East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicle of an On30 quarry railroad

Nelson County

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.

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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 …

Virginia-Alberene Stone Company

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



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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.

A Likely Candidate


As it happens, there is a unique and commercially viable stripe of soapstone deposits running right along the western Piedmont of central Virginia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.



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Virginia Minerals newsletter, April 1961

One of only a few places in the world where the quality of the stone is high enough for architectural and dimensional applications.

Compatible Industry

The idea of a complementary industry to the Blue Ridge foothills of Virginia had crossed H. Reid's mind.

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H. Reid - An Upcountry Romance

This quote from an old article that appeared in Steam Locomotives and Railroad Tradition magazine depicts quarry and mineral operations as being a good “fit” for the overall setting.

Looking for Inspiration

My autumn road trip routes take me up narrow creek valleys and through rolling countryside.

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Wouldn’t it be cool if there had been an old, isolated industry around here that complemented the scale and nature of the scene, used old equipment, looked hand hewn and overgrown ...

Autumn in the Foothills

Autumn is my favorite season for driving the backroads of Nelson County.

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My road trips have evolved from mad dashes trying to see as much as possible to focused trips to one particular spot in order to spend enough time there to really "see" it. My favorite places tend to be near railroads or abandoned grades. When I come upon a particularly modelgenic scene, I speculate on the possiblity of the narrow country road being built on an old narrow gauge railroad grade.

Scenery Reference

Autumn JRSP

James River State Park
Bent Creek, VA
Reference for scenery color and texture.

Upcountry Romance

A Reminiscence in an old railfan publication - "An Upcountry Romance"

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"The heartland of Virginia is rolling and rural, a green countryside given over to small farms, gentlemen's estates, and a quarry or mineral working here and there."

Tom Sullivan ran across an article about the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad by H. Reid in the May 1963
Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition magazine, and was kind enough to pass it on to me.

The article is illustrated by a cartoon created by H. Reid himself, portraying many events in the colloquial history of the line in one non-linear jumble of movie stars, rabbit hunts, escaped livestock, and smooches. An N&A train is shown traversing an apparent loop of track connecting Rockfish to Warren.

A rambling, florid story based on the facts but heavy on suppositional dialogue and local legends, the article brought two old impressions back into sharp focus for me. The first is that the N&A was a perfect compliment to the area through which it ran. The little locomotives hauled short trains on a lightly graded right-of-way through the woods and pastures of Piedmont. The mill that provided freight for the railroad was surrounded by a campus of beautiful, small stone buildings that looked transplanted from Cornwall or Wales.

The embellished history in the article also depicted the N&A as an excellent railroad to model. I could imagine that the article had actually been written about a model railroad, an illusion supported by the circular track plan illustrated in the cartoon. "An Upcountry Romance" describes an idealized inspiration for my own model railroad, making me want to develop a backstory that might serve as the text for a pictorial article for a hobby publication.

Wingina and Norwood


A scenic stretch of the James River with a long history - Norwood to Wingina

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Area included in the survey

I recently attended a meeting of the Nelson County Historical Society held at St. John’s Baptist Church in Norwood. The program was a presentation of the Survey of Architectural Resources in the Norwood and Wingina Vicinities in Nelson County, Virginia.

This stretch of the James River along the southeastern border of Nelson County has long been one of my favorite trip destinations. The road connecting Norwood to Wingina is one of the few that closely parallels the river in the floodplain, offering a long, wide view of the bottomland, railroad, and the wooded bluffs of Buckingham County along the south side of the river. My impression of this area is what I hope to impart on the section of my model railroad that I call Winwood. The name of my fictional river town of Winwood is a contraction of “WINgina-norWOOD.

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The old C&O depot in Wingina

While the entire length of the James River through the central Virginia Piedmont is full of historic mill sites, canal remains, and old farmhouses, I learned from the HistoryTech survey that Norwood and Wingina are the bookends of an area with an unusually high concentration of historically significant architecture, prompting the discussion of creating an Historic District.

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Norwood is a great source for small structure detail reference

I learned a great deal about the history of the area from attending the HistoryTech presentation. I also learned that one of my primary interests in the area is not considered very historically significant; there was no mention made of the standard gauge industrial railroad of the Standard Soapstone Company. The concrete abutments and bridge piers standing in a field just outside of town had always riveted my attention. Not everyone finds them as interesting as I do apparently.

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abandoned railroad bridge abutment at Norwood