North Carolina Railroads - Petersburg Railroad

Acronym

Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point

PRR

1830

1833

1899*

Petersburg, VA

Blakely, NC
* 1899 - Merged into the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, which was renamed as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of Virginia that same year.
Operated the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad until 1852, when it was merged into the Petersburg Railroad. 

The Petersburg Railroad was chartered in 1830 and opened in 1833. It ran from Petersburg, VA south to Garysburg, NC, from which it ran to Weldon, NC via trackage rights over the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad.

This railroad was the very first one operational within the state of North Carolina, and it was soon followed by the Halifax & Weldon Railroad, which opened from Weldon, NC to Halifax, NC later in 1833, and was purchased by the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad in 1837.

In March of 1898, the Petersburg Railroad was merged into the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, which was renamed to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad of Virginia that same year, as shown above. 

Click Here for an excepted page from the 1838 Farmer's Register by Edmund Ruffin showing an advertisement for the Petersburg Railroad and the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad. 

Although the idea of building railroads as a means of transportation was brand new, the citizens of Petersburg, VA entered enthusiastically into the organization of a company and obtained a charter from the state of Virginia on February 10, 1830, which was granted the same year by the state of North Carolina. It provided that the capital stock to be $400,000, the road was to extend from Petersburg to some convenient point in North Carolina, preferably along the Roanoke River.

Permission was given to erect toll-gates on the line and scales at its various depots, and when ten miles should be completed the company was given permission to begin operations, charging 12-1/2 cents per ton-mile for freight. When the entire road was completed, the rate was to be $8 per ton for the entire distance. Little time was lost and by the fall of 1830 engineers were engaged in locating the road from the Rowanty River to the Nottoway River. The road was in partial operations as early as 1832.

The route followed was a very direct one, the distance from Petersburg to a point 1-1/2 miles below the falls of the Roanoke River, being fifty-nine miles. The curves were arcs varying in diameter from two to nine miles. The maximum grade did not exceed thirty feet to the mile. The track was of wood and iron, yellow pine rails five inches by nine inches were plated with strips of iron 1/2" x 2" and secured with white oak crossties twelve inches in diameter. The total cost of the railroad upon completion was $575,334.

Three years later, the charter was amended to permit the building of a branch road from the intersection with the Portsmouth & Roanoke Railroad to Weldon, NC.

By 1835, the first railroad to operate within the state of North Carolina was faily well equipped, having seven locomotives and one hundred cars of various kinds in operation. The traffic on the road gradually increased, and it soon acquired a contract to haul the U.S. Mail, only the second railroad in the country to achieve this.

Its connection was so close with the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad and with the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad (both completed soon after the Petersburg Railroad), that an eighteen mile line joining the two was constructed, and the Petersburg Railroad soon entered into contracts with both new lines.

The Petersburg Railroad was to conduct the business of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, furnishing the rolling stock, train, and depot agents, in return for one-half of the gross receipts from produce and mail, and one-third of the receipts of passengers. The Raleigh & Gaston Railroad was to keep the road and depots in good repair and furnish the labor and superintendence for these activities.

A yearly rental of $11,000 was paid to the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad for trackage rights. This contract continued until the Petersburg Railroad purchased the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad outright in 1855.

With the completion of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad and the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad (later renamed to Wilmington & Weldon Railroad), the Petersburg Railroad was in perfect position to capitalize on all of the North Carolina freight, and it's financial position was very solid. However, with a tremendous increase in traffic, its operating costs soared - the fragile track just wasn't prepared for such constant loads, and therefore had to be replaced frequently.

In the Spring of 1842, the company began laying T-rail, but was soon abandoned and the track was recovered with 3/4" flat iron. In 1850, the entire line was relaid with new U-rails of fifty-pounds to the yard. Some of these were replaced between 1855 and 1859 with fifty-pound T-rail, including the Gaston Branch, which was formerly the Greensville & Roanoke Railroad. By the time the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, the Petersburg Railroad was one of the very few Southern railroads in good shape, both financially and physically.

The Petersburg Railroad's equipment was in such good shape at the beginning of the Civil War that it was possible to run with little attention to upkeep. It had on hand a large supply of materials which it had bought just before the outbreak of hostilities. The ordinary channels for supplies were utterly deranged by the war. And, however, the sudden increase in business from the Confederate government taxed the road to its capacity. By the Spring of 1862, the surplus material on hand in 1860 had all been used and the road was beginning to feel the pinch of the many blockades across the Southern states.

In 1864, conditions became desperate. The rolling stock was worn out as were the rails. On the 6th of May, Federal forces reached the line at Stony Creek and burned the bridges, cars, and buildings and tore up a mile and a half of track. Another attack was made on June 21st, and another four miles of track was torn up. In December, a third attack was made further south and thirty-two (32) miles of track were destroyed, more than half of the road.

When Petersburg was evacuated in April of 1865, all of the rolling stock was taken to the south side of the Roanoke River. When it looked as though the bridge at Weldon and the rolling stock would be burned there, the cars and engines were all floated across to the north side of the river at Gaston. The collapse was complete.

After General Robert E. Lee's surrender in April, the Federal government returned the road over to the company in June, and the tremendous task of rebuilding it began. Squads of workmen were put on the road at both ends in July, and by the middle of August it was possible for trains to pass over the entire length of the line. However, the rails were in such poor condition that trains had to be limited in both number and speed.

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

The Petersburg Railroad Company was organized 1830, under laws of Virginia and North Carolina [no, 1831 in NC]. Original charter granted by Act of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia, passed February 10, 1830, and by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at its session of 1830. Amendatory Acts were passed by the Legislature of Virginia as follows: 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834, 1836, 1840 and 1843.

The charter expired by limitation in 1891. A renewal of the same was granted by the Legislature for two years, by Act ratified the 9th day of March, 1891. The Legislature refused to renew for a longer period than two years, because the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad Company claims exemption from taxation, not only for its main line, but for its branch roads as well, and had, in the meantime, become the owner by lease of the Petersburg Road. This right of exemption from taxation was not acquiesed in by the Legislature, and suits are now pending to subject the branch roads to taxation. In the meantime the Legislature, for these reasons, thought it wise to renew the charter for only a short period.

Towns on Route:

NC/VA State Line

Pleasant Hill

Dupre's Cross Roads > Dupre

Blakely Depot (1833) > Garysburg (1838)



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