Blue Ridge Railroad

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The Blue Ridge Railroad was the first rail line to reach the Pendleton District and Fort Hill area, in September 1860. Issuing stock on July 1, 1859, the Blue Ridge Railroad Company constructed a 44.2 mile line between Anderson and West Union, South Carolina via Pendleton, whose town fathers lobbied hard for the line to be routed through their community, and the future site of Seneca. Its closest stop to Fort Hill was Cherry's Crossing, where the line crossed the Seneca River. Construction began at Belton in 1851. Plans to build a line through the Rabun Gap in Georgia to connect westward at Knoxville, Tennessee were stymied by the construction of several tunnels including the never-completed one-mile Stumphouse Tunnel above Walhalla in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Money for the project ran short, and the onset of the War Between the States in April 1861 halted construction which was never resumed. A final extension from West Union to Walhalla at the urging of the Town Council and local citizens saw the first train arrive November 14, 1877, but no more track would ever be laid along the alignment up Stumphouse Mountain.

The line never ran service beyond Walhalla, and in the late 1990s, with the closing of the last textile plant using rail service in Walhalla, it was truncated again at West Union.

In the 1800s, this was the most direct route between Columbia and Clemson. Sports team regularly rode out from Cherry's Crossing.

On August 10, 1871, Thomas Green Clemson and Anna Maria Calhoun Clemsons' son, Capt. John Calhoun Clemson (b. July 17, 1841), was killed in a train wreck between a passenger train and a lumber or freight train on the Blue Ridge Railroad near the future Seneca, South Carolina. He was 30 and unmarried.

It remained the only rail route through the Clemson area until the Atlanta & Richmond Air Line Railway constructed a line through the community of Calhoun opening in 1873, north of the Fort Hill plantation. The spot where the two rail lines crossed became Seneca, South Carolina.

On Friday night, June 16, 1876, a train bound from Belton to Anderson Court House, broke through the trestle over Broadway Creek, killing all five on board, including Wilson, the engineer, and Sullivan, the mail agent. ("The Pickens Sentinel, Pickens Court House, South Carolina, 1872-1893, Historical and Genealogical Abstracts, Volume 1, compiled by Peggy Burton Rich and Marion Ard Whitehurst, Heritage Books, Inc., Bowie, Maryland, 1994, ISBN 1-55613-985-3, page 29.)

In 1880, the Columbia and Greenville Railroad acquired the 34 miles of track that had been laid, which connected with their Belton-Anderson branch.

In 1884 a wood depot was erected at West Union, South Carolina to accommodate travelers coming to stay in the Blue Ridge foothills and at the Mineral Springs Hotel in that community.

In 1901, the Southern Railway purchased the line and operated it as a subsidiary as the Blue Ridge Railway. In 1903, the Southern also bought the Columbia and Greenville Railroad and then leased the Belton-Anderson branch to the Blue Ridge Railway. This arrangement would last until 1951.

A timetable printed in an ad in The Tiger, effective July 28, 1910, showed eastbound service at Cherry's as Passenger No. 12 at 7:44 a.m., and Passenger No. 10 at 4:04 p.m., both operating daily, and Mixed Train (freight and passenger cars) No. 8 at 11:56 a.m., daily except Sunday. Westbound service was Passenger No. 9 at 12:36 a.m., Passenger No. 11 at 6:44 p.m., both daily, and Mixed No. 7 at 8:11 a.m., daily except Saturday.

In 1915, a new depot was built on North Main Street over the railroad cut in downtown Anderson, with steps down to the platforms at trackside beneath the station and housing division offices on the second floor. This building still exists in 2011.

In 1934, the Blue Ridge was operating ten trains a day, two from Anderson to Belton, three from Belton to Seneca, one from Seneca to Anderson and one from Belton to Walhalla. (Smith, Stacey A., "Memories of the Blue Ridge Railroad", self-published, circa 2005, page 12.)

Demand for passenger service, which had surged during World War II and gas rationing, dropped sharply following the war as roads in the region improved and passenger trains on the Blue Ridge were dropped soon thereafter.

In October 1950, two ALCo RS-3 diesel road-switchers were delivered to the line, Nos. 1 and 2, lettered "Blue Ridge" on the long hood but wearing the Southern Railway green, white and gold scheme. Operation of steam locomotives on the Blue Ridge Railway came to an end shortly thereafter and the retired engines scrapped. The two diesels would be the last motive power acquired by the BRRwy.

On July 1, 1951, the Southern Railway leased the the Blue Ridge Railway to another subsidiary, the Carolina and Northwestern Railway, which operated a 120-mile line in North Carolina. That line had been acquired by the Southern circa 1940 after it went insolvent in 1938. The former Blue Ridge Railway then operated as the Blue Ridge Division (not contiguous) of the Carolina and Northwestern Railway. RS-3s 1 and 2 were renumbered 7 and 8.

With the creation of Lake Hartwell by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1950s, the former Blue Ridge trestle over the Seneca River just west of Cherry's Crossing was replaced with new earthen approaches and bridge structure.

On January 1, 1974, the Southern Railway purchased the Norfolk Southern Railway, which stretched across North Carolina from Charlotte to Beaufort, and all the way north to Cape Henry, Virginia, and merged it with Carolina & Northwestern, but dropped the use of both names for the operation. It was about this time that the former Blue Ridge RR/Rwy ceased to be operated under the C&NW identity, being absorbed into the Southern Railway System, known as the Z-line, and thence into the new Norfolk Southern Company in 1982.

As of 2011, the Norfolk Southern generally operates one freight a day over the former Blue Ridge, usually performing its switching duties for industrial customers between midnight and dawn.

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