The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Development of Grafton, WV

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1860 map of B&O Railroad and its connecting routes

By 1851, even though the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) rail line to Wheeling was still under construction, the railroad had already determined its first truck line in its direct link to Cincinnati and St. Louis would diverge from the Wheeling route at the junction of the Tygart River and Three Forks Creek.

Grafton's Railroad Heritage

During the 1850's, Grafton became the most important town on the Baltimore & Ohio line. The town itself was a creation of the railroad, built to accommodate the line's machine shop and foundry.

Advent of the Railroad

In 1851, the Northwestern Virginia Railway Company was chartered to build a rail line from Grafton to Parkersburg at the mouth of the Little Kanawha River, however, the B&O was behind the company from its inception. In 1856, the two railroad companies signed an agreement whereby the B&O would complete the road and operate it on a contractual basis for a five-year period.

Grafton Machine Shop
Construction of a rail route through difficult mountainous terrain, more than 100 miles in length, requiring numerous tunnels and bridges, presented quite a challenge to the pick, shovel, manual labor, cart and mule construction technology of the mid-1800's. Because a workshop would be required, to supply materials for such structures, one of the first projects of the company was to build a machine shop and foundry at Grafton. Construction of the shop was began in 1853, with the shop in operation the following year. The shop provided all of the iron and much of the wood, for the stations, water tanks and bridges along the Parkersburg Branch.

The Grafton-Parkersburg extension was completed to Parkersburg May 1, 1857, and in 1861, the Northwestern Virginia Railroad was consolidated into the Baltimore and Ohio.

Tourism in the 1800's

Grafton Hotel - 1857
The American railroads were among the first to promote the concept of tourism, marketing luxury hotels (usually railroad owned) located along their rail lines as vacation destinations that would appeal to the elite, but also be affordable by the country's working class. Essentially, the railroads were offering a vacation package, consisting of transportation, dining and lodging.

Prior to the introduction of dining and sleeping cars on trains, Grafton was an ideal overnight stop on the B&O line. Located less than one days travel from Baltimore, MD, in the scenic Alleghenies, Grafton became a favorite spot for train travelers to spend a night, or even several days. Grafton-House, the original station-hotel, completed in 1857, was described by the Cincinnati Sentinal as "a hotel par excellence... not to be surpassed upon any line in the country," noting the hotel's rooms were "the acme of comfort."

The Civil War Years

Grafton - 1861: occupied by Federal Troops

During the Civil War, Ohio volunteers, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, occupied the Grafton area, protecting the vital rail line that supplied Washington, D.C. and Baltimore with supplies and heating coal. Between May and early July 1861, Confederate forces experienced a series of defeats in clashes with McClellan's troops at Philippi, Beverly, and along the Cheat River, which resulted in the Union controlling northwest Virginia for the rest of the war. The Union's use of the railroad to deploy troops to the area, to rapidly engage enemy troops, was likely the first such use in the world history of warfare.

Post War Boom

After the war ended, the Grafton shop complex became the major repair center for locomotives and cars on the Parkersburg branch and the main line west of Piedmont, and the complex continued to grew in importance as the B&O continued to extend its lines to the west. In 1867, a large brick roundhouse was built, replacing the original small wooden structure, very similar to the B&O's roundhouses at Martinsburg, WV.

Petroleum was discovered along the area of the Little Kanawha River in the 1860, and in the 1880's, the coalfields of the Fairmont and Clarksburg region began to be more rapidly developed. The resulting increase in freight traffic on its Grafton line required the B&O to greatly expand it shop complex at Grafton.

Grafton, WV - 1898
By the mid-1880's Grafton, the once small village on the Tygart River, had grown to a population of 3030, and was the location of a large railroad shop, two foundaries, and several flouring, planning and saw mills. The B&O Railroad, the Tygart Valley Glass Co., Dominion Window Glass Co., and the Columbia Tile Co. were primary employers in the town in the early 1900's.

By 1911, the railroad's land along Three Forks Creek had become so crowded that the railroad was forced to fill much of the creek's bank to accommodate expansions of its facilities and the completion of several newer buildings and structures.

The peak of Grafton's industrial and economic development occurred in the 1890's. Nearly all the town's major industrial and domestic buildings reflect the architecture of the Turn of the Century. Period photographs show, visually at least, the town had evolved into the form which it retains today.

Grafton Today

Grafton Shop Complex - 1972

Today, the former B&O mainline between Grafton, WV and Cumberland, MD is still an active rail line, and is classified by present owner, CSX Transportation (CSXT), as its Mountain Subdivision. In March of 2005, CSX announced that the Appalachian & Ohio Railroad would begin operating on 117 miles of leased branch line trackage between Grafton and Cowen, WV from CSXT, and also operate five short branch lines in the area.