Davis-Murdoch Stone Company

More information, still no evidence

An inquiry to the Nelson County Historical Society asking whether there had actually been a narrow gauge soapstone railroad found its way to an attorney named Dick Whitehead who sent me copies of ancient DGMR reports on Phoenix Stone Company.DGMR-EconFile-884

The Phoenix Stone report mentioned that the narrow gauge ran to Arrington. So I collected my maps, gassed up the truck and headed out to Arrington and again came up empty. I saw nothing there to suggest an abandoned railroad grade or transfer point.USGS_Arrington-884
USGS Arrington quad

Coming Up Empty

I wondered if there had been any narrow gauge industrial railroads associated with the old soapstone operations.

There are scant few published resources on the history of the soapstone industry in Virginia. Only a few of those make any mention of associated rail operations. Paul Saunder’s book Heartbeats of Nelson includes an interview with Robert Harlow, who was hired by Phoenix Stone Company to build dual gauge track at the site of a new mill under construction in 1925.
Heartbeats Of Nelson, Paul Saunders, 2007

Time for a road trip. I managed to find the remote crossroads where Phoenix Stone had been. I drove out there and found almost nothing. No quarries, no mill site, nothing that looked like an old railroad grade. Just thick woods, rusty mobile homes, and mean dogs.
USGS Arrington quad

Nelson & Albemarle Railway

The Nelson & Albemarle Railway took a circuitous route between a connection with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and the Southern, serving mills at Alberene and Schuyler as well as the soapstone quarries along the way.

Charles Clegg photo - California Railroad Museum collection

The Nelson & Albemarle was a perfect complement to both the soapstone industry it served and the scenery through which it ran. Vulcan built saddle tank steam locomotives hauled short trains along a lightly graded right-of-way.

Alberene Stone Company and the N&A could certainly provide excellent inspiration for an On30 model railroad. But the N&A is standard gauge …

Moving Materials

The soapstone mills were built in remote areas close to the Soapstone Belt.

Quarries supplying stone to the mills were scattered through the surrounding countryside.

Kierk Ashmore-Sorensen collection

At the time local roads were built to handle agricultural wagon traffic. The high volume of stone from quarry to mill and finished products from the mills to the outside world necessitated the construction of rail lines.

Virginia-Alberene Stone Company

One Company in particular was very successful manufacturing and marketing soapstone products.

Kierk Ashmore-Sorensen collection

In the early 1900s, Alberene Stone Company had 100s of workers in the mill cutting, finishing, and assembling a variety of soapstone products.