The Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine, Pocahontas, Virginia

The U.S. state of Virginia is known for many things.  It is in Virginia where you will find the oldest town/city in the thirteen original colonies (Jamestown).  It was the site of the first Thanksgiving (Charles City) predating the more famous one in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  It has produced more U.S. Presidents than any other state, and it is the birthplace and home of the first president, George Washington, and the birthplace and home of the third president and the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.  It is the home of the largest natural harbor in the world and the largest naval base in the world (Norfolk).  It is the home of the world’s largest manmade star (Roanoke).  The first major battle of the American Civil War was fought in this state and is the only site of two major battles of the war (Manassas).  It was where the British surrendered at the end of the American Revolutionary War (Yorktown).  The largest living history museum in the United States of America is here (Colonial Williamsburg).  It has the largest caverns on the east coast of America (Luray) and is home to a currently dormant volcano (near Harrisonburg).  As for the railroad, it is the birthplace of the Norfolk and Western Railway Number 611 (Roanoke), a Class J locomotive and the only surviving locomotive of its kind.  Tragically, it was the site of the worst train wrecks in history, the wreck of the Old 97 (Danville).  The first military railroad in the nation was built here (Manassas to Centreville), and it was the first time the railroad was used for military service (Delaplane to Manassas).

There is so much about the state of Virginia that has shaped the history of the United States of America, but when people think about the state, not many people will think about coal mining.  That normally goes to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but not Virginia.

Welcome to the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine in Pocahontas, Virginia.  It is a place where you can come and see how mining was done.  Before it was the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine, it was… a coal mine, an actual working coal mine.  Coal was first mined here in 1882.  What is special about this mine?  It was used by the United States Navy as fuel.  The coal was mined here until the 1950’s, and the mine was closed.

Some of you are saying, “This is nice, but of what I read, this mine, unlike other mines, used carts pulled by mules to move the coal out of the mine instead of a train.  It looks like this mine has no history with the railroad.”

Yes, the coal was taken out of the mine but mule drawn carts, but how did it get out of town?  The railroad, mainly the Norfolk and Western Railway, transported the coal out of the town.  The carts took the coal to the train were it was loaded into coal cars and taken away.

The town of Pocahontas, Virginia is the first coal town in the state.  Today, you can tour the coal mine.  You can walk through the original mine and see the places where the coal was removed, and you can see some of the old equipment.  There is also a museum that is located in the original powerhouse that supplied power to the mine.  The rail line that served the mine is now a rail trail.  Just a short drive away is the town cemetery where some of the miners are buried.  You can tour the town and see where the railroad line went through.

The Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine is located at Shop Hollow Road in Pocahontas, Virginia.  It is open May to October on Saturday and Sunday, 10:00am to 5:00pm.  Parking is on site.  There is an admission fee to enter the mine.  The floor is mainly silt and may be difficult for wheelchairs.  Walking is required, and there are no places to sit.  Sandals and flip flops are not recommended.  You can get more information at https://pocahontasva.org/whats-new/exhibition-coal-mine/ or by calling 276-945-9522 or at pocahontasva@comcast.net.

So, today, you have learned some new about Virginia.  You now know about coal mining in the state and how the railroad played a role.

The Lehigh River Gorge Scenic Railway, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

The Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad Number 425 at the old Central Railroad of New Jersey Train Station in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

The town of Jim Thorpe in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is considered to be one of the best small towns in the United States of America.  The town sits in a valley where the Lehigh River flows.  It is also a railroad town with a train station built by the Central Railroad of New Jersey.  There is no regular passenger service to the town, but it is where you will find the Lehigh River Gorge Scenic Railway.

You arrive at the old train station.  You by your ticket.  You wait.  Then, the train comes.  You board the train.  When the time comes, the train leaves the station.

You head north.  You see the rail yard.  Then you pass the junction with the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern, and you cross the river, and you cross the tracks owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway.  You see the rail trail that parallels the tracks, and you wave to the hikers and bikers as you roll by.  You cross the river again, and you see where the railroad once tunneled through the mountain.  You go a little ways and see a waterfall.  You arrive at the end, and you watch as the locomotive goes from one end to the other.  Sadly, this means that you are on you way back to Jim Thorpe.  You look out the window, and you enjoy the scenery along the way.

The Lehigh River Gorge Scenic Railway is a treat for the rail fan and anyone who enjoys beautiful scenery.  The ride is only seventy minutes, and it is an enjoyable seventy minutes.  If you visit the town of Jim Thorpe, it is definitely a must do.

