North Carolina Railroads - North Carolina Railroad


Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point




Still Operational

Charlotte, NC University, NC

Goldsboro, NC Carrboro, NC

1860 Stock Certificate
+ 1999 - Leased by Norfolk Southern Railway for fifteen years, renewable for thirty years.
+ 1989 - Acquired the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad, extending service from Goldsboro to Beaufort.
+ 1895 - August 16, 1895, leased by Southern Railway for 99 years, but still retained its identity within North Carolina.
+ 1871 - September 11, 1871, leased by the Richmond & Danville Railroad for thirty years. 
+ 1849 - Organized on January 1, 1850 under the laws of North Carolina of January 27, 1849.

Colonel Webster - Renamed Nathaniel Boyden by NCRR in 1865

From the 1st Annual Report of the North Carolina Railroad Commission, dated December 31, 1891:

The North Carolina Railroad Company was chartered January 27th, 1849; road opened January 30th, 1856. Leased (September 11, 1871), to Richmond & Danville Railroad Company for thirty years from October, 1871, at a rental of $260,000 a year. The road runs from Goldsboro to Charlotte, 223.15 miles. Three-fourths of the stock is owned by the State of North Carolina, one-fourth by citizens of the State. The road-bed, by its charter, is exempt from taxation.

This company was chartered for the purpose of effecting a railroad communication between the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad where the same passes over the Neuse River, in the county of Wayne, and the town of Charlotte, with a capital stock of $3,000,000. The line of the road was to be via Raleigh and thence via Salisbury to Charlotte. The Act provided that whenever one-third of the capital stock should be subscribed for and taken by other parties, that the State should subscribe for and take the remaining two-thirds.

Although the concept of railroading had begun in earnest in the 1820s, and both neighbors, Virginia and South Carolina, had already launched and completed some of the first successful railroads in the country, there were no true railroad pioneers in the state of North Carolina until the Internal Improvement Commission was assembled in convention on July 4, 1833 in Raleigh. At this convention, future governor William Alexander Graham, then in the prime of his rare powers, urged, as the internal improvement policy of the state, three north-south lines of railroad - to connect to these advanced neighbors who were already knocking at the door.

He was antagonized by Joseph Alston Hill, of Wilmington, one of the most gifted orators of that period, who advocated east-west lines, marketing the products of the state only through North Carolina ports. It was a battle of giants and, incredibly, Hill won the victory.

The convention adopted resolutions to the the effect that the General Assembly should raise by loan such sums as will "afford substantial assistance in the prosecution of the public works; that no work should be encouraged for conveying produce to a primary market out of the state; that the Legislature be asked to take two-fifths of the stock of the companies; that a Corresponding Committee of twenty be appointed in each county; and, that a second convention be held on the fourth Monday in November."

One might reasonably expect that the first railroad constructed within the state of North Carolina would be to fulfill the 1833 Convention's directive of an east-west railroad, but one would be completely wrong. In acuality, the first two railroads constructed by North Carolinians were both north-south railroads - the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad (renamed in 1855 as the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad), and the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. At least the former did terminate at North Carolina's largest port, even though it did not originate along an east-west axis.

Both were opened in 1840, and both were constructed to connect to Virginia railroads, again defying the goals of the 1833 Convention, which did not want its produce being conveyed out of the state except at the state's ports. Go figure.

However, the concept of a major east-west railroad was never off the minds of many within the state, especially in Charlotte, Greensborough, and Raleigh. The major problem was - just how was it going to be paid for? All estimates showed the anticipated costs to be staggering, even back in the 1830s. Private capital was inadequate and the Legislature long refused to tax the public for state aid.

That reluctance was overcome only when a greater danger materialized in the late 1840s - the prospect of a major north-south railway from Richmond, VA to Atlanta, GA - of course, running through North Carolina. Such a road, with connections upward through Virginia and downward through South Carolina, would virtually destroy the state's exports via Wilmington, while her neighbors - Charleston and Norfolk - waxed rich and powerful at her expense.

The imminent cause of this alarm was the chartering of the Charlotte & Columbia Railroad in 1846 and the chartering of the Richmond & Danville Railroad in 1847 - both proposing to meet in Charlotte, NC as soon as possible. Their requests for a North Carolina charter was particularly hard for easterners to deny as these requests involved no state assistance. The proposed roads would be of such widespread economic value that it was expected to generate considerable outside investment.

The November 1848 General Assembly faced two pressing transportation issues, other than the general backwardness inherited from the preceding decade of inaction. The first was the Charlotte-Danville railroad, embodied in a bill introduced by Representative John W. Ellis of Rowan County. The other was the rapidly deteriorating Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. That line suffered from a lack of population centers to generate local traffic and an absence of railroad connections south of Raleigh to provide through traffic. The state had bought the road at a foreclosure sale in 1845 and needed somehow to make it profitable.

The now-Governor William Alexnader Graham addressed the two imminent questions with a single proposal - charter a central railroad to connect with a refurbished Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, to proceed by way of Salisbury to Charlotte, and to connect there with the Charlotte & Columbia Railroad, now under construction.

