Virginia's Nineteenth-Century Transportation Challenges
The Blue Ridge Tunnel
At the close of the eighteenth century, Virginia stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ohio River. The coastal plain, Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, and Alleghany Mountains lay between, with the James River running east to west. From the earliest days of westward expansion, Virginians struggled to move goods and people across this lengthy span of miles. Pioneers followed the James and other rivers westward and established settlements while depending on wagons, canoes or bateaux for transportation.
George Washington, a major proponent of canals, saw the importance of connecting Virginia's tidewater with the Ohio River. Following his lead, the General Assembly chartered the James River Company in 1785, its two-fold purpose was building a canal around the Falls of the James in Richmond and eventually linking Richmond with the Ohio by canal. Little progress was made on the latter. Then in 1812, the General Assembly appointed a commission led by Chief Justice John Marshall. The commissioners' exploratory trip along Virginia's rivers resulted in a report that strongly endorsed continuing the James River Canal westward.
James River Canal, Balcony Falls, Rockbridge County, 1858. A Balcony Falls manufacturer sold barrels of cement to the Blue Ridge Railroad from 1850-1852, delivering them via the canal.
Packet boat, James River Canal, 1860. Scott's Landing inAlbemarle County was a drop point for Blue Ridge Railroad construction materials coming from Richmond on canal barges.
The Contractors Book, 1855. Left: Workers prepare a towpath for horses to pull a canal boat. The barge in the distance is above a lock. Center: Wagoners dump debris from a railroad cut. Right: Laborers shore up a railroad embankment. In the distance, men are finalizing tracks.
Erected 2020 by Nelson County Parks & Recreation.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Railroads & Streetcars • Waterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #01 George Washington series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1785.
Location. 38° 1.973′ N, 78° 50.629′ W. Marker is in Afton, Virginia, in Nelson County. Marker is on Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail 0.1 miles west of Afton Depot Lane, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Afton VA 22920, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. East Trailhead (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Claudius Crozet (about 700 feet away); The Blue Ridge Railroad (approx. ¼ mile away); The Laborers (approx. 0.4 miles away); Flight of Richard C. duPont (approx. 0.4 miles away);
Credits. This page was last revised on April 10, 2021. It was originally submitted on April 10, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 43 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on April 10, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.