Raleigh and Gaston Railroad Completed, 1840

On March 21, 1840, work was completed on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad. A week later, the Raleigh depot received 20 bales of cotton from Petersburg, Virginia, the line’s first commercial shipment on record. In June 1840, a “Grand Celebration” was held in Raleigh to commemorate two milestones, the new railroad and the new State Capitol.

Experiments in the 1830s with horse-drawn rail cars preceded the state’s first self-propelled railroad, the Raleigh and Gaston line. Gaston, a town that is under the waters of the Roanoke Rapids Lake, was its northern terminus and Raleigh its southern end point. Slaves were leased to lay the rails on heavy wooden planks. Setbacks with financing and materials delayed the railroad’s completion.

Throughout North Carolina in the1840’s, the sound of the locomotive horn was heard, signifying a new era of unprecedented prosperity. The benefits of the Raleigh and Gaston line were apparent immediately.  The train allowed for quick transportation of goods and provided new jobs. The Confederacy used the Raleigh and Gaston heavily during the Civil War.

In 1900, the railroad was incorporated into the larger Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The Seaboard building stands today on Salisbury Street in Raleigh as a reminder of the beginnings of rail transportation in the state.

Check out the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer for more awesome pieces of history from our transportation past.