Graham hoped that this proposal would appease the western counties' demand for a through railroad while routing it eastward to provide the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad with badly needed traffic. On the other hand, his suggestion offered nothing to the seaports, it would only feed traffic to Virginia and South Carolina. For this reason, the easterners found it barely more palatable than the Danville Connection, as it was called, contained in Ellis's bill.

For a time, it looked like the Danville Connection might prevail, given its seeming justice to the west and the fact that no state money was required. Western Whigs, moreover, threatened to disrupt their party if their eastern colleagues did not support the measure. At this point a compromise was worked out by representatives of both regions, including Rufus Barringer of Cabarrus County and William S. Ashe of New Hanover County. This compromise included much of the Graham plan but a saving benefit for Wilmington and its railroad.

The new bill would charter a North Carolina Railroad running from Charlotte through Salisbury to Raleigh, as Governor Graham proposed, but then proceeding onward to Goldsborough, where it would connect with the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad. The proposal was calculated to defeat the Danville Connection by attracting eastern support for what was still largely a western railroad, but now with eastern connections. The only region to lose by this arrangement would be the region around Danville, VA. This proposal was estimated to cost $3 million, and of this, the state should pay two-thirds, once a million dollars in stock had been pledged privately.

This compromise was ultimately approved, and the North Carolina Railroad was chartered on January 25, 1849 with a very close vote in the NC Senate. Raising the one million dollars of private investment proved to be a monumental effort, but it was finally achieved. The books were opened for thirty days in twenty-three (23) towns around the state, both near and far from the propose route. Stock subscriptions would be for shares costing $100 each, of which $5 had to be paid immediately. As soon as the full 10,000 shares were subscribed and the $5 per share paid in, the company was authorized to organize formally.

What followed was much like a bidding war at an auction. Since the entire route was not yet declared, many towns in the Piedmont voted to offer financial support - only if the road came through their town or county. Local conventions sprang up across the state urging the locals to invest. Three former governors recommended that the survey and final route selection be delayed until after the stock subscriptions were complete and the company was organized. County committees were formed in forty of the over sixty-five counties within the state.

But, progress was very slow. Although the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad subscribed $50,000, it was payable in transporation once the new road was in need of construction materials. The Greensborough Patriot lamented, "Is there nothing that will arouse our old Rip Van Winkle State? Is she too lazy to put forth her hand for dear life?... What somniferous influence it is... that depresses the energy?... The Railroad must be built." It took almost a year and a half to rally the state.

Finally, at a meeting in Chapel Hill on June 5-6, 1850, the commissioners announced that the money had been raised, the 5% paid in, and they formally declared the North Carolina Railroad to be in existence and called for the first stockholders' meeting to be in Salisbury on July 11th.

Although more than 1,100 individuals subscribed to the stock, the great majority of it was held by a relative few. As the president and directors pointed out later, "This great work.... has commenced, not by the mass of the people of the whole state, nor even of the counties through which the road passes, but by an exceedingly small portion of our people."

Most, if not all, of the directors chosen at the stockholders meeting were men who had been identified with the subscription campaign. All had to be stockholders; most were substantial stockholders, including: John M. Morehead (180 shares), A.J. de Rosset (150 shares), John I. Shaver (106 shares), John B. Lord (106 shares), Alonzon T. Jerkins (100 shares). Other directors included - Francis Fries, John W. Thomas, John A. Gilmer, now former-governor William A. Graham, and Romulus M. Saunders. Half of these men were re-elected in 1851 and 1852.

As soon as the stockholders adjourned, the directors met and elected John M. Morehead as President. The first choice for Secretary/Treasurer was John U. Kirkland who declined, and the position went to Jeduthun H. Lindsay. The Chief Engineer was Colonel Walter Gwynn of Virginia.

Little time was wasted in beginning the survey. Gwynn organized four crews, each under a principal assistant engineer, to survey four approximately equal sections of the road. The first section, running from the eastern terminus near Goldsborough to about six miles west of Raleigh, was in charge of Lewis M. Prevost, Jr. The second section, from that point to the eastern Guilford County line, was under John C. McRae. J.L. Gregg led the third crew, from eastern Guilford County to Lexington. The fourth section, from Lexington to Charlotte, was under another John McRae. Each crew included two assistant engineers, a draftsman, rodmen, chainmen, and an axeman. The survey took nearly eight months to complete - Gwynn submitted his report on May 5, 1851. In that time, his teams ran 1,494 miles of lines, including alternate lines - the final route measured 233 miles.

Gwynn's teams proved that a straight line from Charlotte to Goldsborough was not an easy route, and even though he claimed that "politics" never entered into his decision making, the final route needed to go through Orange and Alamance counties to avoid the difficult terrain further to the south. This greatly pleased the citizens of those two counties, who had rallied long and hard to get this new railroad. As it turned out, the final route was only about 20-30 miles longer than the shortest possible route farther south.

