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Chesapeake Western Railway Company Records

Identifier: SC 0154
  • Not requestable

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content

The Chesapeake Western Railway Company Records, 1916-1982, consist of 24.36 cubic feet of business records pertaining to the employees, assets, and business transactions of the company. The collection is topically arranged in seven series with the largest series first; then further arranged chronologically . Series consist of Personnel Records, Reports, Account Books, Correspondence, Blueprints and Schematics, Publications, and Miscellaneous Documents.


  • Creation: 1916-1982


Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collection Library. Privacy protected information may be revealed during use of this collection. Researchers agree to make no notes or other recordation of privacy protected information if found within this collection, and further agree not to publish or disclose such information for any purpose. Researchers agree to alert Special Collections staff if potentially privacy protected information is found within this collection. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (

Administrative History

The origins of the Chesapeake Western Railway Company date back at least to 1871, when the Washington, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railroad was chartered in Virginia as a narrow-gauge railroad to run from Washington, D.C., through Elkton, Harrisonburg, and Bridgewater, Virginia to Cincinnati, Ohio. Virginians bought stock in the coporation, including many people in Rockingham County; rights of way were purchased and railbed grading began. Like similar ventures of the time, the goals of the company never bore fruit, and work halted in 1874.

In 1892, a group of promoters including Jedediah Hotchkiss incorporated to build a railway to carry coal from West Virginia mines to Gloucester Point, Virginia. Initially called the Chesapeake, Shendun, and Western Railroad, the name was quickly changed to Chesapeake & Western Railroad. Using part of the old WC&StL right-of-way, and with $150,000 from the city of Harrisonburg to ensure that the railroad would pass through it, a 26-mile single-track, standard-gauge line was completed from Elkton to Bridgewater and began operating on March 23, 1896. In the next few years, substantial C&W stock was purchased by New York investor Thomas Stokes, who hoped to develop the coal mines in western Rockingham County but became mired in financial difficulties. His brother, W.E.D Stokes, purchased control of the C&W and also organized a new railroad, the Tidewater and West Virginia, in 1900. The Tidewater changed its name in 1901 to the Chesapeake Western Railway, leased the CW line for 99 years, and in 1902 completed 13 miles of rail from Bridgewater to the new town of Stokesville in North River Gap. Trains carried passengers as well as freight between Elkton and Stokesville. Plans were drawn up to continue the line into West Virginia but were not implemented.

For just over a decade, Stokesville boomed as timber, tanbark, and to a much more limited extent, coal, in the area were exploited. Stokes operated the CW with offices in Harrisonburg until his death in 1926. His estate continued to operate the railway until 1938. In 1928, the line from Mount Solon to North River Gap was abandoned for financial reasons. In 1933, the nine miles from Bridgewater to Mount Solon were also dropped. When the Stokes' heirs put the CW up for sale in 1938, Don W. Thomas, a former Norfolk & Western Railroad employee who had been the general manager of the CW since 1926, fought a bid from Japanese scrap metal buyers and bought the line. In 1943, Thomas also bought the Baltimore & Ohio's Valley Road of Virginia line which rean between Harrisonburg and Lexington. The line south of Staunton was taken up and sold for scrap, but the road between Harrisonburg and Staunton was improved and became an important link in the CW system because of the connection with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad at Staunton. The CW linked with the Norfolk & Western at Elkton.

In 1954, the Norfolk & Western Railroad purchased CW, but the name was retained and was operated as a separate corporation. By about 1980, however, little or no rolling stock carried the CW logo any longer. Norfolk & Western and the Southern Railway Company merged as Norfolk Southern Corporation on June 1, 1982. Not long after that merger, a five-alarm fire burned the CW office located at Chesapeake Drive in Harrisonburg on July 28, 1982, and company offices and operations were eventually absorbed by the NS. Five miles of track east of Bridgewater were removed in 1988. The CW under the control of NS serves as the Harrisonburg area's poultry feed supplier passing through the campus of James Madison University daily.


24.36 cubic feet (35 boxes, 1 rolled storage container)

Language of Materials



The Chespeake Western Railway Company Records, 1916-1982, are comprised of 24.36 cubic feet of records pertaining to the administrative and business activities of a small Shenandoah Valley railroad through the period of America's Great Depression and up to the CW's eventual acquisition by the Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation.


The collection is arranged in seven series with the largest first; then arranged further chronologically:

  1. Personnel Records, 1929-1982
  2. Reports, 1953-1981
  3. Account Books, 1916-1974
  4. Correspondence, 1976-1979
  5. Miscellaneous Documents, 1928-1976
  6. Publications, 1963-1977
  7. Blueprints and Schematics, 1951-1979


Records represent the day to day business operation of the Chesapeake Western Railway Company through 1982. After a fire that year, records were left in the CW building on Chesapeake Drive in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and remained in that facility until 1997.

Acquisition Information

D.A. Brown, II Superintendent, VA Division of Norfolk Southern in Roanoke gave permission in April 1997 for JMU professors Raymond Hiser and Clarence Geier from the History and Anthropology Departments respectively to salvage records from the CW building on Chesapeake Drive in Harrisonburg, Virginia which suffered a five-alarm fire at the site on July 28, 1982. After the fire, operating records remained in the building in disarray on the floor and suffered damage by fire or water or both. Following their initial cleaning and inventory by students in History and Anthropology, the materials were transferred to Carrier Library in February 1998. In September 2018, the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, donated one bound book: "Returns to Valuation Orders 7, 8, and 16."


  • Cooper, Mason Y. Norfolk and Western's Shenandoah Line. Forest, Virginia: Norfolk and Western Historical Society, Inc., 1998.
  • Cooper, Mason Y. Norfolk and Western's Shenandoah Line. Forest, Virginia: Norfolk and Western Historical Society, Inc., 1998.
  • Hawkins, Leighman. "The Shortline Railroads of Virginia." Virginia and the Virginia County, January 1951.
  • Murray, Michael S. "Rails Through Rockingham County: The Chesapeake Western Story." Railpace Newsmagazine, January 1985.
  • "Norfolk and Western to buy Chesapeake Western." Daily News-Record, July 29, 1954.
  • Price, Charles Grattan Jr. The Crooked and the Weedy: A History of Virginia's Chesapeake Western Railway. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Don Mills, Inc., 1992.
  • Thompson, Tommy. "Shortline." Daily News-Record, April 3, 1971.

Processing Information

Due to the unwieldy nature of virtually off the bound ledgers, pages were removed from their covers and parceled into folders as both an aid to researchers and as a practical means to consolidate space. The condition of some boards was also questionable with evidence of mold and pest damage. In order to streamline the process of applying collection numbers, Special Collections staff completed a large-scale renumbering campaign in the spring of 2017. This collection was previously cataloged as SC 4010.

A Guide to the Chesapeake Western Railway Company Records, 1916-1982
Samuel T. Elswick, Tony Madson, Julia Merkel and Tiffany Cole
June 1997, March 1998, May 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the James Madison University Libraries Special Collections Repository

820 Madison Drive
MSC 1706
Harrisonburg Virginia 22807
(540) 568-3612