The Lehigh River Gorge Scenic Railway is owned by the Reading, Blue Mountain, and Northern Railroad.  It is located at the old Central Railroad of New Jersey train station in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania at 1 Susquehanna Street (U.S. Route 209).  The railway does not have its own parking, but the town parking is located next to the station.  (Payment required.)  The train is wheelchair accessible.  The ticket office is outside the train depot on the north side next to the boarding area.  You can get more information at https://www.lgsry.com/.

Get out into nature.  Enjoy the scenery.  Ride the Lehigh River Gorge Scenic Railroad.

The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, Beckley, West Virginia

The Old Rahall Company Store, Home of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, West Virginia

When people think about the U.S. state of West Virginia, the common things are the mountains and the coal mines.  Coal mining is one of the state’s top industries.  One of the places you can experience life in the coal mine is at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine in the city of Beckley.

You have coal mine tours, and you have the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine Tour.

Some of you are saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!  I have seen this so many times.  You go into the coal mine.  They tell you about the coal mining.  Then you leave.  I have seen this many times.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.  As you arrive, you will see something completely different.  The first thing you will see is the Rahall Company Store.  Well, it is where you buy your tickets for the coal mine tour.  It also contains a store, well, the gift shop, and it contains a museum that tells the history of the mine.

So you bought your tickets, but you have a little time before your tour begins.  No problem.  You can tour the coal camp.  No.  It is not your summer camp where you sleep in tents or cabins.  The camp features an old schoolhouse, the home of the superintendent of the mine, the home of a miner’s family, a home of a bachelor miner, and a church.  Each structure is open for touring.  You get a glimpse of how the coal miners lived.

The Home of a Miner’s Family

Well, it is still not time for the tour to begin.  You can walk the grounds.  You can take a look at the Number 1, a dinky locomotive that was donated to the mine that is similar to one that was used to move coal cars from the mine to the main line along a spur track.  (The spur and main line are now rail trails.)  You can take a peek at a statue of a coal miner.  You can also see a sign from the Slab Fork Coal Company and some old mine equipment.

Now it is time to do the tour of the mine.  You put your hard hat on.  You step into the mine car.  The tour guide, a former miner, is about to take you into the mine.  You enter the mine riding the mine train.  You see the top of the mine just over your head.  The tour guide points out the different veins of coal.  He tells you about life in the coal mine.  He tells you the methods of mining and shows the machinery that was used.  You ride through the mine, and you exit through the second entrance giving you a little enjoyment of the outdoors before returning to the starting point.

Inside the Coal Mine

The Beckley Exhibition Mine is a decommissioned mine that is open for public tours.  The good thing for those who have trouble walking is that the entire mine tour is done from the mine train and requires no walking or standing.  All of the structures in the coal camp are wheelchair accessible.  This allows everyone to enjoy the experience of the life of a coal miner without the coal silt or any of the dangers associated with coal mining.

The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is located at 513 Ewart Avenue in Beckley, West Virginia.  It is close to Interstates 64 and 77, U.S. Route 19, and West Virginia Routes 3 and 16.  (Signs will direct you to the mine.)  The mine is open from April to October from 10:00am to 5:00pm, but arrangements can be made for groups 15 or more.  Parking is on site.  While at the mine, you can visit the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia (open year round) and the Mountain Homestead.  You can get more information at https://beckley.org/coal-mine/.

The Coal Mine Superintendent’s House

So, you want to know about life as a coal miner.  The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine will tell their story.

Dinky Locomotive Number 1

Those Old Train Stations: Scottsburg, Indiana

Old Train Station, Scottsburg, Indiana

The town of Scottsburg is a town in the southern region of the U.S. state of Indiana.  It is not a town that is a tourist hotspot, and you are not going to read about the town in travel magazines.  What is special about this town, located 30 miles (48 Kilometers) north of Louisville, Kentucky, it was a town that not only grew around the railroad, but it is also named after a railroad official named Horace Scott.  The Jeffersonville Railroad came to Scottsburg in 1852, the town grew.  A train station was built.

The train station was built in 1872 as a passenger and freight station which was common in smaller towns.  There were separate waiting rooms: one waiting room for the men and a different waiting room for the women.  It was an active train station until the early 1950’s.  The depot was restored in 1991 and was moved one block north, and it was dedicated as the Scottsburg Heritage Station in 1996.

Today, although the railroad still passes through Scottsburg, it no longer stops here, but you can still visit the station although the interior is not open to the public.  It is located on NW Railroad Street one block west of Main Street and one block north of Indiana Route 56 east of U.S. Route 31 and Interstate 65.  The Scottsburg Train Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of three town sites on the register.  (The other two are the Scott County Home and the Courthouse Square.)

Scottsburg, Indiana, a town built by the railroad, and a town with a little bit of history.

The Sully Historic Site, Chantilly, Virginia

The Sully Plantation Home

What is the Sully Historic Site?  When it was built by Richard Bland Lee in 1794, it was known as Sully Plantation.  Who is Richard Bland Lee?  He was the first congressman to ever represent the U.S. state of Virginia in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.  At the time, Sully Plantation was a respite from the hustle and bustle of Washington.  It was a working plantation with a house, smokehouse, and kitchen that was accessible to the Little River Turnpike.  Richard Bland Lee sold the plantation in 1811, and it went through numerous owners before it was sold to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1959.  What was once a huge plantation has been reduced with the building of Dulles International Airport on the northwest side of the property and with no access to the Little River Turnpike (U.S. Route 50 today and has been renamed the Lee Jackson Memorial Highway).  Today, you can visit what remains of Sully Plantation.  The house is open for tours, and you can visit the kitchen, the smokehouse, one of the slave cabins, and an old schoolhouse that was brought to the property for preservation.  There are also hiking trails where you can see Cain’s Branch which was the plantation’s water supply.  When you visit the Sully Historic Site, you will not notice that you are in suburban Washington D.C., but you will make an assumption that you are in the 1790’s.

Some of you are saying, “I think this is amazing.  The home of the very first congressman to represent Virginia was spared from being demolished by developers to build houses there.  There is one very big and enormous problem.  What is the very big and enormous problem?  This place has no railroads here.  This place has nothing to do with the railroad.  This place is no where near a railroad.  This place has no railroad history.  Therefore, there will be no history of me visiting the Sully Historic Site.”

Well, you have a good point.  There is no railroad here nor was there ever a railroad here, and none of the owners had anything to do with the railroad.  The nearest railroad access was in Herndon, Virginia which was a good ways north of here and is now a rail trail.  Today, the nearest active railroad is in Manassas, Virginia which is a good ways south of here.  (There was also a rail line for military use during the American Civil War in nearby Centreville that was short lived.)  So, you are absolutely right.  The Sully Historic Site has no railroad history.

That almost was not the case.

As mentioned, the nearest active rail line is in Manassas, Virginia.  It is owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway today, but the line was originally built by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  Manassas was originally called Manassas Junction because it was established at a junction with the Manassas Gap Railroad.  While the Manassas Gap Railroad ran train between Manassas Junction and to towns like Marshall and Front Royal, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad ran between the town of Orange, Virginia and the city Alexandria, Virginia.  What is so significant about this?  Back in the day, Alexandria, Virginia was a major port city.  At once time, it was the fifth busiest port in the United States of America.  Goods and products from Europe and other points from around the world was brought to the port of Alexandria.  Goods were placed on the trains, and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad took them west to towns that did not have access to the ports.  One of their stops was Manassas where goods where transferred to the Manassas Gap Railroad.  Well, the Manassas Gap Railroad wanted some of the profits that the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was getting with the access to the ports of Alexandria.  They came with the idea of building their own railroad line to Alexandria.  The line would branch off in the town of Gainesville, a town west of Manassas, and it was to parallel along the Little River Turnpike all the way to the port in Alexandria.  The railroad bed was built, but the Manassas Gap Railroad ran out of money.  The tracks were never laid, and it became known as ‘The Unfinished Railroad’.  Today, although some of the railroad bed was preserved, some of the railroad bed is now houses, townhouses, and apartments.

Trees Covering the Railroad Cut of the Manassas Gap Railroad

What does this have to do with the Sully Historic Site?  As you enter the property less than a quarter mile (300 meters) from the entry gate, you will see what looks like a creek bed on your left, but this creek bed is straight.  What you are seeing is what could have been the Manassas Gap Railroad running across Sully Plantation.  Because the railroad ran out of money, it never happened.

Looking into What Was to Be the Bed of the Manassas Gap Railroad

Now you see how the Sully Historic Site has a history with the railroad.  If you are ever in the Washington D.C. area, it is a great place to visit.

The Sully Historic Site is located at 3650 Historic Sully Way in Chantilly, Virginia.  It is just of Virginia Route 28, it is one mile north of U.S. Route 50, six miles north of Interstate 66 and U.S. Route 29, and five miles south of the terminal of Dulles International Airport.  The grounds are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm every day.  There is no admission to walk the grounds and to see the old railroad bed of ‘The Unfinished Railroad’.  The trails are mainly level but may be difficult for wheelchairs.  House tours are available Thursday to Sunday.  You can get more information at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/sully-historic-site/tours.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Washington D.C. / Maryland

The Ruins of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Georgetown in Washington D.C.

In the early days of the continent of North America, settlers came to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and they began to migrate west.  Towns were established across the land.  The only access to these towns were by horse or by horse and buggy.  The further they went inland, the less access they had to a navigable waterway.  Many canals were built to give boat access to these towns to navigable waterways and to the ocean.  One of these canals was the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  With the Potomac River unnavigable north of Washington D.C., the canal was built along the north side (Maryland side) of the Potomac River.  It was going to allow boats to go from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River in what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Ruins of a Canal Lock in Georgetown

In the early years of the canal, business was booming.  Towns like Brunswick, Maryland and Williamsport, Maryland benefitted from the canal.  Barged were pulled by mules along what was called a tow path through various locks, a place where boats entered to adjust to the different water levels, along the canal.  Each canal lock was operated by a family who was given a house and lived at the canal lock (some families were responsible for numerous locks if they were close together) year round.  Boats were pulled from the entry of the canal in Georgetown in Washington D.C. all the way to… Cumberland, Maryland.  Through the years, there were floods, and many of these floods did damage to the canal.

A Replica Canal Boat

Although it is called the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the canal never made it to the Ohio River.  The canal was to follow the Potomac River to the town of Grantsville, Maryland where it was to go north into Pennsylvania and cross the Eastern Continental Divide.  The section between Cumberland, Maryland and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was never built.  Why?

The company that built the canal ran out of money.  There was also another thing.  What was that?

A Lock House Where the Working Family Lived

When they railroad began in Baltimore, Maryland, the railroad was able to get to towns much faster than boats.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad built rail lines to the Maryland towns of Point of Rocks and Brunswick and the West Virginia town of Harper’s Ferry, all three of which were served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  The Western Maryland Railway built lines to the Maryland towns of Williamsport and Hancock which are two other towns served by the canal.  The railroad had stations near the town center making the railroad much easier to access, and a waterway is not required to build the railroad.  You can say that the railroad was partly to blame for the demise of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Today, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is in ruins with a few sections preserved in the way it looks when it was a navigable canal.  It is now owned by the National Park Service.  The tow path remains and is used as a hiking trail from Georgetown to Cumberland.  Some access points to the park require a fee.

As you walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, you see what was once a thriving waterway that was never completed.  Much of the canal basins are filled with trees.  You see the ruins of the locks.  You see what remains and is now being reclaimed by nature.  You see a canal that was ruined by the railroad.

Fort Smith, Fort Smith, Arkansas

Fort Smith in the U.S. state of Arkansas is a town that was built around, well, a fort.  It was actually the site of two forts at the same location.  The forts were situated on the Arkansas River across from the U.S. state of Oklahoma.  The fort was a built on what was the frontier at the time.  Today, it is owned by the National Park Service. Much of the walls are gone, but you can visit what was once the barracks, jail, and courthouse, all in one building.  You can see a replica of a gallows as numerous hangings took place here.  If you are ever in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Fort Smith is a must see.

Some of you are saying, “This is nice that they were able to preserve the site, but since the site has nothing to do with the railroad, you will not see me here.”

It was the site of two forts.  It is also the site of an old train station.

Although the old Frisco Depot at Fort Smith has no history with the fort itself, it is a part of the national park.  It was built by the Saint Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco for short) in the early 1900’s.  It saw passenger service until the 1960’s.  Today, the trains only pass by with the exception of the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad that has excursions here.  The depot is currently not open to the public, but you can get a glimpse of what it was like when it was a passenger station.

The Old Frisco Train Depot is located at the Fort Smith National Historic Site at 301 Parker Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  It is just off U.S. Route 64 and Arkansas Route 255.  The park grounds are open from Sunrise to sunset and are wheelchair accessible.

The Der Hochbeinige

Hans was in the dining room eating with his sister, Katarina.  Their father and mother walk in.

FATHER: Sie da. Erraten Sie, was?  [Translation: Hey there.  Guess what?]

HANS: Was?  [Translation: What?]

FATHER: Ich habe Fahrkarten für die Der Hochbeinige.  [Translation: I have tickets to ride the Der Hochbeinige.]

HANS: Yay! Wir fahren mit der Der Hochbeinige. Was ist die Der Hochbeinige?  [Translation: Yay!  We are riding the Der Hochbeinige.  What is the Der Hochbeinige?]