Of course, minor alterations would be encountered once construction commenced, as this town might want to be avoided, whereas another town might scream to get the railroad - and this is exactly what happened. For example, the town of Durham owes its existence to the railroad. The original survey called for a station to be built at a small village called Prattsburg, southeast of Hillsborough. But, William Pratt, the local landowner, asked such an exhorbitant price for his land that it was prudent to relocate the road two miles west to the land of Dr. Bartlett Durham, who donated the needed property. Durham's Station became the nucleus of the later city and county seat.

In Johnston County, the railroad chose to bypass the county seat of Smithfield in favor of a straight line across the Neuse River four miles upstream. The savings in distance was a little over a mile, in cost about $11,000. Townspeople were predictably unhappy, but the decision stood. A depot, called Mitchener's Station, was built near the closest point to Smithfield - a few years later its location was slightly shifted and it was renamed to Selma.

The biggest route controversies actually arose over connections to the two existing railroads - with the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad at Raleigh, and with the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad at Goldsborough. Many were in favor of merely bypassing the Raleigh & Gaston connection - to heck with sending our produce to Virginia. Because of poor terrain outside of Goldsborough, Gwynn recommended joining the W&R one mile south of the town - this irritated the townfolk. So, things were changed to satisfy them.

Even before the survey was finalized, President Morehead set to work acquiring rights-of-way, which were required to be 200 feet wide. The greater part of the route passed through open countryside and many landowners willingly donated their land, eager to have the railroad on their property. In Orange County, only a few landowners refused to do so, but their demands for compensation were reasonable. The total spent on rights-of-way totalled just over $20,000.

The construction of the railroad began in June of 1851; the four main divisions were subdivided into sections of a half-mile to two or three miles in length. Most, if not all, of the contractors were stockholders, and nearly all were inexperienced in this kind of work. Some were middling to larger farmers along the route; others were among the chief backers of the railroad, members of the state's political and business elite. The company's policy was to pay the contractors half in cash and half in stock. By January of 1852, the entire road was under contract, including the bridges and the masonry work.

A formal groundbreaking ceremony took place at Greensborough on July 11, 1851, following the second stockholders meeting. The stockholders chose Calvin Graves to lift the first spadeful of earth. After a long introductory speech by President Morehead, recalling again Graves's moment of glory in the Senate, Graves himself spoke, then dug some earth and deposited it into a copper box that had been prepared for the occasion. Enclosed with the dirt was a copy of the charter, the names of the original subscribers to the stock, some newspapers of the day or month, and a scroll to be read on the one-hundredth anniversary. The box was not to be opened until that event. The ceremonies closed with a barbecue.

The plans called for a single track, with double-width cuts through hills in contemplation of a later second track and in order to provide enough dirt fill for the low places. The roadbed was to be of gravel a foot deep, supporting the then-standard wrought iron T-rail weighing sixty pounds per yard. Drains and culverts were to be made of stone or brick. Wooden bridges, also standard at the time, were to rest upon masonry piers and abutments. There was ample timber adjacent to the road for crossties (called sills at that time), but some of the timber for bridges had to be brought from a distance.

In November of 1852, President Morehead reported that 1,493 men, 425 boys, 581 carts, 49 wagons, 758 horses and mules, and 54 oxen were employed on the road. Half of the grading was complete at that time, and some bridges were under construction. Tracklaying at the western terminus was facilitated in October of 1852 by the completion of the Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad (the reorganized Charlotte & Columbia Railroad), which freed up a sizeable labor force that already had tracklaying experience.

The first shipment of rails arrived in Wilmington and were delivered to Goldsborough on the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad in May of 1853. They were of Welsh manufacture, like most of the T-rail used on the early American railroads. Tracklaying began at Goldsborough in June, accompanied by the firing of a cannon and the drinking of champagne. Initial progress was very slow, only twelve miles having been laid by December of 1853. Although rails began reaching Charlotte via the Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad in October, tracklaying there did not begin until February of 1854. The major delay was the inability to procure crossties locally at an acceptable price. When the company finally sent to South Carolina for crossties, the locals lowered their prices and the supply improved.

Regular train service began on the western end of the line in September of 1854. The short daily train ran between Charlotte and Concord, extending its run as track was laid northward. A train began running from Goldsborough to Stalling's Station (now Clayton) at the other end in October of 1854. It reached Raleigh in December and Hillsborough in April of 1855. In July of 1855, these two ends had reached Lexington and Haw River, respectively. Both were delayed some weeks by late completion of the Yadkin, Eno, and Haw River bridges.

The westbound train reached Greensborough on December 13, 1855. There were train rides and other pleasantries, but no elaborate celebration. On Christmas Eve, the two tracklaying crews were only four miles apart. On January 29, 1856 the two crews met and the track was united about midway between Greensborough and Jamestown. The last spike was driven by David F. Caldwell of Greensborough, a longtime backer of the road.

Although the trains ran the length of the road after January of 1856, many construction chores remained. Many stations, water towers, warehouses, and other buildings were not yet finished. Bridges needed to be covered. Ten culverts on the eastern division had to be rebuilt. And, the road's repair shops had to be finished. Much of this was completed by the end of the year.

Locomotives of the 1850s needed inspection and maintenance about every one hundred miles, and on a road of 233 miles, this pointd to a location for the major shops at or near the center of the line as possible. This point turned out to be in Alamance County near the new county seat of Graham. But, that village objected, citing the attendant noise, sparks, and general commotion. Benjamin Trollinger came to the rescue and offered to sell some lands in the area, and to sweetened the offer by promising to raise money around the county to reimburse at least part of the purchase price. The company accepted the offer and acquired 632 acres for just under $7,000. Construction of the railroad shops began in the summer of 1855 and were completed in 1859. During these four years, the North Carolina Railroad created not only a shops complex but a company town, including a hotel, stores, and employee houses. Thus was the beginning of the future town named Burlington - of course, it was first known simply as the town of Company Shops.

It took a few years for the company to determine exactly what the road had cost to build. By 1867, it was placed at between $4,922,982 and $4,950,755, and these totals included the Company Shops in Alamance County.

There were about 490,000 crossties on the road, including sidetrack, spaced 2'-6" apart. The first extensive replacement seems to have been in 1858-1859. Thereafter, 70,000 to 98,000 crossties were replaced annually. Since timber was so abundant along the line, the company made a conscious decision not to treat the timber - this was before the Civil War and labor to replace the crossties was cheaper than the treating process.

The T-rail laid was between 56 to 65 pounds per yard - modern rail weighs between 110 and 150 pounds per yard. Although heavier rails permitted heavier loads, lighter rails were better wrought and sometimes more durable. Rail ends were joined by a device called a chair, which was fastened to the crosstie. Sometimes they were joined by fishplates bolted to the sides of each rail. Whatever method was used, rails tended to wear out first at the ends. The average life was ten years, or less under heavy traffic. The North Carolina Railroad chose to go with "the new standard" gauge of 4'-8-1/2", which proved to later become the national standard.

Early in 1852, arrangements were made with the recently-completed Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad for a joint depot. As the roads were going to end up being different gauges, continuous running was impossible and their tracks would therefore not meet. But as through traffic would have to move from one to the other, they were to terminate side by side. Joint freight and passenger stations were built between 1856 and 1857.

Similar arrangements were made at the other connection points. At Goldsborough, the North Carolina Railroad was chartered to run only to its junction with the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad, which it established just south of the town. But, the W&R already had a station in the middle of Goldsborough that seemed a more logical place to terminate. So, the NCRR extended its own parallel track to that point. The two roads shared the W&R passenger station, and they erected a joint freight warehouse in 1856-1857. Soon, the new Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad, from Beaufort to Goldsborough, would also share the passenger station.

The Raleigh & Gaston Railroad extended its line in Raleigh to meet with the North Carolina Railroad in the southwest part of town. Here, several buildings were built, including an engine house and a joint freight warehouse.

With the construction of the new Western North Carolina Railroad westward from Salisbury, beginning in 1857, this town also became a junction. The two roads agreed that year to build joint freight and passenger stations, which were completed in 1859.

By January of 1859, twenty-five (25) stations had been established on the road, eleven in the eastern section, thirteen in the western section, and one at Company Shops, the midpoint. Each station had a building called a warehouse and except for the places with joint passenger stations, many of these buildings must have accommodated passengers as well as freight. Water tanks and woodsheds were also provided at each station.

For maintenance purposes, the road was divided into nineteen sections, nine in the eastern division and ten in the western division. They averaged about twelve miles in length. On each section a house was provided for the section master and another for section hands. Similarly, every station had a house nearby for station hands. These were all in place by 1857.

In the 1850s, a steam locomotive could expect to get around twenty-five miles per cord of wood, and it used about 1,000 gallons of water in the same distance. A tender commonly carried these amounts of wood and water, so trains had to stop and restock every twenty-five miles. Stations, including woodsheds and water tanks, were distributed along the line at that or lesser intervals. Contracts with local landowners were let for them to deliver wood to these stations and/or woodsheds.

Each North Carolina Railroad locomotive typically used between 6,000 to 8,000 cords of wood annually. Seasoned hardwoods and pitch pines were favored, and generally North Carolina had these in abundance. They paid from $1.75 to $2 per cord, on average.

At the onset of the U.S. Civil War, the North Carolina Railroad owned twenty-five locomotives, the great majority being the American 4-4-0 type, a movable forward truck of four small wheels followed by four large drive wheels. Nearly all of the NCRR's locomotives before the war weighed around twenty-four tons. In addition, two early locomotives, the Traho and Pello, were of the 4-2-0 typle, having only two drive wheels. These engines, weighing only about fourteen tons, had predominated in the 1840s, but lacked traction and were generally replaced rather quickly. The NCRR used these to pull gravel trains in construction and maintenance work. In 1856, the company bought two 4-6-0 locomotives. These twenty-eight ton engines, with six drive wheels, were used in freight service, where longer and heavier trains required greater tractive power.

The Chief Engineer, Walter Gwynn, recommended that the company acquire all of its primary locomotives from a single source, primarily for parts standardization, but also for a better price. Based on his recommendation, the company acquired twenty-two (22) locomotives from Norris Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first were purchased in 1854 at a cost of $9,250 for each passenger engine and $9,000 for freight engines. The smaller gravel train engines cost $6,250 each.

The common practice at the time was to name each locomotive, a opposed to the impersonal numbering that later came into vogue. The North Carolina Railroad derived its earliest names from classical mythology. The first sixteen locomotives included the Pactolus, Cybele, Ajax, Sisyphus, Midas, and Apollo. In 1856, most of the newer engines began receiving geographical names like Guilford, Yadkin, Watauga, and Rowan. During and after the Civil War, prominent men, including NCRR presidents and directors, came to be honored - General Washington, Governor John Motley Morehead, Paul C. Cameron, Giles Mebane, and Governor William W. Holden.

Generally, each locomotive was assigned on a regular basis to the same train crews, who took pride in their engines and kept them clean and polished. Unfortunately, the NCRR kept no record of the early paint schemes on its engines and other rolling stock.

Passenger cars were forty to fifty feet long and nine to ten feet wide - they typically sat fifty to sixty persons. They had plain arched roofs until the 1860s, when the windowed clerestory roof made its appearance. Many cars had cushioned seats, some that inclined, others with only wood slat seats. Many cars had tanks of drinking water and a toilet at one end, most did not. Heat was provided by wood- or coal-burning stoves, often one at each end of the car. Passenger cars were more expensive than freight cars, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 apiece.

In 1860, the North Carolina Railroad owned twenty-seven (27) passenger cars and 286 freight cars. This included thirteen (13) first-class coaches, four second-class and baggage cars, four "Mail, Smoking and Servants" cars, and six "Baggage and Express" cars. By this time, most freight cars were built by the company at the Company Shops in Alamance County.

The first NCRR rate tariff was prepared by Walter Gwynn and adopted at the beginning of service in September of 1854. The passenger rate was set at five cents per mile, close to the national high. A year later it was reduced to 3-1/2 cents per mile and remained at that level until the Civil War. It bears notice that at that rate it would have required $7.80 to ride the 233 miles from Charlotte to Goldsborough. This is roughly equivalent to the average weekly wage at that time.

At completion of the road in 1856, the company instituted tri-weekly freight service in each direction - running west on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and running east on Mondy, Wednesday, and Friday. This schedule was subject to change. During wheat season, the road ran daily trains. When business slowed down, it reserved the right to cancel a train and lay off its crew on those days. In 1857, when daily freight trains were running, it cut back service between Charlotte and Salisbury to every other day due to lack of business. Only occasionally was the company accused of letting produce and other shipments pile up at stations.

Just prior to the Civil War, passenger service and freight service were roughly equal on most railroads. After the war, freight prevailed heavily. The North Carolina Railroad's freight receipts dominated throughout the prewar years, and continued once again immediately following the war. Freight rates were derived after a complex and delicate operation. If the general rule was to charge as much as the traffic would bear, there was a host of modifications. Competition always brought lower rates. But, this brought about the additional problem of deciding the pro rata share of each participating road.

In 1857, the North Carolina Railroad's freight rate was three cents per ton-mile, and this was very close to the national average. Unlike passenger service, which was roughly equal in both directions, freight traffic was predominately westbound, both in terms of tonnage and value. The most important items of westbound shipment was iron and machinery, castings, tobacco, bacon, and general merchandise. Many of these were manufactured items of relatively high value compared with the predominately eastbound agricultural staples.

Interestingly, Charlotte's freight trade was primarily with South Carolina, and not eastern North Carolina. On the other end of the line at Goldsborough, the great bulk of the westbound freight was received from connecting lines - the Wilmington & Weldon (was the Wilmington & Raleigh) Railroad and the new Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad from Beaufort, Morehead City, and New Bern.

Certainly, the US Civil War had a tremendous impact on the young railroad, but it could have been much worse had the railroad not been in a fairly secure financial position. The new Confederate government demanded that all railroads provide troop and material movement at reduced rates, but this new government was terrible at paying its bills. When it did, only partial payments were made, and usually in Confederate bonds or worse, Confederate script. At the end of the war in mid-1865, the Confederate government owed the North Carolina Railroad over $1.3 million dollars, and the company's only recourse was to confiscate anything found on or near its lines at war's end.

Just before the fall of Richmond, the company obtained forty-eight freight cars and other equipment, worth about $600,000, from the Confederate government. The company also acquired some government supplies in Raleigh and Greensborough shorty before General Joseph E. Johnston' surrender to General William Tecumseh Sherman. The Confederate navy's machine shop at Charlotte with all of their equipment were turned over to the NCRR and two other railroads in partial payment of sums owed to them.

