North Carolina Railroad Boosts the Piedmont Economy

Stock certificate for the North Carolina Railroad issued in 1859 and signed by NCR president John Motley Morehead. Image from the Office of Archives and History.On July 11, 1851, construction on the North Carolina Railroad began in Greensboro. A crowd of thousands attended, which the local paper judged to be the largest gathering in the town’s history.

Former Speaker of the N.C. House of Commons Calvin Graves, who sacrificed his political career by casting the deciding vote in favor of the railroad, had the honor of turning the first spade of soil. Those assembled filled a chest that served as a time capsule. Five years later, the two track-laying crews met midway between Jamestown and Greensboro, where a legislator and railroad backer drove the final spike.

The railroad was the longest in the state up to that time. Running from Charlotte to Goldsboro for 223 miles, it proved to be a key factor in Greensboro’s prosperity and industrial growth. During the Civil War it helped the city establish itself as a storehouse and a rail center for the Confederacy. Civilian refugees and wounded soldiers were transported and sheltered there.

Greensboro was not the only place to benefit from the railroad, though. It spurred growth all along the route and aided the development of several towns including Durham, Burlington, High Point and Thomasville.

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