FATHER: Es ist ein Zug.  [Translation: It is a train.]

HANS: Yay! Ich möchte mit dem Zug fahren.  [Translation: Yay! Ich möchte mit dem Zug fahren.]

KATARINA: Aber Papa, der Zug ist in Deutschland, und den Flug können wir uns nicht leisten.  [Translation: But papa, the train is in Germany, and we cannot afford the airfare.]

FATHER: Wir müssen nicht nach Deutschland. Wir müssen nur nach Williamsburg, Virginia.  [Translation: We do not have to go to Germany.  We just have to go to Williamsburg, Virginia.]

Hans and Katarina looked at each other.

HANS: Warum sprechen wir Deutsch, wenn wir hier in Amerika sind?  [Translation: Why are we speaking German when we are here in America?]

Everyone looked at each other.

Yes, you can ride the Der Hochbeinige.  No, you do not need to fly to Germany.  You only need to head to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  No passport is needed, and you do not need to learn how to speak German.  The people at Busch Gardens prefer that you speak English.  The Der Hochbeinige is a miniature replica of a steam train that would have operated in Europe that pulls the Preussische Staatbahn tender (the car behind the steam locomotive).  As the Der Hochbeinige is German themed, they also operate the Balmoral Castle, a train with a Scottish theme, and you can ride the Alpen Express, a mountain themed train that was originally run at a theme park in the southwest region of the U.S. state of Virginia.  (The park is no longer open.)  Each train makes stops along the way.  Go to https://buschgardens.com/williamsburg/ to get more information.

“The Luck of the Irish Railroad Worker”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Through the centuries, people came to the land known as America, and they continued to come when the Declaration of Independence was signed establishing the United States of America.  Among those people were the Irish who escaped the famine in Ireland, and many passed by the American flag that rises over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, and they settled a community in the southern part of the city.  When a railroad was being established in their community, the Irish applied and were hired as workers.  In the early years of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Irish workers built the tracks from the Mount Clare Station to what would become the town of Ellicott Mills.  (It is now Ellicott City, Maryland.)  They serviced the trains in the Mount Clare Shops.  They repaired the tracks.  At the end of the day, they went home to their rowhouses that were within blocks of the roundhouse and shops.

Rowhouses on Lemmon Street in Baltimore, Maryland, Home of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum

Today, the community remains.  What were once the shops is now the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum (https://www.borail.org/), and you can see where the Irish worked, and you can ride the first mile and a half of track laid in North America, track that was laid by the Irish.  While there, you can take a look around at the oldest collection of railroad rolling stock in the world. Once you are finished, you can walk one block north and visit the Irish Railroad Workers Museum (https://www.irishshrine.org/) and tour a home of James Feely who worked at the Mount Clare Shops and built the railroad.  You can see how he and his family lived, and tours are available of the surrounding community where the Irish lived.

The Mount Clare Shops and Roundhouse in Baltimore, Maryland, Home of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum

On this Saint Patrick’s Day, a day we remember an Irish saint, take the time to remember those who help build North America’s first railroad.

Train Station Museum, Mount Airy, Maryland

Old Train Station, Mount Airy, Maryland

The town of Mount Airy in the U.S. state of Maryland is a town in the northern region of the state.  It is a town that was an industrial town that was aided by the ‘National Road’ and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  The railroad no longer passes through the town, but the train station remains.  It is now the home of a pharmacy and the Train Station Museum.

The Train Station Museum tells the story of the railroad in the town.  You see display boards showing photos of the days of Mount Airy being a railroad town.  You see how the railroad served the mills, and there is a model train display that shows what the town originally looked like when the railroad came through.

The Mount Airy Train Station Museum is owned and operated by the Historical Society of Mount Airy, Maryland.  It is located at 1 Main Street (Maryland Route 808).  It is minutes from Interstate 70, U.S. Route 40, and Maryland Route 27.  It is open each Saturday and Sunday from 12:00pm to 4:00pm.  Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted.  Parking is free and on site next to the old train station, and the museum is wheelchair accessible.  You can read more about the museum at https://www.historicalsocietyofmountairymd.org.

The town of Mount Airy, Maryland is a much different town than it was when it was a railroad town, but the town has not forgotten its railroad heritage.  An old caboose from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad sits across Main Street next to what was once the old rail line which is now a walking trail that runs from the old train station to a nearby park.  It may be a different town, but much of the town is still the same.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Caboose Number C-2095 in Mount Airy, Maryland