To write about the history of the Virginia Creeper Trail requires more space than I can offer at this time, so I will try to be brief.
The railroad began in Abingdon, Virginia as the Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad Company. It was believed that the land in the area around Abingdon was rich with minerals such as coal and iron, but there was no resource to transport the ore to market.
During the late 1880's the rail company began to secure the land rights to build a railroad from Abingdon to Damascus. By the early 1890's not one rail had been laid on the partially cleared rail bed. After thousands of man hours and thousands of dollars, the railroad company was broke. In the early 1890's the company's assets were bought by the Virginia Western Coal & Iron Railroad Company.
Work on the railroad was slow and tedious. With many problems to overcome and after many delays the Virginia Western Coal & Iron Railroad Company found itself in the same position that its predecessors were facing, bankruptcy. Seeing the need for a railroad, a Norfolk-Western executive began work on the railroad, forming a new company called the Virginia-Carolina Railroad Company. The assets of the Virginia Western Coal & Iron Railroad Company were purchased, but this time the focus was on the rolling hills rich with timber.
The locals referred to the train that climbed eastward into the Iron Mountains as the "Virginia Creeper", a name taken from the native plant that grows along the route. A steam engine laboring up mountain grades with heavy loads of lumber, iron ore, supplies, and passengers was also a "virginia creeper" in every sense of the word.
In February 1900, the Virginia-Carolina Railroad Company rolled into Damascus Virginia ready for business. By 1912, the railroad was extended to Whitetop Virginia and by 1918 the line stretched 75 miles to Elkland, North Carolina (now named Todd, NC), and included more than 100 trestles. Villagers out picking blackberries or elderberries along the tracks watched as stacks of red spruce, freshly cut from virgin forests high atop Mount Rogers, rumbled by on flatbed cars.the end of the decade the railroad had been extended to Elkland, North Carolina. During this time the Norfolk and Western Railroad had purchased partial ownership in the railroad which helped capitalize the expansion of the rail line.
Towns were built along with new jobs and businesses with the coming of the railroad. Whitetop Virginia became to highest standard guage rail station east of the Rockiesi to be serviced by a regularly scheduled train. At its high point, Whitetop had stores, a hotel, a doctor, a dentist and 500 residents. Today, most of the signs of that prosperous period are gone.
The Hassenger Lumber Company closed its once booming business in 1928. With the stock market crash in 1929 the railroad depended on light passenger and freight service for revenue.
In 1956 the last steam engine was retired from the line and replaced with diesel powered engines. By 1974, the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the line. In 1977 hard rains flooded and damaged most of the track and it was left in disrepair.
In 1977 removal of the track began and the land in North Carolina and Virginia Land the NC State line to Damascus was secured by the US Forest Service for a recreation trail. The City of Abingdon and the Town of Damascus secured the western portion of the trail. The land in North Carolina was returned to the land owners.
Today thousands of people from all over the world travel to the towns along the Virginia Creeper Trail to experience an outdoor adventure biking, hiking, birding, fishing, or just plain ol' relaxing. After a day filled with outdoor adventures vacationers find solice in the many wonderful dining, lodging and shopping opportunities in the area.
From Abingdon to Damascus, the trail right-of-way belongs to the two towns, but most of the actual land is private. While you do have the right to use the creeper trail across their property, please respect landowners. Stay on the Creeper Trail, close gates, keep your bicycles under control, keep dogs under control, don't frighten livestock and be friendly!
The Virginia Creeper Trail between Damascus and the North Carolina border, except for a short stretch through Taylor's Valley, is part of the Jefferson National Forest and is administered by the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area staff.
The Va Creeper Trail is now an extremely popular recreation spot enjoyed by thousands of outdoor recreation enthusiasts from around the world.