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C & O Historical Society Book Illustrates Railroad’s Former Interconnectivity in American Life

The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society has released a publication that uses the Greenbrier County, West Virginia town of Alderson to illustrate the significance of the railroad to everyday life the 20th century.

The book, Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in Alderson, West Virginia, is a nostalgic, 50-page remembrance of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway that the book’s author, historian and Alderson native Thomas W. Dixon, Jr., has written as a long-overdue labor of love.

Also the C&O Historical Society’s original “hometown,” Alderson was created in the early 1870s as the C&O Railway’s main line was built westward and became an important shipping point on the railroad’s Alleghany Subdivision for agricultural products.  It never had any heavy industry and the population reached its height in 1930 at 1,400 people.  Today, it is largely a residential community.  Amtrak’s passenger train The Cardinal stops on signal three days a week.

The wider context of this book helps to explain the theory that railroads were the country’s “metropolitan corridor.”  This means that even the smallest communities were linked by means of the railroad and telegraph to the outside world, making them part of the “American Metropolis.”  Illustrations of this are that the citizens of Alderson could have a New York newspaper the day after it was published, fresh meat from Chicago in two days, and fruit from Florida, only days after being picked.  Through the telegraph wires, communication was established to the entire country and world.  This, in effect, made the railroads the Internet of the 19th century.

In this 1968 photo, the still-standing station structure in Alderson is shown with the C&O Railway’s E8 diesel locomotive No. 4022 arriving at right with eastbound train No. 4, The Sportsman (cohs-24630.JPG; Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. photo, January 3, 1968, courtesy of the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, archive # COHS-24630).

Commenting on the personal significance of this completed book, author Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. remarked, “Ever since I founded the C&O Historical Society in 1969, I have wanted to do something important about Alderson, since it is not only my hometown, but the seat of the Society’s operations until the mid-1970s.  In studying the history of the town, I soon came to the realization that it was emblematic of thousands of similar small towns across America that were created and sustained by the railways.  It was a labor of love for me, and I am so glad that I was finally able to do this 50 years on.”

The saddle-stitched, softbound book is printed to the same quality standards as the C&O Historical Society’s other books and features 90 historic illustrations from Alderson.

C&OHS President Mark Totten concludes, “This new book not only has local appeal in Greenbrier County, but contains widespread relevance by using Alderson as a particular example of a general condition.  The railroads in the 20th century improved Americans’ quality of life in ways we do not have today, especially with its transportation options for the public and express shipping that still surpasses parcel services of today.”

The publication Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in Alderson, West Virginia may be ordered online from ChessieShop.com or from the C&O Historical Society’s Business Office & Archive, which is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM – 5 PM and may be contacted by telephone at 540-862-2210 or by email at [email protected].  The book is also available in the C&O Railway Heritage Center’s gift shop, open from Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM, at 705 Main Street, Clifton Forge, VA.

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