North Carolina's first railroads, a study in historical geography

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James C. Burke (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Jeffrey Patton

Abstract: Part One of this study is a historical narrative that addresses the political, economic, and technological factors associated with the building of the first railroads in North Carolina, and their relationship to the railroad in Virginia. Both the Raleigh & Gaston Rail Road and the Wilmington & Raleigh Rail Road were completed in 1840. The latter did not run to Raleigh, as was the original intention when it was incorporated in 1833, but rather it terminated near the Weldon Toll Bridge on the Roanoke River where it connected to the Portsmouth & Roanoke Rail Road. The Raleigh & Gaston Rail Road, incorporated in 1835, connected to the Greensville & Roanoke Rail Road, a branch line of the Petersburg Rail Road, by its own bridge over the Roanoke approximately twelve miles west of Weldon. The two North Carolina railroads lacked the benefit of a connection that would bring them into a network. This part of the study concludes with the assessment that trade competition between the commercial centers of Norfolk and Petersburg adversely influenced early railroad development in North Carolina. Part Two of this study presents two spatial hypotheses. The first advances the position that early railroad development in North Carolina would mirror railroad development in southern Virginia to form an alignment of commercial centers north-to-south rather than east-to-west within physiographic regions. The second hypothesis suggests that the early railroads in North Carolina could have intersected north-to-south and east-to-west to form a productive network across physiographic regions. Of the many railroads proposed in North Carolina during the 1830s, the Waynesborough and Raleigh route seems the most likely component of an alternative network that would support the second hypothesis, if its practicality can be demonstrated by a plausible model. The empirical model prepared for this study replicates the conventions of a period railroad survey utilizing modern geographic tools and resources. The analysis of the resulting estimate supports the proposition that this railroad could have been built at that time had the interests in Raleigh and Wilmington agreed to one railroad to the Roanoke. The viability of other options suggests the possible that the rail network in North Carolina could have evolved differently under the same conditions.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2008
Antebellum North Carolina, Railroads, Raleigh, NC, Steamboats, Walter Gwynn, Wilmington, NC
Railroads $x Geography $x Economic aspects $z North Carolina.
Railroads $z North Carolina $x History.

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