Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 24

The Little Train that Could is Now a Rail Trail
THE VIRGINIA BLUE RIDGE RAILWAY SURVIVED WAR, THE
DEPRESSION, CHANGING EXTRACTION GOALS AND MUCH MORE.
NOW IT HAS A NEW LIFE.
Text and photo by Joe Tennis
BUILT QUICKLY, the Virginia Blue
Ridge Railway should have been
one of those temporary timber
trains that pulsed through the
mountains of the Blue Ridge then
died out in a few months - or
maybe a few years. The railroad
was built in 1915 across Amherst
and Nelson counties and hauled
virgin chestnut trees just ahead of
a fast-moving blight.
Steam engines puffed.
Passengers boarded railcars. But,
almost as soon as operations
began, this railroad had to be shut
For nearly seven miles,
the Virginia Blue Ridge
Railway Trail overlooks
the Piney and Tye rivers.
The trail also crosses
Naked Creek on a newly
built covered bridge.
down during World War I when the government
declared it unnecessary to the war effort.
The railroad got started again. But when the war
was over, so were many of those blighted chestnut trees.
Still, this railroad rambled on, as it curiously proved to
do - against all odds, year after year, even as floods hit
the tracks along the Piney and Tye rivers.
A mill shut down. The tracks to Woodson were
scrapped.
Then came the Great Depression. That surely
should have been the end. But, ironically, the bleak
years of the 1930s turned out to be a new beginning.
First, a new plant opened near the tracks to extract
titanium dioxide from ilmenite ore. Then a strange
discovery was made. This old logging line had been
built near one of the biggest aplite deposits in the
United States. And that ore of quartz and feldspar -
used for making glass - inspired another plant to come
aboard in 1939.
By the 1950s, that railroad that was once barely
WANT MORE?
blueridge-railtrail.org
434-263-7130
running turned out to be quite profitable. It also
uniquely continued to use steam engines through the
1960s, long after others switched to diesel power.
24 | BlueRidgeCountry.com
Then came "The Flood." Hurricane Camille took
aim at the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway in 1969 - and
forced so much water into creeks that the railroad
bridge on the Tye River moved one foot downstream.
That bridge was repaired, and the railroad kept going
- until it was ultimately abandoned in the early 1980s.
By then, it had been dubbed "the longest-running,
commerically successful short line in America."
Today, a section of the old railroad corridor has
been converted into the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway
Trail - thanks to the foresight of Steve and Popie
Martin. These Amherst County residents bought the
long and linear railroad property that bordered their
farm. Then they donated that land to the public for
biking, hiking and horseback riding.
On a bright summer's day, equine enthusiast
Barbara Allen of nearby Stoney Creek pauses by the
banks of the Piney River with her horse. "In the summertime,
the shade is just divine," Allen says. "It's just
so beautiful."
For nearly seven miles, the Virginia Blue Ridge
Railway Trail overlooks the Piney and Tye rivers. The
trail crosses Naked Creek on a newly built covered
bridge. A railroad tip car stands at the trail's terminus
near what was once an old scale house.
"Technically, the trail is done, but, you know, it's
never quite done," says Emily Harper, the director of
parks and recreation for Virginia's Nelson County.
"Right now, there's an Eagle Scout who's working on
four benches to add. We'd like a bench every quartermile,
at least." 
Want to read more? Joe Tennis's new book, "Virginia
Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth" ($19.99, The
History Press, 2014, 272 pp.), is an illustrated history and
guide to 45 rails turned to trails, including the Virginia
Creeper Trail, New River Trail, Chessie Nature Trail,
Jackson River Scenic Trail, Huckleberry Trail, Guest River
Gorge and the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail.
http://www.blueridge-railtrail.org http://www.BlueRidgeCountry.com

Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015

Letters
From the Editor & Digital Help Guide
Mill Creek Stories
Creature Feature
The Hike
Great Buys
Mountain Report
Country Roads
Creature Feature
Festivals & Events
The Curios: Our Annual Compendium of the Strange
North Georgia: A Foodie Haven
Why We Travel: The Photoessay
The 2015 Blue Ridge Country Travel Guide: A Year of Experiences
The Weekend: Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland
The Old Stone Chimney
Cabin in the Woods: Fiddler’s Roost
Mountain Garden
Guest Column: Author Stephanie Jeffries
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 2
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Letters
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - From the Editor & Digital Help Guide
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mill Creek Stories
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Hike
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 11
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Great Buys
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mountain Report
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 14
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 15
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Country Roads
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 17
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 18
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Creature Feature
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Festivals & Events
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 22
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Curios: Our Annual Compendium of the Strange
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 24
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 25
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - North Georgia: A Foodie Haven
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 31
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 32
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Why We Travel: The Photoessay
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 37
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The 2015 Blue Ridge Country Travel Guide: A Year of Experiences
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 39
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 40
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 41
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 42
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 43
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 44
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 45
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 46
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 47
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 48
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 49
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 50
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 51
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 52
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 53
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Weekend: Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 55
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 56
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 57
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 58
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 59
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - The Old Stone Chimney
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cabin in the Woods: Fiddler’s Roost
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 62
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 63
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Mountain Garden
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - 65
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Guest Column: Author Stephanie Jeffries
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2015 - Cover4
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