North Carolina Railroads - Chatham Railroad


Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point





Raleigh, NC

Gulf, NC
*1871 - Re-organized as the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad.

The city of Raleigh was provided with rail service east and west via the state-owned North Carolina Railroad, and northward over the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. However, no track had been laid southward from the capital by 1855. That year, the Chatham Railroad was chartered to construct a line that would pass just east of the coal fields near Sanford that had already been tapped by the Western Railroad from Fayetteville.

Raleigh entrepreneurs were keenly aware of the profits the Fayetteville-based Western Railroad stood to gain from Deep River coal. In 1855, they chartered the Chatham Railroad and planning began for the construction of a line from Raleigh to Gulf. As originally projected, the road would have also linked Raleigh to the navigation works on the Deep River.

Due to the U.S. Civil War, the newly-formed company was unable to proceed after initial grading was done and a few miles of track was laid. The line was finally completed by 1870, but it took a more southerly route through the center of Lee County toward the vast timber reserves of the sandhills. It was largely financed through the sale of $3,200,000 in North Carolina state bonds.

The North Carolina Railroad acquired $200,000 of the Chatham Railroad's stock in 1864, and the NCRR gave the Chatham Railroad permission that year to use the NCRR right-of-way for eight miles from Raleigh to Cary before it cut southward on its own course - this was primarily done so the NCRR would have better access to the coal from that region. After many difficulties, the Chatham Railroad was almost completed when General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through the region in March of 1865. It played virtually no part in the war, although it would figure importantly in postwar railway development.

In 1871, the tracks of the Chatham Railroad, now reorganized as the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad (R&AAL), intersected those of the Western Railroad at a sandy ridge northwest of Jonesboro. By 1877, the R&AAL, which was controlled by the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad Company, had reached the North Carolina-South Carolina state line. The crossing of these two important rail lines set the stage for a period of unprecedented agricultural and industrial development. Over the following decades, lumbering and naval stores production consumed the county's pine forests, coal mining rebounded at Egypt, and Lee County became a nationally significant supplier of architectural brownstone.

To help the company to construct its road, the state of North Carolina, by an ordinance of its Constitution Convention, passed on March 11, 1868, authorized its public treasurer to issue to the company bonds of the state for $1,200,000, and, by an act of the General Assembly passed August 15 of the same year, authorized the same officer to issue to the company other bonds of the state for the additional sum of $2,000,000. The bonds of both issues were for $1,000 each, were payable in 30 years, and were secured by a like amount of bonds of the company deposited with the public treasurer, and were also secured by statutory liens and by mortgages on the franchises and property of the company.

On September 1, 1868, the company had received the $1,200,000 authorized by the convention, and on October 19, 1868, the company having complied with the conditions prescribed by the act of the General Assembly, the $2,000,000 in bonds of the state authorized by the general assembly were delivered to it.

Towns on Route:


Cary (1856)

Apex (1871)

New Hill > Newhill (1895) > New Hill (1951)

Freedom Hill (1869) > Merry Oaks (1869)


Lockville (1869) > Moncure (1877)

Rollins Store > Jonesborough (1865) > Sanford (1872)

Branch (1856) > Egypt Depot (1867) > Egypt (1894) > Cumnock (1895)

Gulf (1860)

© 2013 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved