Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wilmington and Weldon Railroad

Wilmington and Weldon Railroad
For the American Civil War battles, 

Originally chartered in 1835 as the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad name began use in 1855. At the time of its 1840 completion, the line was the longest railroad in the world with 161.5 miles of track.[1] The railroad played a key role in the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War.

Among the early employees of the W&W RR was assistant engineer William G. Lewis. The future Civil War general began his railroad career in 1858. From 1854 to 1871 S.L. Fremontwas Chief Engineer and Superintendent, Fremont, North Carolina is named in his honor.

In 1872, the railroad was leased by the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta Railroad, but this lease ended in 1878 when the WC&A went bankrupt. Eventually the W&R was merged into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad on April 21, 1900.


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al; bac� g u d ��� @9 initial initial; ">^ UNC University Libraries: This Month in North Carolina History - March 1840

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

North Carolina Railroad

Owned primarily by the state of North Carolina, the North Carolina Railroad stretched 223 miles, beginning in Goldsboro, leading to Salisbury, and then turning south and ending in Charlotte.  The railroad was the largest internal improvement effort in North Carolina during the antebellum era.  It was chartered in 1849 and leased to the Richmond and Danville Railroad in 1871.

Antebellum North Carolina (1820-1850) acquired a reputation of backwardness and closed-mindedness.  For this reason, the state was nicknamed the “Rip Van Winkle State”--meaning it had been asleep and needed to awake and take advantage of economic opportunities.  Promoters of the North Carolina Railroad considered it a duty to do so, and to remain in Rip-Van-Winkle condition was considered “evil.”  Compared to Virginia and South Carolina, North Carolina played, at best, a minor role in regional trade.  Many Tar Heels, as a result, emigrated to enjoy a higher standard of living.  Some railroad boosters considered abandonment of their native place as an “evil,” too.

Advocates of internal improvements believed the North Carolina Railroad was the first step in rescuing their home state from its slothful, economic condition and dependence.  They also predicted increased urbanization and industrial growth.

As with most internal improvement legislation, the North Carolina Railroad charter bill of January 1849 inspired intense and prolonged debate.  One reason is that boosters asked for a sizable amount of money: a $3 million charter, of which the state paid $2 million after $1 million had been raised privately.  Many legislators were aghast.  Promoters therefore had to convince legislators that this alternative was preferable to allowing other railroad connections to build in North Carolina, with no cost to the taxpayer.  In the end, legislators deemed the construction of the North Carolina Railroad, although costly, most beneficial to the overall economic health of the state.  They hoped that, after the construction of the railroad, Tar Heels could produce their own products and crops and ship them to fellow North Carolinians; an intrastate economy, it was hoped, would wean the state from economically dependence.

The North Carolina Railroad charter bill created what contemporaries called a “log-rolling session.”  Most Whigs supported the charter bill, but many Democrats supported it, too.  Democrats were mostly divided by region (forty-percent of eastern Democrats supported the bill and only two legislators from the Piedmont backed it).  The bill narrowly passed the House and then passed the state Senate by only one vote.  The bill was passed because many political deals were made.  Despite allegations of graft and pork-barrel legislation, the North Carolina Railroad eventually served as a symbol of sectional compromise.

The North Carolina Railroad was chartered in 1849, and stockholders formed the company on July 11, 1850.

Boosters were surprised by the extra cost and effort needed to construct the railroad.  For construction to continue in a timely manner, the state granted the North Carolina Railroad Company an additional $1 million and exempted $350,000 of company bonds from taxation.  The railroad was completed after five years.  In 1856 Tar Heels celebrated the opening of the railroad, for it was a human accomplishment previously deemed impossible and fostered hope in a growing economy.  Some Tar Heels even thought that, by fostering economic growth, the railroad would close the financial gap between the rich and the poor.

The North Carolina Railroad was indeed a financial success.  Each year, revenue increased; consequently, state revenue grew, for the Old North State was the largest company stockholder.  Although it had a vested interest in the success of the rail, historians contend that the state government played a passive role in the rail company’s dealings.

