Looking back: Rail/river keeps port of Franklin bustling

Published 10:21 am Friday, January 10, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking Back features past articles from The Tidewater News with commentary by local historian Clyde Parker.

JANUARY 10, 1914

J. A. Pretlow, President and General Manager of the Albemarle Steam Navigation Co. (ASN), with headquarters in Franklin, recently released a report on his business. “There has been a huge increase in the volume of our business; we just needed more shipping capacity and now we have it,” he said. “The addition of two new steamships has proved to be most beneficial in our ability to meet regional shipping demands.”

Manufactured by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. and named the “Virginia” and “Carolina,” the new steel screw steamships have replaced and almost doubled the capacity of the “Hertford” and “Keystone” which have been sent to Newport News for scrapping.

ASN, dating to 1837, operates a line of steamships carrying freight AND passengers, making roundtrips from Franklin by way of the Blackwater and Chowan rivers, with stops along the way, to Edenton, N. C. Other steamers, owned by ASN, are making roundtrips from Murfreesboro, N.C., by way of the Meherrin and Chowan rivers to Edenton. Occasionally, there are trips to and from more distant points, including Wilmington, N.C., and other Mid-Atlantic ports, by way of the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds.

(NOTE: The “Hertford” was once known as the “Olive,” which, while under that name, sank in the Chowan River during a violent storm on the evening of February 16, 1903. Seventeen of the thirty people on board perished. The captain of the “Olive” was George Withy of Franklin. He was not considered to be at fault. In fact, he took heroic preventive steps and rescue actions to minimize loss of life and property.)

(A few days later, the “Olive” was refloated and tugged to Franklin Wharf (now known as Barrett’s Landing) where it was rebuilt from the waterline up and rechristened. It was then called the “Hertford”, and put back in service.)

(Southampton County resident Ash Cutchin, Withy’s great-grandson, has researched this incident extensively. He provided much of this detail.)

(ASN was in business from 1837 to 1929. During that time frame, Franklin was a major regional shipping point due to the convergence of two railroads, here, for most of those years, both crossing the Blackwater River in close proximity to Franklin Wharf.)

(In 1914, the two railroads were called the “Seaboard” and the “Southern” and by various other names over the years. Freight and passengers arriving at Franklin by rail from Norfolk and from Virginia inland areas — and by ship from points in North Carolina and beyond were transferred at Franklin Wharf.)




Officials at Camp Manufacturing Co. recently announced completion of a railroad bridge across the Roanoke River, fourteen miles northwest of Weldon, N. C. The bridge was built for Roanoke Railway Co., headquartered in Franklin, a subsidiary of Camp Mfg. Co. Completion of the bridge provides a link that will give Camp broader access to its vast outlying timber resources. The Roanoke Railway Co. now supplies the Camp lumber mills with more than 150,000 feet of timber every day.

The Railway, beginning at Thelma, N. C., where it connects with the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, runs in a northerly direction and will eventually be extended through Brunswick County, and the town of Lawrenceville, to Alberta at which is the junction of the Seaboard and Virginian railroads.

The Railway road is standard gauge, well equipped, has a maximum grade of only two percent, and runs through fine agricultural and heavily timbered country. Two freight trains, operated each way, daily, are controlled by railroad telephone service. If the railroad is extended to Alberta, regular passenger service will be installed.

The bridge itself is 1,021 feet in length, with more than a million pounds of steel in its structure and is 30 feet above the water. It was constructed by American Bridge Co. of New York and is supported by 12 immense concrete pillars, the work of M. M. Elkins Co. of Macon, Ga.

Officers of the railway are: James L. Camp, President; Paul Ryland Camp, Vice President; Robert G. Camp, Secretary and General Freight Agent; Robert J. Camp, Treasurer; John M. Camp, Passenger Agent; C. W. Gary, Purchasing Agent; and W. G. Williams, General Superintendent.

Ryland Camp is actively involved in operations of the railroad and has general charge of logging at the various and extensive Camp properties. Those properties supply timber for the main lumber mill in Franklin as well as smaller Camp saw mills in other locations.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is cpjeep99@yahoo.com