It’s 1885, two years since the first passenger trains connected Point Pleasant and Charleston. Rail lines in Mason County are still few and far between. In fact, there’s only the one up the Kanawha Valley! But, progress is in the air, and another railway is quickly working its way south.
Originally chartered in 1880 with the goal of connecting Parkersburg and Charleston, plans quickly changed to include Wheeling (then the capital) and replace Charleston with Collis P. Huntington’s booming rail town to our south. Thus in 1882, the Ohio River Railroad was formed.
Unlike the other railroads in West Virginia, the wide bottoms of the Ohio Valley made construction of the O.R.R relatively painless. By 1884, the railroad had already reached Parkersburg and was rapidly pushing south. As 1885 approached, Mason County could feel the electricity in the air! Having gone through quite a few failed attempts before, an Ohio Valley railroad was finally a reality.
The O.R.R.’s work crew, 1,500 strong, graded the line and laid track through Jackson and Mason County almost faster than the Weekly Register could report. This speed truly was an amazing feat, especially considering our section of the valley was one of the most difficult. Mount Alto, Letart, Hartford, and Gallipolis Ferry all have narrows that required major cuts. Brinker’s Run, Broad Run, Sliding Hill Creek, Old Town Creek, Crab Creek, and many others all needed bridged. Not to mention, perhaps the largest bridge on the rail line would need built across the Kanawha River.
Nonetheless, the Ohio River Railroad was completed to Point Pleasant in September of 1886 and to Huntington in 1888. Stations at New Haven, Hartford, Mason, Clifton, West Columbia, Point Pleasant, Gallipolis Ferry, and Glenwood made up the lines main stops, and depots at Letart, Graham Station, Maggie, York, and Mercer’s Bottom provided additional stops if necessary. The railroad also built a railyard and roundhouse in Point Pleasant, near the foot of Camden Avenue. That area is today better known by many locals as the former site of the WV Malleable Iron Company.
I wasn’t able to find an opening date of the line in the Register, at least nothing as detailed as Editor Tippett’s piece on the opening of the K&M. However, according to Mildred Gibbs, the first passenger train ran between Parkersburg and Point Pleasant on Christmas Day, 1886. She wrote, and I agree, that “it must have seemed as though Jolly Old St. Nick were arriving with the gift of prosperity on his back.”
Certainly, this new railroad helped Mason County quite a bit. The local industries, the salt furnaces and coal mines of the Bend Area and manufacturers of Point Pleasant, now had another means of shipping their goods. Between the two rail lines, passenger service was now open to the entire county, and though the Wheeling connection to the B&O and Huntington connection to the C&O, passengers could go virtually anywhere in the country.
But as the story usually goes, the arrival of the railroad was not without problems. Derailments were common. Two notable wrecks were at New Haven and Glenwood. Livestock were frequently struck and killed by trains. In February of 1892, “an O.R.R. train ran over and killed a valuable cow for Mr. Samuel Hawk a few days ago.” Less often, but still far too often for comfort, people were seriously injured or killed. In Hartford’s Brown Cemetery is the grave of 9-year-old Cecil Hall, struck by a train the day after his birthday.
The O.R.R. was later acquired by the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O), which was bought by the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) and merged into the Chessie System, and today is CSX.
Information from the Weekly Register, writings of Mildred Gibbs, and Dan Robie’s WVNC Rails site.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at email@example.com.