The North Carolina Railroad suffered no great destruction by Union troops as did many other southern railroads. Several wooden bridges were burned in the waning days of the war, as was a major depot in Salisbury and Goldsborough. However, with the increased demands of the Confederate government as well as its pathetic payments for services rendered, the company had little time and almost no money for normal track maintenance or any significant repairs to its rolling stock. At the end of the Civil War, the railroad was faced with major reconstruction and repairs, with virtually no funds with which to do so. As mentioned before, luckily it had no significant debt as did most other southern railroads, so it was in a better position than most.

Also luckily, the state and the Confederate government considered the North Carolina Railroad to be 100% essential to the war effort, and whenever other lines were destroyed by the enemy, many of their assets were brought to the relief of the NCRR. Some other lines were purposefully torn up just to keep others working, and luckily the NCRR was on the receiving end of these decisions.

Heavy traffic required that cars be in constant use, as compared with prewar times when they were taken out of service at regular intervals for inspection and overhaul. As a result, damage became more frequent, causing expensive and sometimes fatal accidents. Broken axles and trucks were among the most common and lethal causes of accidents, often leading to derailment.

Another wartime issue was the loss of skilled personnel - those being conscripted and sent off to fight elsewhere. Not only did the NCRR lose skilled conductors and engineers (who were exempted in the first year of the war), it also lost many mechanics to repair and keep the rolling stock rolling as well as those who maintained the track. The company was being asked to do twice as much with half as many qualified personnel.

Astron - 1855, Rebuilt 1862 and 1870. Shown Here c.1880

The most expensive part of the postwar repairs was the replacement of wornout rails. The North Carolina Railroad needed more new rails than it could afford - 2,000 tons or 20 miles of them at the very least. In 1867, after twenty-three miles of new rail had been installed, it was estimated that another twenty-five miles of rail would need to be replaced each of the next few years. Most, if not all, of the new rails installed after the war were of British manufacture, as before the war.

The company inspection committee of 1867 suggested a transition to steel rails, which were just being introduced domestically. While more expensive, steel's predicted durability was sure to make it cheaper in the long run. The directors ignored this recommendation and continued to purchase cheaper iron rails.

By 1870, the war damage had been completely repaired, and nearly all of the trestles were replaced with Howe truss bridges. In all cases they were of wood, sometimes covered with sheet iron. As of mid-1865, the company possessed twenty-one locomotives, and President Webb characterized them as in first-rate order. The more correct assessment was that the company only had sixteen locomotives in decent working order and five more in the shop being significantly repaired. Over the next year, the company purchased five more locomotives and at least thirty flatcars, all second-hand and purchased from the federal government. Another locomotive was purchased from the New Jersey Locomotive Works, which wanted to place one of its engines on a southern railroad and offered to do so on six months' approval at a reduced price of $15,000. This was the NCRR's first new locomotive purchase since 1857.

The company performed minor miracles in rehabilitating its cars and even adding to their number in the months that followed. The shops, now able once again to acquire parts and materials, were constantly busy repairing and refurbishing old cars and constructing new ones. Finding that those built on the premises were of equal quality and cost half as much as cars purchased elsewhere, the company decided to rely on the shops entirely for new cars, using old parts wherever possible. In 1871, however, the company did decide to purchase three "most elegant new passenger cars" from external sources.

Boxcars and flatcars, which carried virtually all of the freight, gradually increased in number, and in 1869 finally surpassed the prewar totals. Fortunately, the NCRR's business did not require the specialized tank, livestock, or coal cars that were coming into use on other railroads. New maintenance cars, such as the gravel cars, were built in 1868-1869 and remained in use for several years.

One of the most pressing needs immediately after the war was to rebuild the burnt depots at Goldsborough, Raleigh, High Point, Salisbury, and Charlotte. All along the line, stations, platforms, and other structures suffered from neglect, and either had to be significantly repaired or rebuilt. Better joint passenger and freight accommodations needed to be built in Greensborough due the wartime construction of the new Piedmont Railroad. And, the facilities for the connection with the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad in Raleigh had to be totally rebuilt. Mitchener's Depot near Smithfield was moved to the new town named Selma, a mile and a half up the line, in 1867.

Two small stations were added on either side of Raleigh in 1867-1868, Asbury and Wilson's Mills, bringing the total number of stations to twenty-eight (28). But, the station at Asbury was dropped, while China Grove and McLeansville narrowly escaped that same fate. In 1870, the Holtsburg Depot was moved a short distance up the road to a place named Linwood.

The postwar years of 1865 to 1870 were quite tumultuous for the fairly young railroad. Traffic agreements with those line connecting to the North Carolina Railroad were becoming very complex, with every changing business alliances swaying like a drunken boxer. Situated as it was, the NCRR was "right in the middle of everything" and no matter what choices it made as an independent company, it always seemed to irritate one faction or another, whether a major stockholder or the previously silent partner - the state, which after the war began to flex its influence as the company's largest stockholder.

Throw in Reconstruction and all the intendent chaos that it brought, with ever-shifting political changes imposed by martial law and newly-enfranchised voters - but more importantly, the rapid rise and fall of political fortunes that went along with this turbulent times that introduced new factors of confusion within the rank and file of the company's stockholders and leaders - it is amazing that the railroad survived. The state was fractured politically, financially, and even morally - and, a new segment of the so-called workforce was forced upon the scene - a segment that was struggling to figure out just how much power, or lack thereof, it might soon have.

