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The West Virginia Central & Pittsburg [sic] Railway evolved from a charter issued by the West Virginia legislature in 1866 under the name of the Potomac & Piedmont Coal & Railroad Company. The WVC&P culminated from Henry Gassaway Davis’s ambition to develop for the world market the vast coal and timber resources in the Potomac headwaters region and the western slopes and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains.

Work commenced in April 1880, with track-laying crews building southwestward from Cumberland, Maryland. Davis, a U.S. senator (1871–83) and industrialist, formally opened his railroad on November 2, 1881. By November 1884, the WVC&P had been built to Davis, Tucker County. The rails reached Elkins in November 1889, and the first passenger train arrived on December 3. Charles M. Pepper, Davis’s biographer, said that the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg ‘‘unlocked the imprisoned resources in the heart of the state.’’

Starting at Cumberland, the railroad followed the North Branch of the Potomac River up to its source, passing over the divide and continuing south of Backbone Mountain to Thomas. From Thomas the main line followed the waters of the Blackwater River to Dry Fork, then through the mountain gap to Parsons at the forks of Cheat River. The line then followed Shavers Fork a short distance, crossed over to Leading Creek and followed that into Elkins. From Elkins branches ran to Huttonsville, Belington, and Bemis. The Coal & Iron Railroad extending from Elkins to Durbin and the Coal & Coke Railroad from Elkins to Charleston were also built by Davis as extensions of the WVC&P. Davis sold the entire system to the Gould interests in 1902, and it became part of the Western Maryland Railway Company in 1905.

This Article was written by L. Wayne Sheets

Last Revised on November 12, 2010


Pepper, Charles M. Life and Times of Henry Gassaway Davis. New York: Century, 1920.

Fansler, Homer Floyd. History of Tucker County. Parsons: McClain, 1962.

Henry Gassaway Davis Papers. West Virginia & Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries.

Cite This Article

Sheets, L. Wayne "West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 November 2010. Web. 27 September 2023.


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