Albemarle Steam Navigation Company

Published 2:09 pm Friday, December 23, 2022

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On Sept. 24, 1918, an important transaction, of broad regional concern, was consummated in Franklin. The Franklin-based Albemarle Steam Navigation Company (A. S. N.) was sold to the Suffolk-based Carolina-Northeastern Railway Steamships owned by A. S. N., its wharves, and all its other property on the Blackwater, Chowan, and Meherrin rivers as well as Wiacom and Bennett creeks were taken over by Carolina-Northeastern.

The details of the sale were arranged by John A. Pretlow, President and General Manager of A. S. N. and by H. Stuart Lewis of Suffolk, vice president of Carolina-Northeastern. A little later, headquarters for the Carolina-Northeastern were moved to Franklin, and Mr. Pretlow was named president and general manager of BOTH systems, with offices in Franklin at 103 North Main Street. Mr. Lewis continued as vice president. W. M. Scott, traffic manager of A. S. N., was designated traffic manager of the consolidated systems, with offices in Franklin. In an effort to greatly expand the system’s service region, important railroad extensions and improved river-rail connections were contemplated. 

The Carolina-Northeastern Railway was formerly known as the Northampton & Hertford Railway, a standard gauge line running from Gumberry to Jackson, the county seat of Northampton County, North Carolina. That line was previously owned by Philadelphia Capital and was to be extended from Jackson to Ahoskie. Ten miles of new road were constructed from Jackson to Lasker, and 10 additional miles of roadway were graded; further construction was temporarily tied up on account of the European War. At Ahoskie, the Carolina-Northeastern connected with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the Wellington & Powellsville Railroad. The Wellington & Powellsville Railroad ran from Ahoskie to Windsor – on the Cashee River. From Windsor, a leader line was put down to Plymouth – on the Roanoke River. 

The history of A. S. N. is intimately associated with the growth and development of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. And, a major part of Franklin’s earliest development was the existence of the A. S. N. Its headquarters were in Franklin, and it was in business from 1837 to 1929. During that period, Franklin became, and was, a major regional shipping point. 

Freight and passengers arriving at Franklin by RAIL from the Norfolk area; from Virginia inland areas; and by STEAMSHIP, by way of the Chowan and Blackwater rivers, from points in eastern North Carolina and beyond, were transferred at Franklin. 

The onset of Franklin is attributed to the conjunction, in 1837, of the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad (later known as the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad, and, still later, as the Seaboard Airline Railway and CSX) with the Blackwater River at Franklin; the river was navigable as far north as Franklin. This location facilitated railroad connection with the steamships. The railroad transported people and goods from the Norfolk area to “Blackwater Depot,” which, actually, at that time, was on the EAST bank of the Blackwater River. From there, starting in 1837, A. S. N. steamships, going down-river by way of the Blackwater and Chowan rivers, completed the connection to Edenton and Plymouth – and other stops along the way. And, freight and passengers coming from various points in North Carolina were transferred at Franklin.

In 1838, the depot at Blackwater Depot was relocated to the WEST side of the Blackwater River, in Southampton County. That was the onset of a settlement which, by 1838, was being referred to as “Franklin Depot.”

For a period of time, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a rail spur-track that ran from the main line right down to an area adjacent to the Blackwater River. For passengers wishing to have comfortable overnight accommodations, there were several Franklin hotels. For a period of time, the Barrett Hotel on Main Street was in existence.

Steamships, owned by A. S. N., also made roundtrips from Murfreesboro, North Carolina, by way of the Meherrin and Chowan Rivers, to Edenton. 

The company, for a long period of time, supplied the only major means of freight and passenger transportation to and from, and within, a large geographical area that included the counties of Southampton, Isle of Wight, Nansemond, and Greensville in Virginia, and the counties of Chowan, Herford, Northampton, and Gates in North Carolina. The Blackwater, Nottoway, Meherrin, and Chowan rivers and their tributaries served as vital passageways.

For many decades, the A. S. N. line was owned and controlled by Franklin’s Pretlow family, Robert A. Pretlow being manager for 10 years and John A. Pretlow being manager for 25 years. Before the Pretlows, Captain J. H. Bogart owned and operated the line. At his death, ownership of the line was acquired by the Pretlow family and M. H. Moore – the company’s principal stockholders; additional stockholders resided in several areas of North Carolina.

The following steamships, at one time or another, were among those that were in operation by A. S. N. between 1866 and 1929: Appomattox, Aurora, Carolina, Chowan, Clio, Edenton, Ella, Franklin, Haven Belle, Hertford, Isadore, Keystone, Lota, Olive, Silver Wave and Virginia.

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