The company’s financial success made some wonder whether politicians and their friends unduly benefited from the railroad’s construction.  For instance, the North Carolina Railroad passed through Hillsborough, Salisbury, and Concord--all three, hometowns of politicians, who strongly supported the construction of the railroad.

Many public benefits resulted from the North Carolina Railroad, however.  The foremost benefit was expanded trade.  Consumers had more choices and raised their standard of living.  Also, farmers imported new fertilizers to increase crop yields.  In particular, wheat, cotton, and tobacco production soared, but this crop growth resulted not from the increased purchase of slaves; the percentage of slave population growth (9%) was less than in the 1840s (15%).  In addition, the state experienced rapid urbanization.  New towns, such as High Point and Durham, were created along the rail line, and consequently, such towns operated as hubs of the growing textile and tobacco industries.  An interesting crop expansion was dried fruits.  Farmers barely produced $1,000 worth of fruit in 1850, but by 1880, dried-fruit farmers rivaled wheat farmers in production (almost $233,000).  Unsurprisingly the value of land near the railroad increased, too.  And another benefit of the railroad was less cultural isolation and more travel opportunities for work and leisure.

Those in the mountains and the coast realized the benefits of the North Carolina Railroad.  After its construction, they lobbied for connectors to be built in their regions, for they wanted expanded trade, urbanization, and economic growth.  Future generations credited the railroad for rescuing the state from cultural isolation and economic depression.

But the railroad brought unexpected outcomes.  Although consumer choices increased, it ensured that North Carolina remained mainly a supplier of staple crops in a larger system of free trade.  New Englanders, some scholars assert, benefited more from the North Carolina Railroad than did Tar Heels, who chose to import goods instead of diversifying their agricultural economy.  Instead of keeping Tar Heels at home, the railroad inspired many to leave the state: possibilities in the West and in Northern cities were calling them.

By the late 1860s, questions about the state-owned railroad ultimately led to its being leased and sold to private corporations.

Allen Trelease, The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1871, and the Modernization of North Carolina  (Chapel Hill, 1991) and Alan D. Watson, Internal Improvements in Antebellum North Carolina (Raleigh, 2002).
By Troy L. Kickler, North Carolina History Project

Saturday, March 17, 2012


The ACL in Wilmington

A Grand View of the Passenger Terminal, Roundhouse, and the River Terminal.  Note the roundhouse in the foreground, warehouses and wharves along the river, and many railroad buildings.  View is toward the southwest, showing the north end of Front Street.

ACL Passenger Terminal & Freight Yards.  The old headquarters building (with steeple) in center of photo, with "new" building (1913) just above.  View is toward the northeast.

Roundhouse Adjacent to the Passenger Terminal

An Early Diesel is About to Leave Wilmington with Mail & Passengers

An ACL Roundhouse

The Wilmington ACL Passenger Terminal and Offices

The Demolition of the Passenger Terminal in 1970

ACL Engine #59 - Built by Baldwin in 1891


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wilmington Streets & Retaining Walls

The first paving materials in Wilmington were ballast stones.  Conveniently discarded by departing vessels, the endless supply of stone was also used for house foundations, retaining walls and filler when Water Street was created out of the marshy waterfront.  As late as the 1980s, ballast stones were still fairly easy to find lying around the downtown.  Several ballast stone retaining walls survive.  A good example can be seen behind the Mitchell-Anderson House at 102 Orange Street. 

Belgian paving stones (rectangular blocks of quarried stone or granite) were used to pave streets in the later part of the nineteenth century.  They were also used as ballast during the time of wooden sailing ships.  May of them where discarded during the urban renewal and others have been paved over with asphalt.  The late historian, Bill Reaves, lamented in a 1975 newspaper article what the city had removed the old block from Lodge Alley and was using it to fill in the old boat slips on Water Street, rather than exhibit it in the historic district. 

Lodge Alley was an L-shaped alley that ran from the south side of Red Cross Street to Front Street.  Old Belgian block can still be seen at Chandler’s Wharf and in front of the Cotton Exchange.

