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A Visit to West Virginia 5/04/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke at the Red Lantern Inn and after our Internet duties, we left the Inn and I drove us to Low Moor.

Penny's Diner where we had an excellent breakfast. I drove us to Covington for some stations.

Chesapeake and Ohio freight station.

Chesapeake and Ohio Covington station in 1891. Established in 1958, the Allegheny Historical Society preserves the history of the Allegheny Highlands region, but the building itself plays a role in the historic story. The society is housed inside two adjacent buildings that began as the Chesapeake & Ohio Covington Passenger Depot, with the first originally completed in 1890 and the additional depot structure added in 1908.

Chesapeake and Ohio 2-8-0 701, nee Nocking Valley 191 built by American Locomotive Company in 1911. The Hocking Valley was primarily a coal hauler, operating entirely in the state of Ohio, with a main line from Toledo to Athens and Pomeroy via Columbus, and several branches to coal mines in the Hocking Valley near Athens. Most of its life was spent under the control of outside railroads. In 1903, a syndicate comprising the Pennsylvania Railroad, Baltimore and Ohio, Chesapeake and Ohio, Erie and Lake Shore & Michigan Southern acquired majority ownership. From 1906, the C&O began to increase its ownership until it gained outright control in 1910, although the HV continued to operate as a separate entity until merged into the C&O in 1930. At that time, 171 was renumbered Chesapeake and Ohio 701 and reclassified as a G-5.

Most of the G-5s remained on the Hocking Valley's central and southeastern Ohio lines under the C&O, but 701 was transferred to Clifton Forge in 1940 to spend the next decade and more hauling passenger trains from Covington to Hot Springs. During its operating life, 701 garnered two nicknames: "Tojo" because it transported Japanese prisoners of war to internment camps in Hot Springs and "The Merry Widow", apparently because it gave the impression of happily steaming along alone on the Hot Springs branch line. It was retired by the C&O, donated to the City of Covington in 1954 and underwent a cosmetic restoration in 2015.

Chesapeake and Ohio 701 information board. Next I drove us the White Sulphur Springs.

White Sulphur Springs Amtrak station built in 1930. Amtrak passengers in White Sulphur Springs only use the platform, which is covered by a canopy. The adjacent brick Colonial Revival style depot was built for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and was intended to replace an older wooden building from the early 1900's. The earlier structure had been constructed as part of a larger C&O effort to repair and maintain many of its aging passenger stations and to serve the historic Greenbrier resort, located directly across West Main Street.

Control of the station passed to the Greenbrier in the 1980's to 1990's and the resort converted the building to a Christmas store and gift shop. It is still decorated as such, with a red exterior with white accents. The entrance features a portico supported by pillars with red and white "candy cane" striping. This year-round holiday d├ęcor gives this station one of the most distinctive looks in the Amtrak national system.

CSX 807 East at White Sulphur Springs.

We proceeded on to Roncerverte, French for "Bramble Green", which is the Gallic equivalent for "Greenbrier".

Chesapeake and Ohio Roncerverte coaling tower built in 1935 and used to load coal into the steam locomotives.

Chesapeake and Ohio Roncerverte station built in 1915 which is part of the Ronceverte Historic District. The depot stopped serving to passengers when Amtrak started operation on May 1, 1971, and discontinued services to the station, although the line still has the Cardinal using the route. Currently the depot serves as an office for CSX, the latter of which is restoring the station at the cost of $500,000.

Ronceverte was welcomed by railroad services on January 28, 1873, when the C&O Main Line between White Sulphur Springs and Huntington was completed. During the early 20th Century, Ronceverte became an important commercial center in the Greenbrier Valley. This led to a growth in population in the town along with businesses. The first depot was built in 1891, with 12,518 passengers being ticketed through the station along with 27,870 tons of freight being shipped through the station in the 1890's. In 1899, the C&O built a branch line from Ronceverte up to Cass and Durbin for use in the logging industry up in these towns. In 1906, the station had 42,780 passengers ticketing through the station and billed out 37,927 tons of freight.

Due to the growth of ridership at Ronceverte, the 1891 depot was running near capacity and a new depot was needed soon. Thus, the C&O presented blueprints to the town on May 2, 1910 for a new depot. The council appointed Ronceverte Mayor J.A. Jackson, S.L. Jackson and Powhatan Alexander "P.A." George as a committee to assist with this project. A new location was proposed for the use of 10 feet of Railroad Avenue north side between Pine and Chestnut Street for depot purposes and new passenger station. On June 10, 1913, the city council authorized the mayor and city clerk to execute contracts in conformity there with, when the C&O Railway Company should agree to act as agent for the city of Ronceverte in constructing the two railroad bridges, and should further state when and where the new passenger station should be erected. Original plans were for a wooden structure, but plans changed for the station to be built in brick craftsman style. With the plans finalized, the current American Craftsman style station opened in 1915, with more than 65,000 passengers passing through its doors in the first year it was built.

There was a total of 12 trains serving the station, that being six through and local trains on the main line and four trains on the Greenbrier Branch. In the 1930's, passenger trains on the Greenbrier Branch were replaced by gasoline-powered Doodlebugs which lasted until 1958. Although the George Washington did not stop at Ronceverte when it was inaugurated in 1932, it did stop at Ronceverte in its final years after the Fast Flying Virginian was discontinued in 1968.

By 1944, only ten trains were serving the station compared to 12 before 1930. This dropped to four trains by 1958 after passenger service on the Greenbrier Branch was discontinued. In 1962, two of the four trains were discontinued, leaving only the FFV serving Ronceverte until was discontinued in 1968 and the George Washington now stopping at Ronceverte. The final blow came on May 1, 1971 when Amtrak took over all passenger operations in the United States and chose not to serve Ronceverte, despite retaining the George Washington and merging it with the James Whitcomb Riley. The George Washington itself lost its name in 1974 after merging with the James Whitcomb Riley. The Riley itself would become the Cardinal in 1977 which still uses the route to this day, although not stopping at Ronceverte. The nearest passenger stations that are being served on the C&O Main by the Cardinal include Alderson, which is 13 miles away, and White Sulphur Springs which is 13.5 miles away.

We switched gears and I drove us to Hokes Mill covered bridge.

Hokes Mill covered bridge built about 1898 which spans Second Creek, a tributary of the Greenbrier River and is a 82-foot-long "long truss". The bridge provided access to Hokes Mill and is one of two remaining covered bridges in Greenbrier County; the other is the Herns Mill Covered Bridge. We made our ways to Lewisburg.

Lewisburg & Ronceverte Railroad Lewisburg station built in 1910. This is the only craftsman-style building remaining on the railroad line. The first year of its opening, more than 65,000 passengers passed through its doors. Passenger service ceased in 1974 and the original passenger canopy and baggage building have recently been restored.

We continued on to the second covered bridge of the day in this county.

Herns Mill covered bridge built in 1884 was built as a Queen post truss bridge measuring 10 feet 6 inches wide and 53 feet 8 inches long. It has red board-and-batten siding and a galvanized sheet metal roof. It was built to provide access to the S.S. Hern Mill and to homesteaders living on the west side of Milligan Creek when it was in operation. It is one of two remaining covered bridges in Greenbrier County, the other being Hokes Mill Covered Bridge, and the oldest bridge in West Virginia to utilize a steel stringer design.

The Herns Mill Bridge originally cost $800. Renovations were made in 2000 with concrete abutments, steel I-beams, guard walls, portal timbers, a new metal roof and siding to ensure the cover bridge's longevity.

When a local farmer discovered the bridge updates in 2000 no longer allowed him to move a piece of his farm machinery across the bridge, he made some "modifications" with his chainsaw.

I next drove us to Alderson.

Chesapeake and Ohio Alderson station. The Alderson station consists of a platform and shelter adjacent to the historic depot. Amtrak began serving the community on April 29, 1979 via its Cardinal service.

The depot was originally built by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1896. The one-story wood frame structure is typical of a standard station built on the C&O system between 1890 and 1914. It features board and batten walls, decorative brackets, fancy stick work on the gable ends and deep eaves to protect passengers from inclement weather as they wait outside. There were originally spaces devoted to passengers, baggage and express, as well as a ticket agent's office. After the neighboring freight building was demolished, the depot was also used for freight services. The railroad enlarged the structure in 1924.

Between 2001 and 2004, the station was closed and the stop removed from Amtrak timetables. During this time, the station underwent many minor renovations; most significantly, it was repainted from white to orange. The building is included in the National Register Alderson Historic District.

Alderson is named after its founder, John Alderson, a Baptist frontier missionary. He organized the first Baptist church in Greenbrier County in 1781, which eventually became Alderson Broaddus College in Phillippi, West Virginia. By 1877, express shipments of freight through Alderson were the largest in all of West Virginia with the exception of Charleston and Huntington. Large livestock shipment facilities had been constructed in 1876 and by the 1880's, thousands of sheep and head of cattle were going through per shipment. A side track was constructed for freight loading in 1882, and by 1904, there were 14 freight sidings in Alderson. The freight depot was demolished in the 1950's, by which time business through the yard had declined.

We made our way to Richwood, the final stop of the day.

Baltimore and Ohio Richwood station. The Baltimore & Ohio Richwood Branch extended from Clarksburg to Richwood, West Virginia, a distance of 121 miles. Much of the route was later abandoned.

Elizabeth then drove us via West Virginia Highway 82 to US Highway 19 to Interstate 79 to a rest area, then I resumed driving, taking us to Buckhannon where we went to the Huddle House for dinner before checking into the Wingate by Wyndham for the night.