The Greenbrier Railway, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O), opened in December, 1900 from a junction with the C&O at Whitcomb, on the main line from Richmond VA to Cincinnati OH, as far as Cass. The line was extended beyond Cass to Durbin in 1902, and to Winterburn in 1905.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company was building a logging operation and sawmill in Cass, from where the Greenbrier Railway could transport pulpwood to the Company's huge mill at Covington, and lumber to a wide variety of destinations served by the C&O. Timber was brought to Cass by a number of small logging railroads, one of which, the Greenbrier & Elk River Railroad is of particular interest here.
The purpose of the Greenbrier & Elk River Railroad was to open up timber extraction in the Cheat Mountain area, to the north and west of Cass. The first section opened in 1900 from Cass to a construction camp, known as Old Spruce, located in a divide of the Back Allegheny Mountain. The line was unusually steep and difficult to construct and involved two switchbacks. By 1904 the line was extended down the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River to the present location of Spruce. Here a new mill was set up and the later a thriving community was established, though few traces of this now remain.
Meanwhile, further north, 1900 also saw the arrival of the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway in Durbin, where it would ultimately link with the Greenbrier Railway. The line ran from Cumberland MD via Elkins and Bernis. Branches from Elkins ran to Huttonsville and Belington. At Belington it met the Grafton & Belington Railroad, a subsidiary of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. In 1905, the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg became part of the Western Maryland Railway.
In the first quarter of the 20th century operations at Spruce expanded. The Greenbrier & Elk River Railroad, now renamed the Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk Railroad was extended west from Spruce via the Big Cut through a pass over Cheat Mountain, into Big Spring Fork and down the Elk River as far as Webster Springs, where it met a number of narrow gauge logging railroads. Other logging railroads fed into the main line at Slaty Fork, Elk River Bridge and Bergoo. North of Spruce the railroad was extended to a junction with the Western Maryland just south of Bemis.
In 1927 the Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk main line from the junction near Bemis, via Spruce, to Webster Springs was sold to the Western Maryland, though now its primary function would be coal extraction rather than logging. The original line from Cass to Spruce was retained by the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company, but it appears that about this time the use of the Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk name was dropped.
The final development of significance to the present day railways was the construction in the 1950s by Mower Lumber, then owners of West Virginia Pulp & Paper, of a line from Old Spruce to Bald Knob. This was one of the last active logging tracks and forms part of the present day Cass Scenic Railroad.
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Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad map from the website of Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad
Map of Spruce area by Glyn Williams based on maps published in the
Appalachia & Piedmont volume of the SPV Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America
West Virginia flag image from Wikipedia
Pocahontas County emblem from the Pocahontas County website
Special thanks to the Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association
for providing much of the information used in this article
Thanks also to SPV for their excellent Railroad Atlases