North Carolina Railroads - Western North Carolina Railroad


Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point





Salisbury, NC Asheville, NC

Murphy, NC NC/TN Line
* 1886 - Merged with a portion of the Richmond & Danville Railroad to become the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad, which finished the line to Murphy, NC in 1891.
1879 - Completed the line to Swannanoa Tunnel. 
1877 - Completed the line from Morganton to Old Fort. 
1871 - Completed the line from Asheville to the NC/TN State Line. 
1858 - Completed the line between Salisbury and Morganton.

In 1852, the North Carolina & Western Railroad was chartered to run from Salisbury, NC to some unspecified point on the NC/TN border. By 1854, some money had been raised but nothing else had been done. So in 1855, the NC State Legislature declared the charter null and void and proceeded to re-focus its original intent by chartering the Western North Carolina Railroad as its replacement.

The Western North Carolina Railroad was frought with many setbacks, including financial scandals by top management. Originally envisioned to go to Ducktown, TN and to Paint Rock, TN, the line barely made it to the latter - and only because of the subsequent owners.

The mountains of western North Carolina proved to be much more difficult for the technology of the time than had ever been imagined at the onset of the project in 1855. Progress was steady for the first three years of construction in the piedmont, and then things quickly went south. Or north, depending on your point of view. Westward of Morganton were the mountains - with few decent passes - and the company began to have second thoughts as to the originally-planned route. Then, the U.S. Civil War arrived, and everything stalled.

In 1866, a new survey was completed and those in charge grudgingly accepted that the originally-planned route was better than any they could offer as an alternative, so construction was recommenced. It was concluded that the only viable route was to build many "loops" and to keep the grade to a mininum by using many switchbacks.

In 1869 and 1870, the largest two stockholders were accused of misconduct and a formal investigation was prompted by the NC State Legislature - these two stockholders immediately fled the state. The investigation deemed that $4 million of state bonds had been endorsed and could not be accounted for. This financial disaster caused construction on the line to be stopped immediately.

Seven years later, the NC Legislature approved reorganization of the railroad, and in 1878 the state provided 500 convicts to keep construction costs down. Additionally, it was decided to complete the line using two crews focused on two separate sections. Crew #1 was to extend the line from Salisbury to Asheville - attacking it from both directions simultaneously; whereas Crew #2 was to extend the line from Asheville northward to Paint Rock and westward to Ducktown.

The inclines caused may headaches, with miles of additional track required to be switchbacked just to cover one mile of linear distance. The Swannanoa Tunnel was Crew #1's biggest challenge, and they tackled it from both ends of its eventual 1,832 feet, completing it on March 11, 1879. The celebrations that ensued did not last long.

On April 27, 1880, the state sold the railroad at public auction to William J. Best and associates with the stipulation that the planned lines be completed - to Paint Rock by July 1, 1881, and to Ducktown by January 1, 1885.

The line to Paint Rock follows the French Broad River and is often called the Knoxville Route. The line winds northwestward through Marshall and Hot Springs and into Tennessee via Newport. This path is one of the easiest known to railroad construction - along a meandering river - and eliminates the need for tunnel construction or steep grades with many switchbacks.

In December of 1881, this line was finished and Crew #2 was freed up to connect Asheville with Ducktown, TN. By February of 1882, the line reached the small town of Pigeon River, later renamed to Canton. Advance crews were grading the roadbed towards Murphy and construction crews reached the Cowee Tunnel (near present-day Dillsboro) by April of 1883. The tunnel was completed by June, and the construction crews marched on to Charleston (later renamed to Bryson City) in North Carolina.

By December of 1885, construction reached the community of Jarret on the Nantahala River. In April of 1886, construction and railroad management came under the direction of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, and the line was then referred to as the Western North Carolina Division of the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Shortly thereafter, the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad was formed and the line adopted this new name begrudgingly.

In June of 1886, the new management decided to convert all track from the 5-foot broad gauge to the standard gauge of 4'-8-1/2", again delaying completion of the Murphy line, as well as thoroughly disrupting service along the entire line for the next five years. In April of 1891, the line was within two miles of Murphy and intended to connect to the Marietta & North Georgia Railroad within two weeks, but a virtual monsoon hit the area. Flooding delayed the connection for three months while washed out sections of track near Tomotla, as well as older sections near Asheville, were repaired.

A total of 125 miles of track, winding around river bends, through many tunnels, over grades of over 4%, and scaling mountains 3,500 feet in elevation had taken nine years to construct. When the completion party was over the new management decided that Murphy was far enough - to heck with Ducktown.

William Best became an agent of the Richmond & Danville Railroad and a portion of that company merged with the Western North Carolina Railroad to become the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad. Soon misfortune struck again. As with the rise and fall of all railroads at that point in time, the new company entered bankruptcy on June 15, 1892.

When both the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad and the Richmond & Danville Railroad entered receivership in 1892, the two lines caught the eyes of three men who later became the designated receivers - Fred W. Huidekoper, Samuel Spencer, and Reuben Foster. These three men almost instantly envisioned the soon-to-be-created Southern Railway - a mere two years later it was thusly formed.

Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the "14th Annual Proceedings of Stockholders of the Western North Carolina Rail Road," printed in 1869.

Towns on Route:

Line #1 - Salisbury to Murphy:


Cowansville > Rowans Mills (1856) > Third Creek (1884) > Cleveland (1887)

Elmwood (1878)

Branchville (1860s)

Congers (1874)


Rock Cut (1859) > Eufola (1903)

Poplar Grove

Chestnut Grove (1856) > Catawba Station (1859) > Catawba (1877)


Conover (1873)

Hickory Tavern > Hickory (1876)

Happy Home (1857) > Conellys Springs (1886)

Morgantown > Morganton (1880)

Turkey Tail (1877) > Sigmonburgh (1881) > Glen Alpine Station (1884) > Glen Alpine (1889)



Old Fort

Gray Eagle (1870) > Black Mountain (1880)

Keys (1877) > Coopers (1880) > Swannanoa #2 (1891)

Swannano > Swannanoa (1876)

Line #2 - Asheville to NC/TN State Line:

Asheville - Best Station (1873) > Best (1880) > Bilton (1890)

French Broad > Alexander (1881)


Warm Springs > Hot Springs (1886)

Paintrock (1878)

NC/TN State Line

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