Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Tar Heel Railroad Served Raleigh
Was Constructed for Less Than $3,000
By Robert H. Bartholomew

RALEIGH, April 16— In these modern days of large financial deals, both public and private, I is interesting to note that North Carolina's first railroad was built here in Raleigh at a cost of less than $3,000.

This little line ran from the Capitol Square to a stone quarry on the east side of Raleigh, a distance of one and one-quarter miles, and was built to haul stones from the quarry for the construction of the Capitol Building.

The line was built in 1833 at a cost of $2,700 and was named the "Experimental Railroad." Horses and mules furnished the power to pull the cars along the track.

The present-day reader will think little of this "engineering feat," as it was called; however, the railroad was considered a great wonder at the time it was built. It soon became Raleigh's chief tourist attraction, and people came from miles around to see it operate.

"PLEASURE CAR"

Such crowds came to marvel at the wonder of this railroad that a passenger car, called a "pleasure car," was brought into use. After a day's quota of stone was hauled from the quarry, the "pleasure car" was put into service and ran for hours "for the accommodation of such ladies and gentlemen who desired to take the exercise of railroad airing." Adults were charged 25 cents for a ride and children rode for half fare.


The idea of building the little railroad is credited to Sarah Hawkins Polk. Mrs. Hawkins invested her savings in the venture and realized a 300 per cent return from the novel business.

She got the idea from her son who was visiting in Boston at the time the Bunker Hill Monument was being built. The stone being used for the monument was transported by rail, and he wrote his mother the details of the system.

This letter led to the establishment of the first North Carolina railroad. The rails for the road were made of wood and had strap iron bolted to the tops of them. Practically all rails at that time were constructed in the same manner.

PRACTICAL MEANS

Aside from the money that the line saved the builders of the Capitol, the road did much to impress upon the people of North Carolina that railroads were a practical means of transportation. Of the thousands of people who visited the railroad, not all came to ride on it. Many came to see "the enormous masses of stone conveyed as fast and easily as the empty cars could be drawn on a good common road."

To estimate how much stone the little line hauled, one can get an excellent idea from the size of the Capitol Building, which is 160 feet long, 140 feet wide, and 97 and one-half feet high at the center of the building.

This short railroad operated until the Capitol was completed. Today nothing remains of the state's first railroad; however, there is an historical marker on the north side of the Capitol Square telling of its existence.

From this "Experimental Railroad" with one and one-quarter miles of track which was built at the cost of $2,700, the North Carolina railroad system has grown into thousands of miles of tracks with millions of dollars invested in them. Today modern streamlined trains travel the state and make any city in North Carolina as close as your local railroad station.

Source: Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, 4/17/1955

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