Add to that increased pressure from competitors that were clamoring for the North Carolina Railroad to link to their new lines, or for the NCRR to change its gauge to better suit theirs, or for the NCRR to extend "most-favored status" to them in exchange for reciprocation, etc., etc. - what is truly amazing is that the company actually rebuilt its infrastructure and produced a "profit" by 1869. The North Carolina Railroad had truly pulled off miracles in a very short timeframe.

However, just like the state, it was severely fractured internally. Its financial position was great compared to many other railroads in the South - it had very little debt, and it was improving operations, increasing revenue as well as increasing passenger miles and freight tonnage. The internal fracturing was the result of increased state involvement in the day-to-day business affairs of the company, and this was a result of the federally-imposed Reconstruction policies of the "new and improved" state government, which included a totally revised State Constitution in 1868, as well as a new federally-appointed governor, et. al.

By 1870, the management of the company, including the state-appointed directors and the major stockholders were thoroughly fed up with all of the Reconstruction-era policies, that they approached the state General Assembly with an offer to repurchase all of the stock currently owned by the state and to become a wholly-owned private company for the first time it its existence.

Meanwhile, the struggling Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad (Beaufort to Goldsborough) wanted to merge into the NCRR. Although not as strongly, so did the Western North Carolina Railroad. But, the stockholders of the NCRR were steadfast against both mergers - neither had much to bring to the table, and the others would benefit much more than the NCRR would as a result.

The Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, once completely bailed out by the state but immediately after the Civil War had re-acquired private ownership by purchasing all of the state's stockholdings, and had so improved their company's financial outlook in short order, was conversely seeking to expand its new-found independence. For years, the NCRR had whip-sawed the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad by giving it "most favored" status for a while, then arbitrarily withdrawing this. The R&G could not rely upon the NCRR as a formidable ally. The same situation happened with the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, but they were not affected so drastically as the R&G.

In 1869, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad made an astounding offer to lease the NCRR for twenty-five years, with very good terms. This confounded all of the politicians in Raleigh as well as all of the directors and managers of the North Carolina Railroad Company. They had expected a lease offer or merger offer from others, but not from the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. As soon as this offer was announced, the newspapers jumped all over it, with just as many for it as against it. The same was true with the politicians as well as many stockholders.

This unanticipated act finally got all of the players in the complex and confused mess of quasi-state, quasi-private North Carolina Railroad to wake up and realize that they had found the enemy and the enemy was "themselves." The state did not want to give up control, but all of the politicians realized that the company would not survive if they did not get out of micro-managing a private industry. The stockholders realized that the state would never sell its stock nor get out of trying to run the business. So - why not simply let someone else take over the management of this wonderful asset and simply give all the stockholders, including the state, a handsome profit on their stock holdings?

Geez.... anybody but the "little old Raleigh & Gaston Railroad" was the general response - in both the political circles and in the private sector. However, it was a decent offer. But no, anybody but.....

The final miracle came within days. The Richmond & Danville Railroad, which had divested its Virginia State ownership and had become acquired by one of the new-trend conglomerates - the Southern Railway Security Company, created by the Pennsylvania Railroad - offered to lease the North Carolina Railroad at a decent rate. The R&D really only wanted the line between Greensborough and Charlotte, but the NCRR insisted that if it was going to be leased then the new operator would have to take the entire railroad.

To make a long story short, the NCRR first rejected the R&D proposal in January of 1871. In June of 1871, the Raleigh & Gaston Ralroad tried again to pursuade its new partners, the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad, to press the NCRR, but the S&R had commitment issues. Together with the Old Bay Line and perhaps others, the R&G did come up with a new and higher offer, but this time for only three to five years. This too was rejected by the NCRR directors. Then, the Richmond & Danville Railroad arrived with a new offer, which the directors and the stockholders of the NCRR felt compelled to accept on September 11, 1871.

The lease obtained by the Richmond & Danville Railroad granted it the right to change the gauge of the NCRR to match its gauge of 5'-0" - something the R&D had wanted since it had built the Piedmont Railroad during the Civil War. In fact, this was one the primary motivating factors that prompted the R&D to go after the NCRR - it wanted a 5'-0" gauge all through North Carolina so it could operate all of its rolling stock from Virginia to South Carolina, and the NCRR's 4'-8-1/2" gauge forced them to offoad freight and passengers in Greensborough.

The gauge change would be very costly, however, and controversy over the legality of the lease discouraged efforts at implementation before 1873. Lawsuits were brought by the state of North Carolina - the major stockholder of the NCRR - alleging that the gauge change would injure the state and its citizens' interest. Injunctions were issued to prevent the change, and the lawsuits went all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Couth. In January of 1875, the NC Supreme Court decided in favor of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, and they began at once to change out all of the tracks on the NCRR to match their 5'-0" gauge.

