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Because the Louisa Railroad was the root of the Chesapeake and Ohio, the history of the Piedmont Sub is the early history of the C&O. Below is a brief sketch of that history. My sources focus on the C&O’s westward expansion, so I’ve got little at this time on the development of the line after the 1800’s. A further problem is summed up by one librarian who said, “In Virginia, there is no history after 1865.” Still, I’ll continue digging and I’ll post more as I find it.
On February 18 of 1836 the Louisa Railroad was chartered by the state of Virginia. The goal was to provide better transportation for a region with no navigable waterways for canals. From the first, though, the Louisa Railroad was intended to extend west to the Alleghany Mountains. Originally the line terminated in Gordonsville where there was a connection with the stagecoach road that ran from Charlottesville to Fredericksburg.
In 1837 the Louisa Railroad opened from Hanover Junction (now Doswell ) to Fredericks Hall . The first train ran on December 20, 1837. One engine and three cars left Richmond on the tracks of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac at nine in the morning. The train arrived in Frederick Hall at one in the afternoon. At first, the line was operated by the RF&P. By December of 1838 the tracks had been extended to Louisa Courthouse and twice daily passengers and freight were picked up by stage coach and wagon to continue westward.
The railroad reached Gordonsville on January 1, 1840. The operating agreement with the RF&P was terminated in 1847. The first cars constructed for the Louisa Railroad were received between 1847-1849 when the Louisa RR took over operations from the RF&P. Construction continued, with the line reaching Rogers Mills in 1848 and Shadwell in 1849.
The Louisa Railroad carried a variety of Virginia produced goods in addition to mail and passengers. Oats, tobacco, wheat, corn, corn meal, bacon, butter, apples, yarn, lard, pig iron, beef, pork, and lumber were all hauled on Louisa RR trains.
Because the railroad no longer lay primarily within the confines of Louisa County, the Louisa Railroad was renamed the Virginia Central in 1850. In 1851, following a legal battle with the RF&P over access to Richmond , the Virginia Central expanded eastward from Hanover Junction to Richmond. In 1852, the road was extended through Charlottesville to foot of the Blue Ridge at Meechum’s River and in 1854 the Orange and Alexandria Railroad joined tracks with the Virginia Central in Gordonsville. The O&A was granted trackage rights over the Virginia Central to Charlottesville. This link gave the Virginia Central additional traffic from northern Virginia.
The Virginia Central played an important role during the Civil War moving troops and supplies for the Confederates. As a result, it suffered much damage at the hands of Federal troops intent on disrupting its operations. Even a partial list of the damage is enough to indicate the difficulty the Virginia Central had in maintaining operations:
By the end, in order to keep the eastern part of the line operational, rails from the western end were torn up and used to replace those damaged in Federal raids. In addition to the raids listed above two major engagements occurred along the Virginia Central’s tracks. The first, the North Anna Campaign, occurred in May of 1864 and is covered in the West Point Atlas. The battle, intended by the Union troops to destroy Lee’s army at Hanover Junction (now Doswell), ended in a stalemate. The second occurred at Trevilian Station in June of 1864. It is covered in more detail on the Trevilian page. Despite the damage done during the war trains were running over the whole line by July of 1865, just 3 months after the Confederate surrender.
In 1868 the Virginia Central merged with the Covington and Ohio to form the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. In 1878 the company became the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. After the James River line opened in the 1890’s, traffic across the Piedmont Sub was primarily passengers and agricultural products. The line remained important to the C&O, however. In about 1909 automatic train controls were installed between Gordonsville and Clifton Forge as an experiment in improving traffic. In 1920, an automatic train stop device was installed near Cobham, but it proved too expensive to continue. By 1926, an automatic train control signal system was in operation from Orange to Clifton Forge. In the 1940’s CTC was added to this system. The CTC equipment was housed in G cabin in Gordonsville and allowed the line to handle up to 50 trains a day.
Despite these improvements, competition from automobiles, trucks, and planes cut into the C&O’s business. As early as the 1930’s stations like Hewlett and Atlee lost their telegraph offices or agency stations. Branchlines, like those in Mineral or the Virginia Air Line were closed. By 1970, only Richmond, Gordonsville, and Charlottesville remained on the public passenger time tables. After the creation of Amtrak in May of 1971, passenger service continued on the Piedmont Sub, with a brief interruption in the early 1980’s (for more information, see the Operations page. On September 3, 1979 steam returned to the Piedmont Sub for a brief moment when the Southern and the Chessie Sysyem ran the Piedmont Limited from Alexandria to Charlottesville via Gordonsville. The Piedmont Sub continued to serve CSX, throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. In December, 2004 the Buckingham Branch Railroad entered into a 20 year lease that allows them to operate the former C&O lines from Richmond to Clifton Forge, including the former Piedmont Sub.
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