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Afton in Nelson County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Virginia's Nineteenth-Century Transportation Challenges

The Blue Ridge Tunnel

 
 
Virginia's Nineteenth-Century Transportation Challenges Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, April 9, 2021
1. Virginia's Nineteenth-Century Transportation Challenges Marker
Inscription.  
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.

In 1835,

Virginia's Nineteenth-Century Transportation Challenges Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, April 9, 2021
2. Virginia's Nineteenth-Century Transportation Challenges Marker
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the James River and Kanawha Canal Company—successor to the James River Company—was chartered under the leadership of Joseph Carrington Cabell. The company was Virginia's great internal improvement enterprise for decades. Meanwhile, railroads gained primacy, but a great obstacle remained: the Blue Ridge Mountains. To overcome the barrier, Virginia's Board of Public Works incorporated the Blue Ridge Railroad Company in 1849. The plan called for building a line from a point near Mechum's River in Albemarle County through the northern tip of Nelson County on the east side of Rockfish Gap. On the west side, the line would continue down to Waynesboro in Augusta County. The total length was almost seventeen miles and included four tunnels. The privately owned Virginia Central Railroad assumed control when the line was finished in 1858 and continued building west until the Civil War. Virginia and West Virginia finally achieved the goal of connecting the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River in 1873—the same decade in which the James River and Kanawha Canal ceased operation.

[Captions:]
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 in

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Albemarle 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 & StreetcarsWaterways & 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);

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Rockfish Gap Meeting (approx. 0.4 miles away); Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District (approx. 0.4 miles away); Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel (approx. half a mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Afton.
 
 
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.

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May. 11, 2021