, preparations were underway to relocate some of the historic rolling stock of the excursion company to the Science Museum of Virginiamarker in Richmond, but that plan fell through. The equipment was is storage in Staunton and up the SVRR line in Verona. Some of the passenger cars were planned to return to limited service on excursion trains planned to operate on the short-line Shenandoah Valley Railroad.
Image:JackShowalter 40.jpg|Virginia Central #40 owned by Jack Showalter is stored on SVRR at Staunton, VAmarker.Image:VCRR903107.jpg|Jack's VC caboose #903107 stored in Staunton.Image:VCRR1286.jpg| Virginia Central #1286 stored at Verona, VAmarker.Image:VCRR514.jpg|Virginia Central #514 passenger car stored in Verona, VA.

See also


  3. Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society Accessed April 3, 2008.

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