North Carolina Railroads - Raleigh & Gaston Railroad


Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point





Raleigh, NC

Gaston, NC
* 1900 - April 14th, Seaboard Air Line Railroad was incorporated and pulled in many that were already considered part of the overall system that had been used as early as 1875, but certainly by 1881.
+ 1899 - Consolidation into SAL authorized by NC legislative Act of February 16, 1899.
+ By 1881, the Seaboard & Roanoke, the Raleigh & Gaston, the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line, and others were operating as a coordinated system under the Seaboard Air-Line system name for marketing purposes.
+ 1853 - Extended the line to Weldon, NC.

SAL Number 217 - Was R&G Number 24

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

The Raleigh & Gaston Railroad Company was organized in the year 1836, under the laws of North Carolina, Acts of December, 1835, and January 6, 1845.

Reorganized September 11th, 1851.

The road was opened from Raleigh to Gaston, in 1844, and extended to Weldon in 1852 [no - 1853]. The company owns a controlling interest in the Raleigh & Augusta Air-Line Railroad, and a large interest in the Durham & Northern Railroad, also the Carolina Central Railroad and the Georgia, Carolina & Northern Railroad.

Charter expires ninety years from December, 1835. It was amended in 1839, '43, '45, '47, '49, 51, ’52, '55, '61, ('66, ordinance of convention), '67. In 1871 the section requiring the officers to reside in North Carolina was repealed.

This road has been declared by the courts to be exempt from taxation under its charter, except upon its shares of stock. It is the most important link in the Seaboard Air-Line System, and was chartered by the General Assembly of 1835 for the purpose of effecting a communication by a railroad from some point in or near the city of Raleigh to the termination of the Greenville & Roanoke Railroad, at or near Gaston, on the Roanoke River, with a capital stock of $800,000.

Property Operated:

Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, from Raleigh to Weldon, 97 miles. Louisburg Railroad, from Franklinton to Louisburg, 10 miles.

Construction began in November of 1836 on the first forty (40) miles of standard gauge track. The first major task was to construct a 1,040-ft. long bridge across the Roanoke River at Gaston, NC in Northampton County, on the north bank. The following year a connection was made at that point with the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad that was operated by the Petersburg Railroad of Virginia. The town of Gaston was named in honor of a noted North Carolina jurist, Judge William Gaston - and as time went on it was renamed to South Gaston.

The Raleigh & Gaston Railroad was projected to terminate in Raleigh, about eighty-five (85) miles away, and the heaviest grade on the road was encountered climbing up the bank of the Roanoke River, with a gradient of 63 feet to the mile that extended for 2-1/4 miles through the towns of Thelma and Summit.

Rather than try to build a road and to operate it at the same time, the company decided to lease the line to the Petersburg Railroad of Virginia, which was to furnish all of the rolling stock and the locomotives. Thus, the first two engines of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, the Raleigh and the Gaston, were delivered to Petersburg instead.

Work progressed rapidly over the first portion of the line. The town of Littleton was reached on May of 1838 and Macon, ten miles farther, saw its first train a month later. Originally, it was planned for the line to go through the town of Warrenton, however, some folks in that county seat did not like the idea, so the road was rerouted to bypass it at Warren Plains, three miles to the north.

The road was opened to Ridgeway in July of 1838 and on to Henderson, 42-1/2 miles from Gaston, in September of that year. Like most other railroads built in the 1830s, the track consisted of wooden rails or stringers capped with English strap iron, and laid on wooden crossties. Iron deliveries were delayed due to one vessel being stranded off the coast of Ireland for a good time, and another shipment from Philadelphia was lost at sea. Finally, the freezing of the James River off City Point, Virginia further delayed the last shipment.

Between Raleigh and Henderson, four major bridges were built. The Tar River bridge was 846 feet long and 94 feet above normal water level. At Cedar Creek, a bridge 528 feet long and 70 feet high was constructed. At the Neuse River, the bridge was 325 feet long and 55 feet high. And finally, at Crab Tree Creek, the stream was crossed by a 313-ft. long bridge that was 55 feet high.

Franklinton was reached in November of 1839, and Wake Forest in early March of 1840. The first train steamed into Raleigh on March 21, 1840, stopping just behind the present Legislative Building of the State Capitol. A three-day celebration was held in June to jointly honor the coming of the first railroad to the state capital and the opening of the newly-constructed capitol building.

Raleigh & Gaston Rail Road - 1840

George W. Mordecai was the first president of the railroad. He resigned in May of 1840 and was succeeded by Samuel F. Patterson. The Chief Engineer was Charles F.M. Garnett. In 1841, the company determined that the road contruction and the rolling stock had cost about $1,330,000.

The lease of the road to the Petersburg Railroad was terminated on December 1, 1839, and on that date the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad began to operate its own railroad with equipment and motive power on loan from the former lessee. Soon, four new 6-wheeled, 4-4-0 type, engines were delivered from Messrs. D.J. Burr & Company of Richmond, VA.

In 1845, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad was in such a sad state financially, and it had to be sold under foreclosure. The state of North Carolina was the only entity capable of the purchase, and it began the long and arduous task of rebuilding the entire road as well as its image. In 1853, the road was extended twelve (12) miles eastward from Gaston to connect with other lines in Weldon. The original rails were soon replaced with T-rail.