By 1886, the 5'-0" gauge was at odds with the rest of the country - which had settled on the NCRR's original gauge of 4'-8-1/2" gauge as the overall standard, and a further step was taken that year towards creating a national railway network. During May and June of 1886, most southern railroads, including the Richmond & Danville Railroad, moved one rail over the few required inches - and the NCRR was back to where it started.

The NCRR shops were in less demand as the Richmond & Danville Railroad increasingly used its own shops near Richmond. Although the small village of Company Shops remained the official headquarters of the North Carolina Railroad until 1929, most officials and employees were gradually transferred to other places or left the company altogether. In 1879, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act that authorized taxation of the NCRR's non-operational real estate, and this induced the NCRR to sell most of it.

Company Shops was quickly in danger of becoming a ghost town, and in 1887, it changed its name to Burlington. Under this new appellation, it soon attracted some textile mills and industries that replaced the railroad shops as a source of employment. Only the engine house an a few small structures once owned by the NCRR remain to this day.

The Richmond & Danville Railroad gradually improved the line. By 1891, sixty-pound steel rails had replaced the iron rails between Charlotte and Greensboro - three years later the entire line was equipped with steel rails. Iron bridges soon replaced the old wooden structures.

In 1880, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in full retreat from its southern involvement, sold its Richmond & Danville Railroad holdings to a northern-domiated syndicate headed by William P. Clyde of New York City. This new group organized a holding company known as the Richmond & West Point Terminal Railway and Warehouse Company. By 1890, this new holding company had control of over 8,000 miles of track. Two years later, it went into receivership, the result of over-expansion. J.P. Morgan took over and reorganized it as the Southern Railway Company by 1894.

In 1895, the newly-created Southern Railway negotiated a 99-year lease of the North Carolina Railroad. The continued leasing of the NCRR provided its stockholders, including the state, with uninterrupted dividends. As the years passed, the value of the NCRR property came to exceed by far the original capitalization, and by 1986 - in anticipation of the expiration of the Southern Railway lease in 1994 - the stock soared to about $5,500 per share. Private individuals had trouble buying shares at this price, so the company decided (with state approval) to make a 100-for-1 stock split. The state's position as three-quarters owner was unchanged.

In 1989, the stockholders overwhelmingly approved a merger with the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad, something that company had wanted for over a century.

In 1998, the state of North Carolina agreed to buy out the remaining private shares of NCRR stock and completed the transaction, making it a privately run company, fully owned by the state.

In 1999, the North Carolina Railroad entered into a new lease with Norfolk Southern Railway.

Click Here to go to the NCRR corporate website for more information.

Excerpted with edits from "The North Carolina Railroad 1849-1871 and the Modernization of North Carolina," by Allen W. Trelease - 1991. Excellent book with tons more details and information.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the "Report of the Joint Select Committee on the North Carolina Rail Road," by the NC General Assembly, convened in 1866-1867.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the "Proceedings of the Stockholders of the North Carolina Railroad Company at their Forty-Second Annual Meeting Held in Greensboro, NC, July 9, 1891."

Towns on Route:

Line #1 - Charlotte to Goldsboro:


North Charlotte (1908)

Newell (1882)

Harrisburgh > Harris Depot (1855) > Harrisburgh (1874)


Glass (1898)

Murat (1884-1885)

Landis (1902)

China Grove (faded 1855)

Eufaula (1855) > China Grove #2 (1859)


East Spencer (1913)

Spencer (1897)

Cotton Grove (faced 1866)

Linwood (1870)


Rich Fork (faded 1870)

Jimes (1881) > Lake (1903)

Thomasville (1853)

Fair Grove

High Point (1854)


Salem Junction (1883) > Pomona (1886)

Greensborough > Greensboro (1893)

McLeansville (1856)

Gibsonville (1855)

Mill Point (1888) > Elon College (1890)

Glen Raven (1912)

Company Shops (1858) > Burlington (1887)

Graham (1850)

Haw River

Mason Hall > Mebanesville (1856) > Mebane (1885)

Bingham School (1882-1891)

Hawfield (faded 1866)

Efland (1890)

West Orange (1854) > Hughes Academy (1859-1861)


Strayhorns (1860s)

University Station (1856) > University (1903)

West Durham (1894)

Prattsburg > Durhams (1855) > Durham (1878)

East Durham (1887)

Brassfield (1856-1883)

Nelson (1888)

Llewellyn (1882-1882)

Morrisville (1852)

Cary (1856)

Method (1890)

West Raleigh (1894)


Garners Station (1878) > Garner (1885)

Auburn (1849)

Gulleys Store > Clayton (1856)

Eureka (1855-1858)

Wilsons Mills (1869)

Mitcheners Store (1866) > Selma (1867)

Pine Level (1855)

Boonhill > Princeton (1873)

Goldsborough > Goldsboro (1893)

Line #2 - University Station to Venable:

University Station (1854) > University (1903)

Blackwood (1883)

Venable (1910) > Carrboro (1914)

Line #3 - Goldsboro to Beaufort (acquired 1989):


La Grange



New Bern




Morehead City


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