The RAIL Project
In the News
Thomas H. Lindsey (active Asheville, North Carolina): “Stripes but no Stars” Platinum print, circa 1892, 5 x 8 inches
The construction of the Mountain Division of the Western North Carolina Railroad is widely considered one of the greatest human accomplishments in regards to both engineering and construction ever undertaken at the time it occurred. The project took place over a period of several years in the late 1800s. Many people are aware that the railroad provided the first dependable access to and from much of Western North Carolina for the rest of the state as well as much of the nation. Many also know the names of some of those who were instrumental in seeing through the completion of this ambitious project. Names such as Colonel Alexander Boyd Andrews, of Andrews’ Geyser fame.
However, what most people are unaware of is that at least 95% of the labor which built the railroad across the Blue Ridge Escarpment was completed by inmates from the North Carolina State Penitentiary… and approximately 98% of those inmates were African American men… the majority of whom were unjustly imprisoned…
This project was created to share the true story behind this human endeavor and to honor the memory of those who labored and those who died here.
If you would like to donate to the RAIL project via a secure PayPal transaction, please click the link below:
You may also mail a check made out to WNCHA (with RAIL project in the memo line) to 283 Victoria Road, Asheville, NC 28801.
Asheville Weekly Citizen, May 9, 1878
An Incomplete List of WNC Railroad’s Incarcerated Workers
The following names are listed in the 1880 US Census, Old Fort Township, McDowell County, reproduced below. We have transcribed the names as carefully as possible from the original documents; however, if you see a mistake, please let us know.
A note on demographics: Laborers from the State Prison listed here ranged in age from 14 to 66 years of age. Three were women. 172 were male. Seven are identified as being white. All others are listed as being either Black or mulatto.
Robert M. Walker
Additional Names from newspaper coverage (see below):
The Observer (Raleigh, NC), September 11, 1877
Lucy Morgan (Note: Lucy Morgan is one of the three women listed in the 1880 Census above.)
Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), October 11, 1877
Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), November 22, 1877
Rufus Young (Note: A man named Rufus Young is also listed in the 1880 Census above.)
The Daily Review (Wilmington, North Carolina), October 14, 1879
According to the 1880 Census, Daniel Richardson, Charles Harper, Daniel Brown, and Gould Foy all served at least part of their sentences working on the WNCRR.
The News and Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina), June 4, 1886