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Tuesday, 31 May 2016 11:57
Published in K2 Blog

Chesapeake & Ohio RailRoad Lantern

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway traces its origin to the Louisa Railroad of Louisa County, Virginia, begun in 1836, and the James River & Kanawha Canal Company begun 1785, also in Virginia. The C&O of the 1950s and 1960s at its height before the first modern merger, was the product of about 150 smaller lines that had been incorporated into the system over time.

During the Civil War the Virginia Central was one of the Confederacy’s most important lines, carrying food from the Shenandoah region to Richmond, and ferrying troops and supplies back and forth as the campaigns frequently surrounded its tracks.  On more than one occasion it was used in actual tactical operations, transporting troops directly to the battlefield. But, it was a prime target for Federal armies, and by the end of the war had only about five miles of track still in operation, and $40 in gold in its treasury.

Following the war, Virginia Central officials realized that they would have to get capital to rebuild from outside the economically devastated South and attempted to attract British interests, without success. Finally, they succeeded in getting Collis P. Huntington of New York interested in the line. He is, of course, the same Huntington that was one of the “big Four” involved in building the Central Pacific portion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which was at this time just reaching completion. Huntington had a vision of a true transcontinental that would go from sea to sea under one operating management, and decided that the Virginia Central might be the eastern link to this system.

Huntington supplied the Virginians with the money needed to complete the line to the Ohio River, through what was now the new state of West Virginia. The old Covington & Ohio’s properties were conveyed to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in keeping with its new mission of linking the Tidewater coast of Virginia with the “Western Waters” of the Ohio River. This was the old dream of the “Great Connection” which had been current in Virginia since Colonial times.

On July 1, 1867 the C&O was completed nine miles from Jackson’s River Station to the town of Covington, seat of Alleghany County, Virginia. By 1869, it had crossed Alleghany Mountain, using much of the tunneling and roadway work done by the Covington & Ohio before the war, and was running to the great mineral springs resort at White Sulphur Springs, now in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Here stagecoach connections were made for Charleston and the navigation on the Kanawha River and thus water transportation on the whole Ohio/Mississippi system.

n 1888 Huntington lost control of the C&O. A reorganization without foreclosure resulted in his losing his majority interest to the Morgan and Vanderbilt interests, which installed Melville E. Ingalls as President. Ingalls was, at the time, President of the Vanderbilt’s Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati & Louisville, The “Big Four System”, and held both presidencies concurrently for the next decade. Ingalls installed George W. Stevens as general manager and effective head of the C&O.

C&O continued to be one of the most profitable and financially sound railways in America, and in 1963 started the modern merger era by “affiliating” with the ancient modern of railroads, the hoary Baltimore & Ohio. Avoiding a mistake that would become endemic to later mergers among other lines, a gradual amalgamation of the two lines’ services, personnel, motive power and rolling stock, and facilities built a new and stronger system, which was ready for a new name in 1972. Under the leadership of the visionary Hays T. Watkins, the C&O, B&O and Western Maryland became Chessie System, taking on the name officially that had been used colloquially for so long for the C&O, after the mascot kitten used in ads since 1934.

Under Watkins’ careful and visionary leadership Chessie System then merged with Seaboard System, itself a combination of great railroads of the Southeast including Seaboard Air Line Railway, Atlantic Coast Line, Louisville & Nashville, Clinchfield, and others, to form a new mega-railroad: CSX.


Ref: cohs.org/history/


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