In 1891, city officials began to flirt with the idea of brick roadways. 
The Morning Star, 13 December1891 reported the following:  “Bricks make practically a noiseless pavement; the fit so closely that there is no inter-spaces to retain filth and breed disease; a brick pavement is easily cleaned; it is easily repaired; bricks can be made of any size and shape for gutter, slopes, etc., without much, if any, additional cost; brick pavements are smooth and reduce the tractive power and wear and tear of vehicles almost to a minimum.  Bricks do not polish under wear, and hence afford a good foothold to horses; the are not affected appreciably by moisture, frost or fire.  The cost of a brick pavement is less than any good pavement; hence on the score of health, comfort and cost brick pavements have much to commend them. “ 

By 1900, city workers were constantly laying brick pavement from the inner city outward.  Businesses and residents were assessed for the cost of laying the brick in front of their buildings.

Preservationists have repeatedly worked to save Wilmington’s old brick streets.  In the 1970’s residents in the historic district removed the seal coating that city workers had spread in the preparation for pavement at the intersection of Fourth and Ann streets.  To protect their efforts, they hired a security guard to keep the city at bay. As late as 1997, the controversy raged.  Advice from other historic cities, which envy Wilmington’s miles of brick streets, convinced city officials to do their utmost to repair and save this important historic resource.

Wilmington paving bricks, which weigh about ten pones, are marked with seals of their manufacturer-Peebles Block, Augusta Block and Southern Clay.

Before sidewalks, resident had to dart back and forth to avoid mud holes and sinking sand.  The first sidewalks were made of wooden planks that were raised six to eight inches above ground.  Residential areas had a few wooden sidewalks, but were generally sand paths. In the late nineteenth century, brick sidewalks began replacing wooden ones.  Here and there, an old brick sidewalk can still be seen in the residential area of the historic district.  Early on, some residents installed their own sidewalks.  Octagonal cement block walks (c. 1900) are still visible on the northeast and northwest corners of Fifth Avenue and Dock Street.  Concrete sidewalks were laid by the second and third decades of the twentieth century. 

Source: A Pictorial History of Wilmington by Anne Russell
To purchase the book please visit the Two Sisters Bookery @ the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington NC

Thursday, February 2, 2012

History of Wilmington NC

According to the Julian calendar, Wilmington, North Carolina, was incorporated in 1739.  Located on the east bank of the Cape Fear River, the original town is 28 nautical miles from the Atlantic Ocean.  Built on several rises, more like sand dunes than hills, the town ascends 50 feet from the river shoreline.  Despite navigational difficulties along the river, the town grew to become the largest city in the state before the Civil War.  It remained so until the second decade of the 20th century, when the state’s Piedmont tobacco and textile towns rose to prominence. 

Wilmington’s historical significance is reflected in the variety of architectural styles, streetscapes and in other aspects of its material culture.  The Colonial town is most visible in the original grid pattern of the streets, the numbered streets running from north to south and the named streets running from east to west.  Several periods of rapid growth have altered the city’s passage through time.  Very few buildings remain from the early town because of the large fires and antebellum growth stimulated by the 1840 opening of the railroad. 

Three other periods of sustained growth are also noteworthy.  Recovery from the Civil War with increased port and rail expansion precipitated substantial commercial activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Increased business and industry, particularly of cotton and fertilizer, provide a building boom both commercially and residentially, including moves to the first suburbs.  This economic activity spread across the region, evident most notably in the development of the nearby beaches.  After a period of decline during the Great Depression, Wilmington experienced another burst of growth during World War II Military facilities and the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company brought an unprecedented number of new residents who needed housing as well as a myriad of businesses to support their daily lives.  The most recent growth can in the 1990s, after Wilmington was connected to the rest of the country by Interstate Highway 40. 

Source: Wilmington Lost But Not Forgotten by Beverly Tetterron
To purchase the book please visit the Two Sisters Bookery @ the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington NC