East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Relics of an Old Soapstone Plant

For years I casually searched for a soapstone mill in the woods of Nelson County.

The old Standard Soapstone railroad grade was obvious where it left the town of Norwood and headed up the Tye River. It was an easy hike along Rucker Run on the old grade until it reached the site of a high bridge over the creek. But beyond that point, I had great difficulty determining where the railroad had been, and could not find the site of the soapstone mill the railroad had served.

A good friend who knew I was interested in Nelson County soapstone gave me a pile of old, obsolete maps of the area. I worked my way down through the pile and found one that showed the Standard Soapstone railroad. It was identified on the map as “Narrow Gauge Track.”

This was the best clue I had ever found as to the location of the Standard Soapstone plant. The railroad shown on the map ended in the woods off Cedar Creek Road. I drove out to this remote area to try to find the end of the line.

I followed a rutted trail through the woods that led to a long, low wall of laid up soapstone slabs.

The wall led to a wide expanse of scaling, pitted concrete. The crumbling slab stretched into the woods, broomsage, cedars, and scrubby pines growing up out of every crack.

These were the brittle bones of the Standard Soapstone plant, the surrounding woods quickly encroaching on all sides.

The largest standing structure was a concrete frame that apparently had supported the boilers in the powerhouse.

I found rails in the tangled underbrush immediately adjacent to the plant, but the grade disappeared a short distance away.