In September of 1858, the company reported an ownership of fourteen (14) locomotives, having a total value of $80,000. The most valuable engines ($8,000-$9,000 each) were named Alamance, Saunders, Mordecai, and Warren. Those costing $7,000 or more were the Wake, Warren, Franklin, Raleigh, Granville, and the Graham, which was being rebuilt that year. At the bottom of the list was the Giraffe, reported to be worth $2,500.

This railroad served the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War with practically no interference from the enemy. The line offered the most-direct route between Richmond, Raleigh, and Charlotte until 1864. In September of 1863, trains were engaged in mass troop movement of the army of General James Longstreet form the battlefields of Virginia near Orange Court House above Richmond and Charlottesville, to Chickamauga, GA, near Chattanooga, TN.

The Confederacy finally brought destruction to the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad. Upon the fall of Richmond, the company's bridge across the Roanoke River at Gaston was destroyed, never to be rebuilt by the company. However, the locomotives and most of the rolling stock were safely stored across the river at Gaston and protected from the Federal troops.

In 1866, private investors finally re-acquired all of the state's stock and the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad was once again a private concern. This new organization quickly began advertising the railroad as the "Inland Air Line Route."

In 1871, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad came into control of a railroad then under construction southward from Raleigh - the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad. This new road reached Hamlet, NC, ninety-seven (97) miles south of Raleigh, in 1877, and formed a connection with the Carolina Central Railway, then operating across the state from Wilmington, through Charlotte, to Shelby.

The depression years of the 1870s, along with heavy advances to the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad, caused the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad to run into financial difficulties. Looking out for the best interest of both his own company and of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, President John M. Robinson of the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad, in 1873, acquired control of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad and its new subsidiary, the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad. In October of 1875, Mr. Robinson became president of both the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad and the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad.

Raleigh & Gaston Railroad President W.W. Vass

Like many early railroads, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad was built with strap iron rails fastened to wooden stringers. In time, the strap iron would come loose at the ends and project upward as trains passed over, sometimes penetrating the wooden passenger car floors. These lethal objects were commonly called "snakeheads." In the early days, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad was poorly maintained, and it became more rickety, hazardous, and uncertain. The editor of the Petersburg Intelligencer wrote sarcastically of a ride in July of 1851:

"There is scarcely a piece of iron on the road of six feet continuous length. But what of that? The cars jump from the iron to the wood rail, then skip a while on mother earth, and then jump fiercely on a snakehead, mash it down, and go on their way rejoicing in a speed of some eight miles an hour. As to a run off (derailment), the Engineer does not care the smack of his finger for that. He is used to it, and can, with his assistant, replace a train before the snoozing passenger knows that it has encountered any thing more formidable than an ordinary bump with a snakehead....There never was such travelling, over such a road."

Soon afterwards, the road was reorganized and rebuilt, and thereafter it was regarded as one of the best-run railroads in the state.

In 1853, the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad extended its line twelve (12) miles downstream from South Gaston, on the south bank of the Roanoke River, into the town of Weldon, thus connecting with the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad (soon to be renamed to the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad) and the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad.

From an October 27, 1899 article in the New York Times:

Headline - SEABOARD AIR LINE COMBINE, Raleigh and Gaston Railway to Absorb Many Roads.

RALEIGH, N.C., Oct. 26. -- A general meeting of the stockholders of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Company will be held at the office of the company in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, for the purpose of considering the change of its corporate title from that of "The Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Company" to "Sea-any other name that may be selected and -board Air Line Railroad Company" or agreed upon.

The meeting is held also for the purpose of considering the consolidation of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Company with the following railroad companies, or any of them: The Raleigh and Augusta Air Line Railroad Company, the Durham and Northern Railway Company, the Roanoke and Tar River Railroad Company, the Seaboard and Roanoke Company, the Louisburg Railroad Company, the Carolina Central Railroad Company, the Palmetto Railroad Company, the Chesterfield and Kershaw Railroad Company, the Georgia, Carolina and Northern Railway Company, the the Seaboard Air Line Belt Railroad Company, the Georgia and Alabama Railroad Company, the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad Company, the Georgia and Alabama Terminal Company, the Logansville and Lawrenceville Railroad of Georgia, the Richmond, Petersburg and Carolina Railroad Company, the Pittsboro Railroad Company, the Southbound Railroad Company.

At this meeting also will be settled the terms and conditions upon which the consolidation with each of the above-named railroad companies shall be made, or its property and franchises acquired. This will make necessary an increase of the capital stock of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Company from 15,000 shares of $100 each, aggregating $1,500,000, into 716,250 shares of $100 each aggregating $71,625,000.

This stock will be divided into two series of grades and provisions will be made for the preferences, conditions, and voting powers of each series or grade. The power to make this consolidation is given to this company under an Act of the General Assembly of North Carolina. 

Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the "Proceedings of the Stockholders of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad Co. at their Twenty-Second Annual Meeting Held at Raleigh, July 18, 1872."

Towns on Route:


Huntsville Depot (1850s) > Huntsville

Neuse (1845)

Alston's Store (1838) > Forestville (1839)

Wake Forest

Pacific (1848) > Youngsville (1883)

Lemay's Cross Roads > Franklinton (1839)

Linbank > Staunton (1841) > Kittrell (1854)

Henderson (1838)

Brookston (1870)

Exchange (1835)

Branchville (1858) > Cheathamsville (1858) > Manson (1859)

Ridgeway (1839)

Warren Plains (1857)

Macon Depot (1839) > Macon (1881)


Gaston (1837) > South Gaston (1845)


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