LOOKING BACK: Roanoke Railway Company

Published 4:07 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

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On September 7, 1910, the Roanoke Railway Co., a subsidiary of Camp Manufacturing Co. of Franklin, Va., was chartered to build and operate a railroad from Thelma, N. C., on the main line of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, to Horners in Northampton County, N. C. at the Virginia state line – a distance of about six miles.

In 1912, construction was started at Thelma.  In January of 1914, officials at Camp Manufacturing Co. announced completion of a new railroad bridge across the Roanoke River.  (A much earlier railroad bridge was destroyed during the Civil War.)  The new bridge was 1,021 feet in length, with more than a million pounds of steel in its structure – thirty feet above the water.  It was constructed by American Bridge Co. of New York and was supported by twelve immense concrete pillars, the work of M. M. Elkins Co. of Macon Georgia.  It extended the Roanoke Railway Co. trackage to and through the Gaston / Vultare area to Horners where connection was made with other logging railroads of Camp Manufacturing Co. 

From Thelma to the bridge, the abandoned roadbed of the old Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Co. was used; the right of way had reverted to the adjoining landowners.  From the northside of the Roanoke River to Vultare, NC, the roadbed of the old Petersburg Railroad Co., constructed in 1837, was used.

Then, Roanoke Railway Co. was in operation from Thelma to the Virginia state line.  From that point, Camp Manufacturing Co. constructed additional trackage through Brunswick and Greensville, counties in Virginia – where there were vast Camp timber holdings – to connect with the Southern Railway at Recume at a point west of Emporia, Va.  This facilitated transportation of their vast timber supply from those counties to the Camp lumbermills at Arringdale, in Southampton County, and Franklin.   

Completion of the Roanoke River bridge provided a link that gave the Camp company broader access to its vast outlying timber resources.  At that time, the Roanoke Railway Co. was supplying the Camp lumber mills with more than 150,000 feet of timber every day.  The railway, beginning at Thelma, N. C. eventually extended through Brunswick County, Va., and the town of Lawrenceville, to Alberta at which was the junction of the Seaboard and Virginian railroads.

The Roanoke Railway Co. was standard gauge, well equipped, had a maximum grade of only two percent, and ran through fine agricultural and heavily timbered country.  Two freight trains, operating each way, daily, were controlled by railroad telephone service.  

Ryland Camp was actively involved in the operations of the railroad and had general charge of logging at the various and extensive Camp timber properties.  Those properties supplied timber for the main lumber mill in Franklin as well as smaller Camp sawmills in other locations – including Butterworth in Brunswick County and Arringdale in Southampton County.          

The original officers of the company were Paul D. Camp, president; James L. Camp, vice president; Robert G. Camp, secretary; Robert J. Camp, treasurer; John M. Camp, general superintendent; Paul Ryland Camp, general manager; and W. O. Bristow, auditor.    

The Roanoke Railway Co. was in continuous operation until 1926 at which time it was abandoned and the rails removed on authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission. 


Camp Foundation

The Tidewater News

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 magnolia101@charter.net.