The Blacksburg Branch or “Huckleberry”

This branch ran from Christiansburg to Blacksburg until it was abandoned in 1964. It started as the Virginia Anthracite Coal & Railway Co. (VAC&Ry) to serve the coal mine at Merrimac, was extended to Blacksburg, and purchased by the N&W when it ran into financial trouble.

The VAC&Ry construction started in November, 1902, to serve the anthracite coal mine at Merrimac and to extend to Blacksburg, home of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The line opened to the mine in April of 1903 and was finally completed to Blacksburg in 1904. The first passenger train operated over the line on September 15 and from then on offered four round trips a day from the Nofolk & Western depot in Christiansburg. Because of the slow pace of the train and stops for the mixed trains to switch the coal mine, passengers could get off the train and pick berries along the right of way. This lead to the line being tagged "The Huckleberry" early in its existance.

The 8-mile-long VAC&Ry ran from a connection with the N&W in Christiansburg to its end in Blacksburg. When constructed, it left Christiansburg station on the N&W's Kingston Branch running south along Crab Creek. It crossed the creek, wrapped around a small knob, and crossed above the N&W tracks. It made a two-mile climb to the northwest out of the Crab Creek drainage to the Blacksburg Road, turned due west then made a hard right to turn north. It was on a gradual downgrade at that point. After it crossed Peppers Ferry Rd. it started down a small drainage until it neared Lick Run (now known as Slate Branch). As it approached the stream, it went into a curve to the left, crossed a small stream on a small bridge, then began to loop to the right. The line crossed Lick Run on a bridge and eventually curved to the left, crossing another small bridge and returning to its northward path. It followed Lick Run, climbing to about MP 5, where it reached Merrimac Mine and the large tipple constructed there. The line continued to follow the stream drainage, meandering north and east until it made a turn to the north and ran on a fairly straight tangent to downtown Blacksburg and the station site adjacent to Clay street.

The Va. Anthracite Coal & Railway Line is Completed to Blacksburg

[Roanoke] Evening News, Volume 9, Number 127, Friday 16 September 1904, pg. 1, 4


First Passenger Train Over New Line From Christiansburg to Blacksburg -- An Important Event -- Many Invited Guests on the First Trip.

Christiansburg, Va., Sept. 16. -- Special. -- Yesterday marked an event in the history of the town of Blacksburg which will not soon be forgotten, and also records another rapid stride in the development of the mineral wealth of this county. The Virginia Anthracite Coal and Railway Company ran its first passenger train into Blacksburg and formally opened its line for the transaction of business.

As far back as sometime in the fifties a charter was obtained for a road from Christiansburg depot to Blacksburg and from that time to this various plans have been formulated under numerous charters for the construction of a railroad, but all these amounted to nothing. In the spring of 1901 the attention of Mr. W. J. Payne of Richmond, was directed to the coal fields on the Price and Brush mountains in this county, a new charter was obtained for a railroad and it soon became manifest that the enterprise had at last fallen into the hands of one who would bring it to a successful conclusion. After the tedious delays incident to procuring rights of way on the 11th day of November, 1902, the work of construction was begun, and the road completed to the mines, a distance of five and a half miles, in April, 1903.

These mines had been operated in a crude way for a number of years, but under the new management the most approved and up-to-date methods were inaugurated. A large breaker with a capacity of 600 tons per day, has been erected and is now in successful operation. This breaker is constructed after the latest patterns and produces seven sizes of coal, equal to the Pennsylvania standard. All the machinery, appliances and equipments about the mines were selected by and put in place under the supervision of Mr. J. R. Wilson, the general manager, an educated and experienced mining engineer from the Pennsylvania fields.

The output at present is rather small owing to difficulty in procuring suitable miners. The company is now working fifty miners and will increase the number as rapidly as possible to four times as many so as to enable it to meet the demand for the coal which cannot now be supplied.

The citizens of Blacksburg were so earnest and insistent in their entreaties that the road should be completed to their town that the management finally determined to do so, and on the 11th day of June, 1904, work was commenced on the extension and the rails laid into the town the 7th of this month.

At the invitation of the general manager, a party consisting of Judge A. A. Phlegar, W. C. Flagg, J. R. Eoff, W. L. Curring, J. R. Johnson, J. H Thompson, W. M. Dunklee, W. F. Tallant, R. B. Spindle, and Dr. A. S. Ellett, prominent citizens of Christiansburg; Mr. W. H. Tomney, of The Roanoke Times, and Mrs. J. R. Wilson, and Miss Laura Jordan, boarded the first passenger coach to run over the road. At the station they were joined by W. J. Payne, vice-president; L. G. Crenshaw, auditor; Guy F. Ellett, secretary, and J. W. Walters and G. W. Walters, of the directorate.

The train, in charge of Engineman A. P. Witt, Fireman Grayson Lucas and Conductor C. R. Fagg, commenced its first journey and reached Blacksburg after a delightful run of about forty minutes. On approaching the latter place Engineman Witt awakened the echos as well as the natives by a prolonged whistle from his locomotive, and amid the waving of handkerchiefs and other manifestations of delight from a large crowd which had assembled, the train pulled up to the temporary station. After a stay of half an hour the return trip was commenced, the party being joined by Dr. and Mrs. J. M. McBryde, Professor and Mrs. L. S. Randolph, Professor and Mrs. W. D. Saunders, Professor and Mrs. Vawter, Professor and Mrs. R. J. Davidson, all of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute; Mr. and Mrs. Wirt Dunlap and many other ladies and gentlemen.

Only those who are compelled to travel the nine miles of almost impassable mountain road, during the cold, bleak, dreary winter months can fully appreciate what the opening of this now road means.

Convenient schedules will be arranged so that passengers by the Norfolk and Western train can make close connection to and from Blacksburg.

The Virginia Anthracite Coal Company owns very valuable coal lands on the Brush mountain, and it is only a question of time when the road will be extended so as to open up those fields and bring into the market a quality of coal that cannot be surpassed for domestic purposes.

The same story ran in the Times Dispatch, Number 16,640, 17 September 1904, pg. 5

[Roanoke] Evening News, Volume 9, Number 129, 19 September 1904, pg. 3


The schedule of the new Virginia Anthracite Coal & Railway Co., which went into effect on Thursday of last week is as follows:

Leaves Christiansburg, 7:15 a. m., arrives Blacksburg, 7:55 a. m.

(Express) leaves Christiansburg 10:45 a. m., arrives Blacksburg 11:15 a. m.

Leaves Christiansburg 1 p. m. arrives Blacksburg 1:40 p. m.

(Express) leaves Christiansburg 6:50 p. m., arrives Blacksburg 7:30 p.m.

Leaves Blacksburg 8:20 a. m., arrives Christiansburg, 9:10 a. m.

(Express) leaves Blacksburg 11:25 a. m., arrives Christiansburg, 11:55 a. m.

Leaves Blacksburg 4:25 p. m., arrives Christiansburg 5:05 p. m.

(Express) leaves Blacksburg 7:35 p. m., arrives Christiansburg 8:10 p. m.

Read more news stories about the VAC&Ry. Co.

Articles, Historical Documents, and Photographs

“Geology And History Of The Confederate Coal Mlnes In Montgomery County, Virginia” from the February, 2000, edition of the Virginia Minerals (PDF document)

Original Huckleberry Depot
The original Virginia Anthracite Coal & Railway depot in Blacksburg