The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society has announced production is complete on a limited piece of American-made glassware commemorating the C&O Railway’s deep history in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Created in partnership with the Blenko Glass Company of Milton, West Virginia, the custom design features an architectural diagram of the C&O Railway’s famous brick depot in White Sulphur Springs etched on the iconic “384 water bottle.” The architectural diagram of the structure utilized for the etched art comes from the C&O Historical Society’s vast archives of C&O Railway company documents and diagrams.
Blenko has manufactured 150 pieces, one for every year since the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s mainline was completed between the Virginia coast and the Ohio River at Huntington, completing the sought-after east-west “Great Connection” that also passed through White Sulphur Springs. Each water bottle is numbered (1 of 150, 2 of 150, et cetera) and dated 2023, further distinguishing the limited run of handblown glass’s historic significance. During development with Blenko, the rare Clover Green color, not available in the manufacturer’s regular catalog, was chosen to symbolize the depot’s deep connections within Greenbrier County.
The brick railway depot, completed by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1930, is a one-of-a-kind structure whose canopy and platform still serve the region, with rail service to White Sulphur Springs continuing to this day through Amtrak’s tri-weekly passenger train known as The Cardinal. Still standing with relatively little change nearly 100 years later, this current depot replaced older station structures that served passengers visiting White Sulphur Springs by rail.
On this new Blenko design, an etching beneath the archival drawing of the depot reads, “White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia” in a historically-accurate typeface that was used by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in their last decades of passenger service. The C&O Railway’s famous passenger trains served the brick depot in Greenbrier County until Amtrak service began in 1971. On the opposite side of the water bottle from the station drawing is an etched C&O Railway advertising insignia known as the “Steam Train” logo, used by the C&O Railway’s marketing department starting in 1932 and appearing in publications through 1948.
In this unique insignia from the archives of the C&O Historical Society, the railroad’s “C” and “O” appears at an angle, with a steam-powered passenger train running below, along with the slogan, “The Route to Historyland.” This catchphrase was used by the C&O Railway to market the many historical destinations that passengers could visit along its route. Elaborating on the meaning behind the 384 water bottle’s design, C&OHS President Mark Totten stated, “The C&O route passed through some of our nation’s most iconic and historically-important places, giving the railroad the opportunity to market to travelers that its passenger service offered more than just getting them comfortably from one point to another. The popular destination of White Sulphur Springs was no exception. This gorgeous piece from Blenko is not only a future heirloom for any household, but also helps our non-profit organization tell that story to new audiences.”
Mr. James Arnett, Creative Director for Blenko Glass Company, expressed his support for their partnership with the C&O Historical Society, “Blenko Glass Company is pleased to work with local and regional nonprofits and educational groups to provide custom etched, handmade West Virginian glassware that celebrates our regional heritage and history. The ties between our area, Blenko’s glassmaking, and the railroad go deep.”
Contributing the most toward immortalizing the West Virginia depot as a popular destination for passengers arriving by rail, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway owned The Greenbrier resort hotel at White Sulphur Springs during most of the 20th century. The resort’s history dates from the pre-Civil War era, before modern medicine, when the supposed healing powers of mineral water caused the location to become one of the major “Springs of the Virginias.” A large hotel, later known as “The Old White,” was built at White Sulphur Springs in 1858.
According to the C&O Historical Society, when Melville E. Ingalls became the railroad’s president in 1890, he wanted to purchase The Old White. When it was not for sale, he instead bought The Homestead resort hotel at Hot Springs, Virginia, and built a rail branch so the C&O Railway could serve the location.
However, the C&O Railway under President George Stevens did finally acquire The Old White in 1910. A new hotel, called “The Greenbrier,” was completed in 1913 and would become known as the “C&O’s Crown Jewel.” From that point onward, the hotel served not only the public, but was a regular location for the railroad’s management meetings as well as gatherings by America’s largest corporations, such as General Motors. With direct access to the largest eastern cities via rail, The Greenbrier became one of America’s major resorts.
C&OHS President Mark Totten remarked about the hand-blown glassware’s inspirations, “As has been the case with our other Blenko collaborations honoring specific places, our goal was to infuse as many local and historical connections into the design as possible. Thanks to the material from our archive and the skill of Blenko’s craftspeople, we were able to weave multiple layers of significance into their famous 384 water bottle. Even the white etching is meant to represent the building’s painted white brick, the structure’s color originally maintained by the C&O Railway. Blenko’s finished product is a breathtaking tribute to White Sulphur Springs and the legendary station that welcomed the world to West Virginia.”
The C&O Historical Society has previously partnered with the Blenko Glass Company to manufacture hand-blown glass pieces featuring the nonprofit organization’s logo, commemorating the City of St. Albans, and highlighting insignia from the infamous Dunglen Hotel in Thurmond, West Virginia. According to the C&OHS, Blenko’s unique ability to combine their vast manufacturing experience with modern, digital-age techniques has made it possible to create these history-themed pieces with American-made quality and accuracy.
The White Sulphur Springs depot 384 water bottles from the Blenko Glass Company measure 8” tall, 6.5” wide, and hold up to 36 fluid ounces. The C&O Historical Society now offers these pieces for sale in support of their non-profit organization and their work to preserve, research, and share the transportation history of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, including the epoch behind its famous resort springs like White Sulphur Springs.
When creating historical items for sale in support of their organization, which derives its revenue only from membership dues, retail sales, and donations from the public, the C&O Historical Society has made an effort to use American-based manufacturers wherever possible. Last year the non-profit organization collaborated with another West Virginia manufacturer, the Fiesta Tableware Company of Newell, to recreate a historically-accurate reproduction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s last china pattern used in its dining car service. The “Chessie” china pattern featured the railroad’s famous mascot and was used on board their trains from 1955-1972. At their peak, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s passenger trains ran from the Virginia shore, throughout Appalachia, and to Michigan.
C&OHS President Mark Totten concludes, “Our organization is proud to have been able to share this wonderful history throughout our 54 years, but through these recent collaborations, we are especially delighted to make new history with the professionals at Blenko Glass Company. This has been a highly positive relationship, producing pieces of art that will make the Chesapeake & Ohio’s history part of household conversation for a very long time.”
The White Sulphur Springs water bottles from Blenko are available on the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society’s retail website, ChessieShop.com. Orders may also be placed by contacting the organization’s Business Office by telephone at 540-862-2210, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by email at email@example.com. This limited-run, C&OHS-exclusive piece is $149.99. If you are a C&OHS member, your member discount would apply to any quantity ordered.
C&OHS archive database is available online at archives.cohs.org. Updates and additional information can be found on Facebook under @cohs.org or on Instagram @ChessiesRoad.