March 1840: Wilmington & Weldon Railroad

This Month in North Carolina History

Image from Wilmington Advertiser of Wilmington and Weldon Railroad train

On the seventh of March, 1840, the last spike was driven to complete the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. As well as being the pride and joy of Wilmington, North Carolina, at 161½ miles the Wilmington & Weldon was the longest railroad in the world.

Chartered originally in January 1834 as the Wilmington & Raleigh, the line was organized in the Fall of 1835 and construction began in October 1836. The idea of the railroad grew out of the concern of Wilmington’s leaders that, while the port city had excellent communication by sea, overland connections were poor at best. In 1834 only two stage lines served the city going north, one through New Bern and the other through Fayetteville. Although still in its early years, the railroad seemed a promising alternative. The initial plan was to build the line to Raleigh, but people in the capital were slow to support the railroad while folks in Edgecombe County showed much more enthusiasm. The company decided, therefore, to turn the line north through Edgecombe to Weldon on the Roanoke River near the North Carolina/Virginia border. This would allow the Wilmington & Weldon access to the produce of the Roanoke Valley and bring it near to Virginia railroads which had reached the Roanoke River from the north.

In Wilmington the official celebration of the completion of the railroad was marked by the firing of cannon and ringing of church bells. A large group comprising the officers and employees of the Wilmington & Weldon and invited guests from Virginia and South Carolina as well as all sections of North Carolina paraded down Front Street, accompanied by a military band, to a banquet at the railroad depot. The Wilmington & Weldon operated successfully for the rest of the nineteenth century, ultimately forming part of a major north-south railroad network. In 1900 it became part of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad system which merged into the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967 and finally into CSX Transportation.

James Sprunt. Chronicles of the Cape Fear River. Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1914.

John Gilbert and Grady Jefferys. Crossties Through Carolina: The Story of North Carolina’s Early Day Railroads. Raleigh, NC: Helios Press, 1969.

Image Source:
Wilmington Advertiser, February 1, 1839

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