By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor
On the way back to the Charlotte airport from the HeritageRail Alliance Spring Conference in Bryson City, our party visited three small museums and tourist lines. The first and most unusual is the Craggy Mountain Line on the north edge of Asheville. It’s a 3-mile ex-Southern branch line that started life as a steam dummy line, then was electrified and hauled both passengers and freight. The Southern bought it in 1906 and eventually it became part of Norfolk Southern.
I should first explain that the Asheville & Craggy Mountain never reached, or came very close to Craggy Mountain, which is located about 25 miles northeast of Asheville. It opened in 1892 as a steam dummy line extending four miles from the end of one of the Asheville city lines. It ran only in the summer and entered receivership in 1895.
In 1901 the line was electrified and extended northeast to the top of Evergreen Mountain. It was basically a summer-only attraction and went belly up in 1903. The company removed the mountain rails and relaid them in a completely different direction, north and them west to the French Broad River and a connection with the Southern Railway. That required a steep twisting grade down the valley of Beaverdam Creek. Upon reaching the river the track turned south for a couple of miles, crossed the river on a bridge at the Weaver Dam and power plant and met the Southern on the west side of the river at a new junction named Craggy. The line opened with steam powered service in 1904.
Now shaped like an inverted “U”, the Craggy Mountain Line retained its connection to Asheville streetcars on the east end and now connected with the Southern on the west end.
The line to Craggy was electrified in 1905. The real reason for the extension was to tap freight traffic from industries along the east bank of the French Broad, and an electric locomotive was acquired for this service.
Despite these efforts, the railroad was still a financial failure. The line from Craggy Station on the river to the top of the inverted U (called New Bridge) was sold in 1906 to the Southern. It was de-electrified and survived in service until 1984. The east half of the line became an interurban, extending north in 1908 from the New Bridge junction with the Southern to Weaverville. Electric cars were finally able to run over local streetcars tracks to downtown Asheville, a 9-mile trip in all. It lasted until 1922.
In 1957 the Southern removed the bridge across the French Broad River. To reach the isolated track they built a branch up the east side of the river. Part of that remains in service to serve local industries. The rest is now part of the 3.45 miles owned by the Craggy Mountain Line, as shown highlighted in yellow on the map below.
The south 2 miles of the former Asheville & Craggy Mountain follow the east side of the French Broad River, where it served several industries. The largest of these was the Whittam Textile mill, now owned by Burlington Mills. The buildings still stand and the rails run through the property.
Beyond the mill the track makes a hard right and climbs a twisting 3 percent grade alongside Beaverdam Creek. At the top of the grade the Southern served Grace Oil Company, and several coal companies. Near the end of track the all-volunteer Craggy Mountain Line has established a simple, open air operating base.
The non-profit, all-volunteer Craggy Mountain Line was formed in to save the 3.45-mile line and took ownership in 2001.
Passenger service using large track cars began in 2012. Annual ridership approaches 3000.
The eclectic equipment roster attempts to recreate the line’s mixed electric and Southern era history. On the streetcar side, the body of Carolina Power & Light (Asheville) single truck Birney 119 (Brill 1927) was saved. It ran until the end of streetcar service in 1934. Still under restorations, it rides on a Milan, Italy power truck purchased from Gomaco.
Also on the roster is the body of Carolina Power & Light single trucker 1942 (Brill 1914). It also ran until 1934.
The truly unexpected artifact is New York IND R-6 subway car 983 (AC&F 1935), retired in 1975. It was built into a Jacksonville, FL disco club in 1977. The club folded in 1982 and sat outside until acquired in 2013.
Alexander RR diesel switcher 7 (Alco 1950)
Southern bay window cabooses 488 and 582. There are six cabooses in all.
Eight freight cars and a baggage car.