In the early 20th century, the New York Central System was one of the largest rail networks in the United States. The NYC entered West Virginia at Point Pleasant and followed the east bank of the Kanawha River through Nitro into Charleston. Its Charleston passenger station was near the present Capitol Market, and the market building was the old freight house. The New York Central’s major rail yard was east of Charleston at Dickinson, near present Riverside High School. This yard was also used by Virginian Railroad trains. East of Dickinson the NYC main line was used by the Virginian to Gauley Bridge and passed through Cedar Grove, Cannelton, and Smithers. A branch ran beyond Gauley Bridge and terminated at Swiss, Nicholas County.
The earliest part of the New York Central System in West Virginia was the Kanawha & Michigan, originally known as the Kanawha & Ohio Railway Company. By 1888, it had completed a 58-mile line from Charleston to Point Pleasant, where it connected with the Toledo & Ohio Central. The K&M purchased the Charleston & Gauley Railway and extended its lines east to a connection with the C&O and later the Virginian. Between 1898 and 1903, lines were pushed farther east and north into the coalfields, and freight traffic increased significantly.
In 1900, the Toledo & Ohio Central gained control of the K&M and the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad. The K&WV ran 34 miles from Charleston up the Elk River to Blue Creek and then east to Kellys Creek. For many years it carried a significant amount of timber and coal, and in 1916 six passenger trains a day operated from Charleston to Blakeley on Kellys Creek. In 1910, the New York Central gained control of the Toledo & Ohio Central, into which it merged the K&M, the K&WV, and several other railroads in 1938. The Toledo & Ohio Central was finally merged into the New York Central System in 1952.
In 1968, the New York Central System merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to create the ill-fated Penn Central. Out of the failure of this merger came the Consolidated Rail Corporation, known as Conrail, in 1976. The old Kanawha & Michigan became part of Conrail. In 1999, Conrail was split between the Norfolk Southern and CSX. The former K&M trackage became part of the Norfolk Southern.
Throughout their life, the New York Central components Kanawha & Michigan Railway and Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad were dedicated to transporting coal from the West Virginia mines immediately north of the Kanawha River to the mills and factories of Ohio’s cities. But passenger service was not neglected. In 1916, 12 passenger trains a day were scheduled into Charleston, with eight of them continuing to Gauley Bridge for a connection with the Virginian Railway. Four of the passenger trains ran from Charleston to Toledo with convenient connections to Chicago.
Written by Robert L. Frey