North Carolina Railroads - Atlantic Coast Line Railroad


Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point





Wilmington, NC

Weldon, NC

*1967 merged with the Seaboard Air Line Railway to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad
+ 1958 - Acquired the Franklin & Carolina Railroad (abandoned in 1972).

+ 1922 - Leased the Virginia & Carolina Southern Railroad.

+ 1922 - Acquired the Rockingham Railroad

+ <1910 - Acquired the Maxton, Alma & Southbound Railroad

+ 1900 - Acquired/merged in the following railroads associated with North Carolina:

-- Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway (southern sections only)

-- Norfolk & Carolina Railroad

-- Wilmington & Manchester Railroad

-- Wilmington & Newbern Railroad

-- Wilmington & Weldon Railroad  

"As long as railrwads were purely local affairs, each locality might charter and run its own. The moment any through traffic grew up, this was found to be a wasteful way of doing business. If they changed cars at every point of junction, the expenses were vastly increased. If they did not change cars, there was still an awkwardness of dividing responsibility, and the evil of having two separate organizations where one would do the work better." [Hadley: Railroad Transportation]

It was inevitable, therefore, with the development of railroads as the chief means of transportation, that the separate lines serving the Atlantic seaboard should be forced into a closer relationship with each other. The more important the individual roads beceame and the heavier the traffic, the closer the relationship.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was the result of the consolidation of more than a hundred railroads stretching along the Atlantic Coast from Richmond, Virginia, to Fort Myers, Florida. The period of consolidation came later than most other railroad systems further north, primarily due to the retarding influence of the U.S. Civil War followed by the Panic of 1873.

The main period of railroad consolidation in the South was in the decade following the Panic of 1893. This is roughly forty years later than the beginning of the consolidation of the New York Central lines. The roads in the South most comparable with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad are Southern Railway and the Seaboard Air Line Railway, chartered in 1894 and 1900 respectively. They are each the result of a series of integrations and consolidations very similar to that which took place with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

On April 29, 1889, the American Improvement & Construction Company was chartered under the laws of Connecticut, and this new company was "given power and was authorized to acquire, build, own, sell, convey, equip, lease or maintain and operate by steam of other power, any railroad, street railway, tramway, telegraph lines, telephone lines, water works, canals, bridges, steamship or steamboat lines, boats and vessels of all kinds, and the appurtances thereof." The original capital of the company was $500,000, divided into $50 shares and the maximum capitalization was $10,000,000. By an amendment passed on June 22, 1889, the maximum capitalization possible was increased to $30,000,000.

After four years, this "holding company" changed its name to the Atlantic Coast Line Company by an act of May 5, 1893. Its shares of stock were then made to $100 instead of $50. An additional right granted at this time is of particular interest, bringing the company within the scope of the present history; namely, the power "to hold or acquire or otherwise get possession of shares of stock in other corporations, bonds, securities, obligations, and to transfer, sell, or otherwise dispose of such obligations."

By exercise of this power, the company secured the majority of the stock of many railroads, including that of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company itself, which it retained until 1914. In 1914, this holding company gave up controlling interest in the railroad, but continued to hold much of its stock.

In 1898, the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, chartered in 1836 and only twenty-two (22) miles in length, acquired the Petersburg Railroad, a longer and less prosperous neighbor, and the merger created the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of Virginia. This in turn, in 1900, acquired a system of roads of greater mileage than itself, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of South Carolina, the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, and the Norfolk & Carolina Railroad, and was rechartered as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of South Carolina had been incorporated on March 5, 1897, as a consolidation of five railroads - the Wilmington, Columbia & Augusta Railroad, the Northeastern Railroad of South Carolina, the Cheraw & Darlington Railroad, the Manchester & Augusta Railroad, and the Florence Railroad. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of South Carolina was absorbed into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of Virginia on April 21, 1900.

The absorbing road, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of Virginia, though less than a hundred miles long, acquired over 1,500 miles of line. The stock per mile of the purchasing company was greater than that of any of the other roads. Although its bonded debt per mile was almost twice that of any other, its earning power was also double.

Farther south, the Savannah, Florida & Western Railroad developed from a large number of unsuccessful roads into a successful system created by Henry B. Plant and named the Plant System, which was purchased outright by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company in April of 1902. This acquistion provided an additional 1,665 miles of road to the young Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, doubling its size within two years.

The last important acquisition in the early days was that of the majority of the stock of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Control of this system, secured by accident rather than by design, proved profitable. Neither the original parent company nor any of its successors had ever undergone a reorganization. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad made great profits on its L&N stock, but never attempted to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the railroad.

When physical connections were made, gaps closed, and the gauges standardized, through trains were possible. Although originally constructed for local purposes, the various lines developed into a continuous system and became the main thoroughfare of north-south travel, thus entering into competition with many steamship companies. Only when acting as a unit could the roads successfully meet this competition.

The consolidation of the many previously-independent railroads into one large railroad has had many challenges not fully recognized at the founding of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1900. Each of the six states that the road ran through had totally different laws with respect to property taxation, and they had different regulations on rates to be charged for freight and passengers. With the formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission by the Federal government added new twists.

The states frequently require safety appliances which are forbidden by Federal authorities. One law and one set of rules govern liability for employees injured while engaged in interstate commerce and as many laws and rules as there are states, when the employee is engaged in intrastate commerce.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of the early twentieth century was also in the anomalous position of being unable to run its trains from one state into another state without violating one or more laws. This situation came about largely from regulations in one state which required certain additions to equipment, while in other states the use of this equipment was forbidden. It was evidently impossible, for example, to obey the laws of two states when one required cinder deflectors, screens, and cuspidors, and the adjacent state forbid the use of these; or when one kind of headlight was demanded by one state, and forbidden by another.

Excerpted with edits from "A History of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad" by Howard Douglas Dozier, 1918.
Click Here to see a map of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad as of 1914. 
Click Here to see a map of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad as of 1922. 

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved