Mountain Rail Tales A Ride Through Appalachian Railroad Heritage

Whether a “A Belching Black Smoke Monster” or “The Shining Knight” that led the Industrial Revolution can be debated by historians, but railroad heritage undoubtedly played a very important part in American history. Trains and their bands of wood and steel that carried them across the Appalachian Mountains created new towns, allowed new industry to flourish and eventually connected our nation from coast to coast.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad - Bryson City, North Carolina

Even though rail travel is not the most popular mode of transportation in our modern world, many communities have discovered a value in resurrecting their railroad heritage. Restoring old depots, train locomotives or train cars is happening all across these ancient mountains that lead the way West.

Long Black Train - A CSX locomotive pulls a long line of coal cars through the New River Gorge. Taken from Grandview Overlook, West Virginia

All across the Appalachian Mountains culture has been influenced by the railroads. Communities were either created or changed forever by the movement of the railroads. The timber and coal industries changed the landscape forever and brought all manner of men and women to an isolated part of the country. Progress is often hailed and cursed at the same time. As industries begin and end, they leave their mark. Some communities flourish with new growth while others are left to slowly die when industry moves away.

Time Moves On - Thurmond, West Virginia

The former commercial district of Thurmond, West Virginia, previously was a thriving railroad town, but today only a few buildings remain. It is now part of the New River Gorge National Heritage Area.

Last Stop - Visitor Center New River Gorge Heritage Area

The railroad depot in Thurmond, West Virginia, is now a Visitor Center for the New River Gorge Heritage Area. It was built in 1904 and was once the epicenter for the railroad traffic in the New River Gorge!

Out of the Fog - Restored Depot Rural Retreat, Virginia

Many communities are struggling to find a new identity and rise again. Restoring aspects of their railroad heritage for modern use is a thriving venture in small towns and cities. The revival of beautiful old depots has assisted areas in creating new birth for other types of industry. The Rural Retreat Depot is a good example. Built in 1860 by the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, it has been completely restored to its former beauty and is now open as an event venue and museum. The depot was made famous in two of O. Winston Link's photos taken in 1957 - "The Pelican Arrives at Rural Retreat" and "The Birmingham Special Arrives" at Rural Retreat. You can learn more by checking out our blog about the Dedication in 2017.

Restored Locomotives - Clinchfield 800, Greenbrier 614, Iron Logging Horse(Heisler No 6), Southern Giant (Southern 4501)

The restoration of locomotives and train cars are benefiting communities with new businesses, jobs and tourism. These beautiful restored locomotives draw train lovers from across the country for excursion rides or just to admire seeing living history.

Bristol Depot Twilight - Restored Union Station Depot in Bristol, Virginia

We have been witnessing this revitalization and want to share some of the creative and exciting ways this is happening across the Appalachian Mountains. From an artistic and documentary point of view Dale R Carlson's photos gives new life to railroad heritage and how it can lead us into the future! Bristol, Virginia hopes that Amtrak will once again be stopping at their restored depot in the future. New Mountain Rail Tales are being born everyday! Take in the Bluemoonistic Studio "Mountain Rail Tales" Exhibit at the Glencoe Mansion Museum & Gallery in Radford, Virginia, from June 4 - August 29, 2021. Experience the past and the future of railroads in Appalachia! All Aboard!

All Photos in this blog and the Mountain Rail Tales Exhibit are by Dale R. Carlson.

Created By
Dale & Becky Carlson


Bluemoonistic Studio www.bluemoonistic.com