Norfolk & Southern Railway Historical Society
Brief History of the First Norfolk Southern Railroad
By Robert C. Reisweber, February 23rd, 2005
What would eventually become the first Norfolk Southern Railroad was
chartered on January 20th, 1870 in North Carolina as the Elizabeth City
and Norfolk Railroad. It was intended to run between its namesake cities,
a distance of 46 miles. Construction did not begin until 1880. The track
was completed on May 12th, 1881, and the first train from Norfolk to Elizabeth
City ran on May 26th, 1881. The line was extended 27 miles southward to
Edenton, NC in December 1881. The first train to Edenton ran on December
13th of that year.
Owners of the EC&N soon formed plans to extend the line southward.
They changed the name of the company to Norfolk Southern Railroad Company
on February 1st, 1883 to indicate this. The company entered receivership
in 1889 and emerged as the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Company in 1891.
At the same time, the Ablemarle and Pantego Railroad became part of the
new company. That railroad ran from Mackey's Ferry, NC (now known as Mackeys)
through Pantego to Belhaven, NC. It also operated a ferry service from
Mackey's Ferry across Albemarle Sound to Edenton, where it connected with
In January 1900, the N&S expanded again by absorbing the Norfolk,
Virginia Beach and Southern Railroad. That company operated a line from
downtown Norfolk to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, where it owned and
operated the Princess Anne Hotel. In 1904, the N&S took over the Chesapeake
Transit Company, which had opened a competing line from Norfolk to Virginia
Beach via Cape Henry in 1902.
In March 1904, the N&S purchased the Washington and Plymouth Railroad,
which ran between those North Carolina cities. The N&S extended this
line from Plymouth to Mackey's Ferry to create a main line 135 miles long,
but which required a nine-mile ferry trip from Edenton to Mackey's Ferry.
The N&S expanded southward again on November 23rd, 1906, when it
merged with four other railroads. By building connections between these
lines, a system was created which ran from Norfolk to Raleigh, NC, with
branches to New Bern, Beaufort, Morehead City, Kinston, Goldsboro, Columbia,
Oriental, and Belhaven, NC, and Virginia Beach and Suffolk, VA.
This system was still hampered by the slow ferry across Albemarle Sound.
The company immediately began to remedy this by beginning construction
of a five-mile-long timber trestle across the sound. While this was under
construction, the company again went into receivership in 1908, emerging
as a new Norfolk Southern Railroad Company on May 4th, 1910. Work on the
new trestle had continued during the receivership, however, and the first
train across it ran on January 1st, 1910.
In 1911, the NS purchased the charter of the Raleigh, Charlotte and
Southern Railroad Company, which had been formed to build a railroad from
Raleigh to Charlotte, NC. Once again, the NS found it expedient to buy
four existing railroads and connect them together to accomplish this objective.
These railroads also possessed trackage to the cities of Fayetteville,
Aberdeen, Asheboro, Ellerbe, Carthage, and Jackson Springs. These lines
became branches of the new NS. In May 1920, the NS leased the Durham and
South Carolina Railroad, which became its Durham branch. At this point,
the total milage of track operated by the Norfolk Southern reached 942
miles, its greatest extent.
Several branches were abandoned in subsequent years, including those
to Suffolk, Columbia, Oriental, Asheboro, Ellerbe, Carthage, and Jackson
Springs. Also abandoned was lease of trackage to Beaufort, Morehead City,
Kinston, and Goldsboro. On January 1st, 1974, the Norfolk Southern was
merged into the Southern Railway System. At that time, just over 600 miles
of NS track remained in service.