By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor
I’m always amazed at the energy behind some railroad museums. Headed back to Charlotte the long way, we stopped at a high-achieving small museum with an uncommon emphasis, southern narrow gauge. The Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum occupies multiple buildings in Newton, NC, population 13,000. The first is the fully restored Carolina & North Western depot.
Newton was served by the narrow gauge Chester & Lenoir, which arrived in 1882. It was folded into Southern subsidiary Carolina & North Western and standard gauged in 1902.
The Newton Depot Authority was created in 1995 to save the depot. It was on the property of Norfolk Southern, and they had plans to demolish it due to liability issues. Originally located at the junction of the C&NW and the Western North Carolina Railroads, in 1997 it was moved half a mile down the tracks. The restoration was funded through the Depot Authority with help from donors, grants, and the City of Newton. It was completed in the Summer of 2005.
Next came the Alexander Railroad Pavilion, located across the still active NS tracks. It was started in Fall of 2012 and opened to the public in October of 2016. It was funded entirely by the Alexander Railroad.
The depot authority’s partner is the Alexander Chapter NRHS, which owns a majority of the equipment and museum artifacts, and performs the restorations. Under the pavilion is a mixture of local standard gauge and southern narrow gauge rolling stock.
Carolina & North-Western #401- This wooden narrow gauge boxcar was built circa 1875 and ran through Newton on the original narrow gauge. It is believed to be the oldest narrow gauge boxcar on the east coast and oldest piece of Southern Railway equipment. It finished its service life on the Lawndale Railway.
East Tennessee & Western NC #434- This car ran between Johnson City, TN and Boone, NC (only 50 miles northwest of Newton) on the Tweetsie from 1910 to 1940. At 37 feet long, it is a member of the longest class of narrow gauge boxcars ever built.
Lawndale Railway #311- This narrow gauge boxcar was built around 1902 by the Lawndale Railway, a 9-mile pike located 30 miles southwest of Newton. It was retired in 1943 when the railroad quit running. This one is still under restoration.
Virginia-Carolina #50- The newest acquistion of the Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum is Virginia-Carolina standard gauge 2-6-0 #50 (Alco 1922). It was originally one of three engines of this class built for Cuban sugar plantations, but the order was cancelled. It saw service for a timber company, and then spent the bulk of its operating life at V-C company. In 1960, the engine was placed in the city park of Lakeland, Florida.
Future projects include:
Yadkin Railroad railbus #100 (Edwards 1924)
West Virginia Midland baggage car #1 . This car is the only known narrow gauge baggage car with a southeastern heritage still in existence.
West Virginia Midland office car “Holly” (Jackson & Sharpe 1902). This car is the only known narrow gauge office car with a southeastern heritage still in existence.
Unrestored equipment is kept at the museum’s shops a few miles west up the railroad between Conover and Hickory, NC, and in the field across the street from the Museum. Recently several Rio Grande cars from the Lindsay Ashby collection have been purchased to provide trucks and other parts for the restorations.
The latest project is the Model Railroad Center, located in a storefront next to the depot. Inside a large model railroad is under construction along with a new museum store.
A fund raising campaign is underway to build on-site shops next to the Pavilion so that the work can be performed there.
Thanks to Museum Coordinator James Glenn for his help with this article.