January 21, 1906: First Passenger Train on the Coal & Coke Railroad

Jan 21, 2019

It allowed him to market coal and timber resources from his vast landholdings in Randolph, Upshur, Braxton, Gilmer, and Barbour counties.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 21, 1906, the first passenger train on the Coal & Coke Railway ran from Elkins to Charleston. The railroad was the brainchild of industrialist and former U.S. Senator Henry Gassaway Davis. It allowed him to market coal and timber resources from his vast landholdings in Randolph, Upshur, Braxton, Gilmer, and Barbour counties. When he started on the Coal & Coke, all but 107 miles of the track between Elkins and Charleston already existed as part of other railroads. Davis simply acquired those lines and completed the missing segment. That final 107 miles was perhaps the most difficult engineering feat of the entire line. Workers had to build 12 tunnels and 30 steel bridges between present-day Norton in Randolph County and the new town of Gassaway in Braxton County.

The Coal & Coke became an important north-south route through West Virginia. It also made Davis—who was already one of the wealthiest men in the state—even richer. After Davis’s death in 1916, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad purchased the Coal & Coke and renamed it the Charleston branch of the B&O.