How Railroads Helped Rocky Mount’s Development

Railroads and Rocky MountThe railroad industry played a vital role in the city’s development, and this, in turn, aided the advancement of Eastern North Carolina. The Wilmington and Weldon railroad helped fight unemployment in Rocky Mount.


A bottle of "Old Nash"


In 1845, two miles east of Rocky Mount Mills, the Wilmington-Weldon railroad became the main thoroughfare to Rocky Mount. Rocky Mount’s location was the perfect point of departure for travelers headed north or south. For those headed east or west, the Raleigh-Tarboro stage route would assist them. This trend continues today--Rocky Mount is still an important place of departure.  Located at the intersection of I-95 and NC Highway 64, Rocky Mount is almost halfway between New York and Miami. 


Then, the railroad got a boost from an unlikely source: the irresistible taste of Nash County apple brandy. As they say, the rest is history. 


The beverage — called "Old Nash" — was all the rage across the region and a very popular drink for toasts, special occasions and grand openings. This means when the railroad stopped enroute to Wilmington, it was often picking up some crates of Old Nash to deliver. It made Nash County famous, and the demand for the beverage helped spur development.


Railroad Mergers & Economic Development


When the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad purchased the Wilmington and Weldon railroad, its main yard facilities were headquartered in Rocky Mount. As a result, railroad employees poured into the down, spurring development of new businesses and shops. Later, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad merged with the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.


As for Rocky Mount, the railroad tracks became the new county line. Previously, the Tar River served as the boundary line, but this was changed to the train tracks, splitting Rocky Mount into two counties.


The popularity of bright leaf tobacco and the establishment of a cotton mill kept the main railroad lines busy. With acres of prime farmland and easy access thanks to the railroads, Rocky Mount’s population grew to 7,500 in 1907.


Preserving the History of Rocky Mount


The railroad tracks still run through the center of Rocky Mount’s Main Street, and the renovated, Romanesque style train station is listed as one of Amtrak’s “Great American Stations.”  Some of the lines that stop along the railroad station include the Carolinian, (which travels from New York - Raleigh - Charlotte) and the Palmetto (New York - Rocky Mount - Savannah).


The Rocky Mount Railroad Museum wants to preserve and develop this important part of Rocky Mount’s heritage. The museum, established in 2010, is seeking support to grow and develop, capturing the history, heart and imagination of both train enthusiasts, local citizens and children. 

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