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The White Oak Railway

For a short period of time, in addition to being served by the C&O and the KGJ&E railroads, Mount Hope was served by third railroad, the White Oak Railway. The railroad was constructed during the early-1900's to serve the mine located at Price Hill, one of several mining operations begun through the efforts of Samuel Dixon. In 1906, the White Oak Railway came under the control of the newly created mining company, the New River Company.

The short-line railroad was originally incorporated in 1905 to build a railroad running from Mount Carbon to Glen Jean. At a later date, the company extended its charter so as to authorize the railroad to include a connection between Glen Jean and Skelton. At Skelton, the company would have connected with the Piney Creek and Paint Creek Railway (PC&PC), another railroad controlled by the New River Company. The PC&PC ran from the mouth of White Stick Creek (Beckley Junction) through the center of Beckley to the New River Company's Cranberry mine. Thus, the White Oak Railway, as planned, would have provided the citizens of area with a direct rail-connection between the primary business centers in the area, Beckley, Mount Hope and Oak Hill.

However, in reality the White Oak Railway never reached the points on its proposed route. Instead, the railroad actually consisted of two unconnected "pieces" that never were completely finished. The first section of the White Oak Railway consisted of about 7 and miles of track connecting with the C&O Railway at Carlisle, running from there through Oak Hill to Stuart (a mining camp later known as Lochgelly after 1912). In 1910, the White Oak Railway completed a connection with the Virginian Railway running between Duncan's Crossing (near Oak Hill) and Bishop (a location later known as Oak Hill Junction). The second section of the White Oak Railway was a section about 4 to 5 miles in length connecting with the C&O Railway at Price Hill Junction (near Macdonald) running to a mine located at Price Hill.

Under an agreement with the C&O Railway, the White Oak Railway operated passenger and freight trains along the tracks of the C&O's White Oak Branch (formerly the Glen Jean, Lower Loup and Deepwater Railroad) between Glen Jean and Carlisle. Under this agreement, the White Oak Railway trains operated out of Glen Jean, picking up and delivering mail, passengers and freight from and to various points on the White Oak line, including Oak Hill and Stuart.

The main line of the White Oak Railway was originally intended to come from Mt. Carbon up Lower Loop Creek. Because of the conflict with the Deepwater Railroad (a railroad which later began the Virginian Railway) on Lower Loup Creek, the proposed route was changed. It is often reported in historical accounts that Dixon abandoned his plans to complete the White Oak Railway following the building of the Virginian Railway. However, in 1909, even after the completion of the Virginian, Dixon stated that two different routes were still being seriously considered. One route would come up from Mt. Carbon via Wilson's Creek into Stuart. The other route would parallel the Virginian Railway from Deepwater to Bishop. In addition to completing the route between Deepwater and Glen Jean, Dixon was considering building a branch line into Fayetteville. Some construction of the Fayetteville Branch was actually performed, including the drilling of a tunnel along Wolf Creek.

Dixon's desire to complete the White Oak Railway had not ended, even following the building of the Virginian, largely because the building of the White Oak line was part of an even greater goal. Ultimately, Dixon's goal was to tap the lucrative markets for domestic coal in the Midwest section of the country. To reach these markets, Dixon planned to transport the coal from his properties via the White Oak Railway to a river terminus where his coal could be loaded into barges that would then transport his coal to market via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Although his connection with the Virginian Railway provided Dixon with an alternative to shipping coal via the C&O Railway, the Virginian did not have "friendly" outlet to the west until the 1930's, after building a bridge that linked with the New York Central Railroad at Deepwater.

With Dixon's purchase of the Great Kanawha Colliery Company in 1905, the White Oak Railway acquired a theoretical link to river transportation that would have provided an outlet to the mid-western markets. The Great Kanawha operation provided a mile and quarter of river front property at the head of the Kanawha River with the potential to serve as a great holding ground for hundreds of coal barges. In theory, these coal barges could then make their way down the Kanawha to the Ohio River and ultimately to the Mississippi River. However, in order for Dixon's plan to become fruitful the deepening the channel of the Kanawha River from 6 to 9 feet would be required. Dixon, a consummate politician, had personally appealed to President Taft for help and apparently had received Taft's promise for a federal project to deepen the Kanawha channel at some point in the very near future. But unfortunately for Dixon, Taft failed to be re-elected in 1912 and the start of the United State's involvement in World War I further delayed political interest in the river project. The deepening of the river channel to nine feet was not realized until the 1930's, two decades after Dixon reign as leader of the New River Company had ended.

There is at least some evidence to suggest that Dixon's continued efforts to pursue the building of the White Oak line and the river terminus contributed to his forced resignation as President of the New River Company in 1912. Phineas W. Sprague, a major stockholder in the New River Company, was also under contract with C&O's coal sales agency, as a sale agent for the eastern states. The C&O would have been greatly opposed to any plan to divert coal off its lines, that would have caused the railroad to lose revenue. Possibly, the close financial association between Spraque and the C&O, was used to add pressure to Dixon to abandon his plans for the White Oak Railway and the planned shipments of New River coal via the Kanawha. Whether this actually happened or if it actually contributed, at least in part, to Dixon's resignation is matter of conjecture. However, following Dixon's resignation, the new management of the New River Company moved quickly to disassemble the White Oak Railway.

In 1912, the New River Company sold the locomotives and rolling stock of the White Oak Railway and jointly leased operation of the railroad to Virginian and the C&O Railway. A few years later, in 1917, the Oak Hill section of the White Oak Railway (from Carlisle to Bishop to Stuart) was sold to the Virginian Railway, with joint running rights being granted to the C&O Railway. That same year, the Price Hill section of the White Oak Railway was sold to the C&O Railway.

 

 

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