Crucial Rally to Support Railroads, 1828

An 1854 map of the railroads of North Carolina. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.On August 1, 1828, more than 200 people gathered at the home of William Albright in what is now Alamance County to respond to UNC President Joseph Caldwell’s pleas for a state-supported railroad.  The meeting led to increased public interest in internal improvements, which in turn created more interest in the Industrial Revolution and progress of the state as a whole.

Caldwell, a mathematician, advocated for the railroad in a series of publications known as the Carlton letters, detailing his ideas about the advantages, costs, and routes that the state should pursue. He hoped to see created a central railroad from New Bern to Asheville, creating access to the west and providing a boost to industry.

Joseph Caldwell. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.The letters had wide circulation, especially for the time, and were influential in developing public interest.

In 1840, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was established, inaugurating a 161-mile route between Wilmington and Weldon, in Halifax County, via Goldsboro and Rocky Mount. At the time, the railroad was the longest in the world, and exemplified the success of railroad development in North Carolina.

The capstone to rail development was the North Carolina Railroad, the groundbreaking for which took place in Greensboro in 1851. These improvements in transportation helped North Carolina shed its reputation as the Rip Van Winkle State.

Visit: the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, on the site of Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive servicing facility,  features a variety of exhibits on railroads.

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