north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      The North Carolina Railroad was chartered in 1849 and completed in 1856, running from Goldsboro through Raleigh, Greensboro, and finishing in Charlotte, a total distance of 223 miles. Progressive leaders of North Carolina led by former Governor John Motley Morehead organized the company. The first rails were laid in Greensboro in 1851 and by 1856 the railway was open for traffic between Goldsboro and Charlotte, passing through many of the state’s prominent piedmont towns.

      The rail line opened a new era of transportation in the state and created new markets for goods and products throughout the region. The railway served as the backbone of future railroad growth and led to the expansion of towns along its corridor. Durham, Burlington (originally known as Company Shops), High Point, and Thomasville all developed into thriving communities as a result of the railroad’s expansion. For many years the railroad was the largest corporation and longest railroad within the state. By design it linked the state’s ports with the mountains through other rail connections such as the Atlantic & North Carolina and Western North Carolina Railroads.

      From the beginning of its service, however, the main flow of traffic passed north and south, not east and west, and the railroad became a vital link in the north-south trunk lines connecting the Northeast with the Deep South. In 1865, the railroad played a vital role in the closing days of the Civil War as it remained the only southern railroad open to connect the Lower South with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Confederate President Jefferson Davis used portions of the rail line attempting to flee Union forces in April 1865.

      In 1871, the North Carolina Railroad was leased to the Richmond & Danville Railroad, and again in 1895 to J. P. Morgan’s Southern Railway that later became Norfolk Southern. In 1989, the line gained 94 miles from Goldsboro to Morehead City by incorporating the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad. Nine years later, the state of North Carolina bought all remaining private stock in the line, and reached an agreement with Norfolk Southern allowing that company exclusive rights to maintenance and freight operations. In addition to Norfolk Southern freight lines, Amtrak in recent years opened two passenger express trains along the North Carolina Railroad Corridor.

William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Cecil K. Brown, A State Movement in Railroad Development: The Story of North Carolina’s First Effort To Establish an East and West Trunk Line Railroad (1928)
Allen W. Trelease, The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1871, and the Modernization of North Carolina (1991)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources