1910: Rappahannock’s last attempt to obtain a railroad

After 14 tries since 1870 to obtain a railroad, Rappahannock County finally brought in a secret weapon: Mrs. S. F. Moore, the only female railroad promoter in the United States. She appeared in Rappahannock County in late September 1910, along with her husband, Mr. S. F. Moore, a well-known civil engineer. Newspaper accounts said they were from Cleveland, and represented a syndicate proposing to build a 30-mile railroad from someplace in Culpeper County, likely the town of Culpeper, to Little Washington in Rappahannock County. Rappahannock County people were to subscribe to the stock of the railroad line.

The dotted line shows the route of the proposed railroad as depicted on a map published on the front page of the January 20, 1911 issue of the Culpeper Exponent. Note the railroad ran up F. T. Valley.

Why the Moores selected Rappahannock County is unknown, but they worked with P. H. O’Bannon of Sperryville on their plan. It was first revealed by the Culpeper Exponent of December 2, 1910 in a front-page letter from O’Bannon to the editor of that newspaper. The letter described how Rappahannock County had already subscribed enough for its portion of the railroad and now wanted to connect it to a main line somewhere. They preferred Culpeper, but implied it might be Front Royal, Luray, etc., if Culpeper did not act quickly.

A week later, on December 9, 1910, the editor took up the cause, saying the proposed freight and passenger railroad was in the best interests of Culpeper, especially since the Piedmont area was losing people moving to the West. This was true. Culpeper had lost 4.6 percent of it population from 1900 to 1910. And Rappahannock had lost 9 percent of its own population in the same period. The railroad would make Culpeper a powerful trade center, tapping into the apple, wood and timber, plus tan bark industries of the Piedmont. It would increase the value of farmland and draw more people to the area. Culpeper itself was on an upswing, having a new train station. It was planning a town “homecoming” in 1911, and the newspaper itself was wrapping up a popularity contest for women, first prize being an all-expense-paid trip to Europe.

In the same issue, P. H. O’Bannon had another letter that told of a meeting in Little Washington of the most prominent citizens of Rappahannock County on Saturday December 3, 1910, where enthusiasm for the railroad was unbounded. Culpeper needed to move fast to become the terminal point.

Over the next few weeks, letters from O’Bannon and corresponding newspaper comment called upon Culpeper to support the railroad until finally on January 20, 1911, almost the entire front page of the Culpeper Exponent was devoted to the proposed railroad. It even included a large map showing the route (see Figure 1). Subsequently the newspaper noted Rappahannock County had subscribed $100,000 for the railroad, and then it described a “most enthusiastic” meeting of Culpeper businessmen held on Monday, January 30, 1911, where the famous Mrs. Moore made an appearance.

Mrs. Moore explained that only $50,000 need be subscribed, with no money to be paid in until the railroad was up and running. P. H. O’Bannon and James Miller of Rappahannock County spoke in favor of the railroad. The result? Culpeper people subscribed $28,000 on the spot, leaving only about $21,000 more needed, and this was soon reduced to only $15,000, and then to only $5,000 to $6,000 by mid-February 1911.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, but a notice in the March 3, 1911, issue of the Railway Age Gazette, under “Railway Construction: New Incorporations, Surveys, etc.,” sounded like a different project. A “Blue Ridge Railroad” was described: “Blue Ridge: organized with $600,000 capital, to build a 30-mile line from near Winchester, VA, to a connection with the Southern Railroad. Mrs. A. M. Moore, Cleveland, Ohio, is the principal promoter.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch of April 30, 1911, described the project more precisely. “The enterprise has been referred to both as the Blue Ridge Railroad and the Rappahannock Railroad. Mrs. A. M. Moore, of Cleveland, Ohio, is reported as working on the plans, and it is further said that Ohio capitalists will be interested in the construction. Subscriptions of $175,000 have been raised in Rappahannock and Culpeper counties, Va., for the road, provided that it shall be completed and in operation within three years. It is said that it will be finished in fifteen months. The line will furnish transportation facilities to a great apple-growing region.”

A partial copy of the Stock Certificate for the proposed railroad. Source: Rappahannock County, Virginia – A History, by Elisabeth B. and C. E. Johnson, Jr.

Mrs. Moore and her surprise

More about
Mrs. Moore, optimist.

Time passed and at the start of June 1911, an editorial appeared in the Culpeper Exponent asking about the railroad, the newspaper having heard just vague and passing rumors about it. The newspaper said, “…our people are entitled to know from the promoters what progress is being made…and if the present promoters are unable to finance the proposition, we believe there are other people who will…”

The Culpeper Exponent of Friday morning, September 8, 1911, provided the answer. A front-page headline read: “Bank Suspended – $29,000 Owed It – Once Promoter of Rappahannock Railroad Borrows Large Sum of Money and Puts Bank on Bum.”

It seems Mrs. S. F. Moore borrowed $29,000 from the Perrysville Banking Company of Perrysville, Ohio. The bank had only $42,000 on deposit. It was C. L. Morton, the bank’s cashier, who lent the money, and he was Mrs. Moore’s brother-in-law. The bank closed its doors September 1, 1911. It was an unincorporated bank, thus not legally a bank. C. L. Morton received threatening letters, so he left town.

The newspaper said Mrs. Moore had borrowed $19,000 of the $29,000 to promote a railroad known as the Blue Ridge railway to run from Sperryville, VA, to Culpeper, VA. She also borrowed $10,000 for a brickyard plant project she and her husband had organized, called The Twentieth Century Clay Plant Company, in Perrysville. Her brother-in-law and a T. H. Beavers, plus J. F. Jones, partners in the Perrysville Banking Company, were going to manufacture bricks out of clay on Beavers’ farm. All this was very complex, but the owners of the bank were said to be well-off (Beavers was president of the bank and also headed up a grain elevator concern), and they said they would soon pay off the depositors, mainly local farmers.

Mrs. Moore was quoted as saying she had been in contact with capitalists in Cleveland, Ohio, and they were still interested in the Blue Ridge Railroad venture, but had made no commitment yet. She also revealed that, “no right of way had been secured for the railroad, and the company had not been organized but the outlook has been excellent.”

To her credit, Mrs. Moore did return to Rappahannock County and she attended a railroad meeting in Sperryville on Saturday, October 21, 1911. She told everyone that she had done all she could for the railroad. She read a letter from some parties who wanted Rappahannock people to put up money for a survey, but other people failed to support that idea. Mrs. Moore then returned to Cleveland, Ohio, and virtually disappeared, as she no longer appeared in any newspaper articles.

Hope springs eternal

If Rappahannock and Culpeper people were in shock after “the nation’s only female railroad promoter” abandoned them, it did not last long. In May 1912, a group of the most wealthy and prominent businessmen in the two counties subscribed $10,000 for a complete survey of the proposed railroad’s route, using Mr. T. P. Stanley, formerly the chief engineer of the Southern Railroad, to carry out the survey. He felt it would take 7 to 10 months to complete the road.

In addition, Mr. W. G. Wright of Ironton, Ohio, a well-known railroad promoter and builder, and a capitalist as well, took charge of all of the plans and materials developed by the Moores for the construction of the railroad. He met in Sperryville on Saturday, May 18, 1912 with those interested in forming The Blue Ridge Development Company for the effort. The company was immediately formed, directors elected, officers chosen, a finance committee named, and Mr. Stanley and Mr. Wright set about with the preliminary survey. Construction was expected to start in the fall of 1912 and the railroad was to be in operation in August or September 1913, in time to handle the apple crop. The railroad even had a name: the Culpeper, Madison, and Rappahannock Railroad.

This group moved fast. By the evening of Saturday, June 15, 1912, the last stake of the preliminary survey was driven into the ground at Little Washington by members of the engineering corps of the Blue Ridge Development Company. On the following Tuesday, 14 members of the engineering corps began the regular survey. A newspaper account by one of its members described in great detail their life in laying out the line: the tents, cots, bedding, toilets, the content of the meals prepared by “Jim,” of Georgia, who had been a cook at a big hotel for 16 years, etc. The writer mentioned camps at Reva, Boston Mills, Hawlin, and Bloomfield. He said locals sometimes tagged along, asking many questions.

By August 1912, Mr. T. P. Stanley felt his field work was almost done and he quoted characteristics of the railroad such as a maximum grade of 1.65 percent, 60-pound steel rails, culverts and bridges able to hold the most powerful engines of the day, neat and attractive railroad stations, etc. As for Mr. Wright, he said more than 70 percent of rights of way had been obtained, 25 percent were to be seen, and 5 percent were to be adjusted, etc. Construction was to start about mid-October 1912, with a grand opening of the railroad not later than August 1, 1913.

A charter for the now-named Culpeper, Madison, and Rappahannock Railroad was granted on September 2, 1912, and fittingly, P. H. O’Bannon, of Sperryville, was named president of the new railroad.

The railroad was never built. The “Good Roads” movement was in full swing. People and companies were driving cars and trucks instead of using railroads. Why go to a train station at a specific time, travel somewhere, then make your way to a final destination when you could now get into your own vehicle whenever you wanted, and drive directly to your destination.

It is ironic that P. H. O’Bannon, involved in decades of effort to get a railroad from Rappahannock County to Culpeper, would end up as president of the railroad company that had the best chance to get there, but it failed. But in a way, O’Bannon got himself to Culpeper.

He moved there.

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Don Audette
About Don Audette 22 Articles
Don Audette has a place in Sperryville, is a longtime member of the Rappahannock Lions and writes about local history in his "Yesterdays" column for the Rappahannock News.