The railroads built this country. They were America’s first "big business." In North Carolina, particularly, they broke the economic stagnation that had labeled us the "Rip Van Winkle State" by providing trade routes from the mountains to the coast. Many of North Carolina’s thriving towns today owe their existence to the railroads. Preserving the rail corridors that connected these towns provides sites for demonstrations of true living history.
|The "Chatham," built new for the Western RR of NC in 1874 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works.|
Photo from Atlantic Coast Line Railroad; Steam Locomotives, Ships and History by Richard E. Prince, 1966 (reprinted by the Indiana University Press in 2000).
The railroad through the Overhills tract was laid down by the Western Railroad of North Carolina before the Civil War to connect the coal fields of Chatham County along the Deep River with the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville. This coal was a vital resource during the War to fuel the blockade runners operating out of Wilmington. After Reconstruction the railroad was reorganized as the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway and by 1891 had been extended northward to the granite quarries of Mount Airy and southward to the port at Wilmington, with a branch line into Bennettsville, SC.
The CF&YV was sold in 1899. The Southern Railway took the routes north of Sanford and the Atlantic Coast Line took the lines south. The Fayetteville-Sanford line through the Overhills tract was abandoned after the ACL merged with the Seaboard Railway to form the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967. (Part of the old CF&YV line between Fayetteville and just south of Spring Lake is still being used by CSX, successor to SCL, to serve Fort Bragg.)
General offices of the railroad were originally in Fayetteville and had moved to Greensboro by 1891. Maintenance facilities and shops were in Fayetteville, where the CF&YV connected with the Wilmington & Weldon (predecessor to the Atlantic Coast Line). The CF&YV’s passenger station in Fayetteville has survived and is being renovated as a regional transportation museum, covering the area’s contributions in river trade, plank roads, railroads, air travel, and highways.
Other than the Fayetteville depot, the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg line, and one or two other structures (the Goldston depot in in Chatham County, for example) there is little remaining evidence of the role the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway played in the development of Fayetteville and the Sandhills . . .
. . . except at Overhills.
At Overhills the prime resource is the extremely well-preserved, virtually elevation-free grade of the old right-of-way. The property also boasts the preservation of both the passenger and freight depots, which served not only the Rockefeller estate at Overhills but local commercial and private farms and timber operations as well. Although rural depots like Overhills were plentiful a hundred years ago -- a CF&YV map from 1891 shows stops at Manchester, Spout Spring[s], Rock Branch [Olivia], and Swann’s -- few of these have survived, let alone been preserved for use.An Overhills Rail-Trail (1) could be a "living laboratory" for the regional transportation museum, and (2) would help preserve the tract’s architectural heritage resources as well as provide a window into life in early 20th-century rural North Carolina.