By Doug Hylton
As Ronceverte transitioned into the 20th century, the town began to position itself as a commercial center for the Greenbrier Valley. In 1899, the C&O Railroad decided to build a branch line up the Greenbrier River from a point a few miles east of Ronceverte (Whitcomb) to a little over 100 miles to Cass and Durbin. Completed between 1900 and 1905, the purpose of the line was to exploit the old-growth forests of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties. Ronceverte naturally was designated as the division point for operating this branch, with crews originating here.
In 1891, with the construction of the first depot building in Ronceverte, 12,518 passengers were ticketed from the Ronceverte station (compared with 15,303 at Hinton and 12,564 at Covington). Shipped freight amounted to 27,870 tons (compared with 5,522 at Hinton and 3,128 at Covington). By 1906, Ronceverte boarded 42,780 passengers, the largest number between Clifton Forge, VA and Thurmond, WV. The station billed out 37,927 tons of freight, attaining the largest quantity of outbound freight between Covington and Quinnimont.
The last date for which any statistics are available shows that in 1916, Ronceverte boarded 59,151 passengers, which was a huge figure for that era. Even though the freight actually shipped from Ronceverte station had declined by a great percentage, the amount of freight passing through the yard, being transited from the Greenbrier Branch, had grown to 564,872 tons, almost all of which was wood products from the many large mills operating along the branch.
Outgrowing its existing space, the C&O Railroad began looking to replace the old 1891 depot structure. On May 2, 1910, the C&O Rail Road company presented the Ronceverte City Council with blue prints of locations for depots under consideration. The council appointed Mayor J. A. Jackson, S. L. Jackson and Powhatan Alexander “P.A.” George as a committee to assist with this project.
On June 23, 1911, the C&O Rail Road Company asked for the use of 10 feet of Rail Road Avenue north side between Pine and Chestnut Street for depot purposes and new passenger station. This proposal would have placed the new passenger station across from what is today Martin & Jones Hardware.
On June 10, 1913, the city council authorized the mayor and city clerk to execute contracts in conformity therewith, when the C&O Railway Company should agree to act as agent for the city of Ronceverte in constructing the two railroad bridges, and should further state when and where the new passenger station should be erected. Plans for the new passenger station were presented to the council for approval. The original plans called for a wooden structure; however, as the plans continued to take shape, the C&O Railway Company decided to replace these plans with a brick Craftsman style passenger depot.
On Mar. 1, 1915, an ordinance regarding the building of the depot and bridges over the railroad was read for first time. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company further agreed “that it will proceed to erect a suitable new passenger station at some point between Spruce Street and Frankford Road, and have same complete within two years from the date of this contract.”
Finally at the Dec. 6, 1915 city council meeting, the council approved a resolution praising the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company “for agreeing to build a new passenger depot fully commensurate with the needs of the general public.” The city council also expressed their appreciation.
“We consider this very substantial building a credit to both the railway company and their contractors, neither of whom have spared expense nor care in materials used for construction, and further because we consider this new depot a permanent ornament to the city as well as furnishing ample accommodations, comforts and conveniences for the general traveling public; and we further desire to express appreciation for external improvements not originally contemplated but now provided for, and it will be a pleasure to us to cooperate with the railway company in preserving and caring for the new station and its surroundings.”
According to Tom Dixon with the C&O Historical Museum in Clifton Forge, VA, a check of Chesapeake and Ohio public timetables reveals that in June 1908, there were six through and two local trains on the mail line and four trains serving the Greenbrier Branch from Ronceverte to a total of 12 passenger trains per day. This schedule remained pretty stable until the 1930s. The George Washington (Nos. 1 and 2), installed at C&O’s premier train in 1932, did not stop at Ronceverte.
After 1930, the remaining passenger service on the Greenbrier branch was handled by Brill gas-electric motor trains. Using a gasoline engine, these self-propelled cars handled the light traffic much more cheaply and efficiently than a two or three car train hauled by a steam locomotive. Self-propelled cars persisted in this use until the end of this service in 1958.
During World War II, although Nos.1 and 2 still made no stops at Ronceverte, the remaining trains were running in two sections, so in 1944 Ronceverte was served by 10 trains on the main line and the remaining two trains on the Greenbrier Branch.By the mid-1950s, Ronceverte was being served by four through mainline passenger trains and two locals each day.
After 1958, the locals were gone and the town had only the four mainline trains. Two of these were discontinued in 1962, leaving only one train each way to serve the people here. The night train, the George Washington, was not shown stopping at Ronceverte for passengers, but it made an operational stop for mail dispatch. After the discontinuance of Nos. 3 and 4 in 1968, Trains 1 and 2 were designated to serve Ronceverte and continued to do so until May 1, 1971, when Amtrak took over the service and discontinued Ronceverte as a stop permanently.
The beautiful brick depot is now turning 100 years old. Gone are the days of passenger services from the imposing structure. The building is now used for daily operations of CSX employees. In August 2014, CSX began a half million dollar renovation on the building which continues to today. As the centennial of the depot approaches, the C&O Depot stands as a monument to the days of luxury passenger service, and the partnership that existed with the City of Ronceverte and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company in the creation of Ronceverte as the transportation and commercial center for the Greenbrier Valley.
The City of Ronceverte will celebrate this partnership as well as the centenary of the depot on Sept. 4-6, with a schedule of community events and entertainment. For more information contact the Ronceverte Development Office at 304-647-3140.
Ronceverte Depot circa 1916
Ronceverte Depot circa 1920