Cripple Creek Extension/North Carolina Branch

In 1882, the Norfolk & Western Railroad surveyed what at that time was called the "Cripple Creek Extension" from Martin's Station (also called "Martin's Tank," now Pulaski) south to the New River, then west to Speedwell Furnace. The line was about 50 miles in length and ran through an area with abundant supplies of various minerals, mainly iron ore. Construction of the line started in late 1883 and the line was gradually extended, with 28.8 miles completed by 1887.

In the 7th Annual Report of the N&W Railroad, issued in Dec. 1887, it was reported, "Reference has also been made to a projected outlet to the South and South-East, through the construction of a line, about 30 miles in length, to connect your Cripple Creek Extension with the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad in North Carolina. This connection, if constructed, would prove very advantageous to your company in opening up additional territory for the interchange of business." At that time, the proposed line was to extend up Little Reed Island Creek through Hillsville to Mt. Airy on Lovells Creek.

In the 10th Annual Report of the N&W Railroad, issued in 1890, the proposed extension of the Cripple Creek line was shown extending from Ivanhoe. "Of the NORTH CAROLINA EXTENSION," the report states, "there yet remains to be constructed 30 miles, of which 8 miles is partly completed and surveys for the remaining 22 miles have been in progress during the year, but the final location, owing to the difficult character of the country, has not yet been determined. It is very desirable that this Extension be completed and the connection made with the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad as early as practicable, in order that the line may be in active operation and business developed prior to the opening of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The line that will be formed by your Ohio and North Carolina Extensions will be the shortest and most direct route between the South Atlantic States and Chicago and the Northwest."

A map of the "New River Cripple Creek Mineral Territory" shows the line reaching Gossan on Chestnut Creek at Eagle Creek, then extending beyond Old Town (now Galax) to Glady Fork near Ward's Mill Branch. It was proposed to extend along Cove Creek to Hank's Gap, elevation 2840, along the ridge to Sugar Loaf and down the east side of Pauls Creek Valley to Aaron and a junction with the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley, elevation 1211.

Work continued on the various lines and branches, which became known as the North Carolina Division. The Board of Directors were cautious about the expansion, though, and wanted to see the areas around the completed portions of the line develop before pushing the lines any further. While there was expansion in this area, the railroad was also expanding westward through the coal fields of West Virginia and into the coal region of Virginia. The Ohio Extension was completed and changed the focus of the railroad to moving coal east and west.

The Norfolk & Western Railroad went into receivership in 1895 and was reorganized as the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1896. The new company continued to push expansion and the completion of the Speedwell Extension. In the 1901 annual report,, it was noted that "The Board has authorized surveys to be made for an extension of the North Carolina Branch up New River to the magnetic ore deposits at its head waters in Ashe County, North Carolina. The company has accepted an Act of the General Assembly of North Carolina, ratified February 18, 1901, authorizing this Company to locate, construct and operate extensions and branches of its line within the State of North Carolina."

In the 1903 annual report, it was noted that "The North Carolina Extension has been constructed up the New River from Fries Junction, 356 miles from Norfolk, to Fries Station, where large cotton mills have been established and are in operation." Also in this report, a map showed the line proposed to extend beyond Fries to Independence and Jefferson, North Carolina, with a branch from Independence to Sparta, North Carolina. The line to Chestnut Yard and Blair was proposed to tie in with the Southern line to Kibler, Virginia, southwest of Stuart. In the 1904 report, the comment about the North Carolina Extension stated that the "Chestnut Creek Branch has been extended 2.72 miles from Blair to Galax. The new terminus is easily accessible from an extensive section, which is capable of large development."

That pretty much was the end of the extension of the North Carolina Extension. Several years later, in 1910, the N&W purchased the Big Stony Railway in Giles County and began to operate it as the Potts Valley Branch. The Interior and West Virginia Railroad and the Virginia and Potts Creek Railroad were chartered to extend this line through West Virginia and back into Virginia to terminate at Paint Bank. This line served the iron ore mines in this region.

The North Carolina Extension (later reduced to the North Carolina Branch) continued to operate through two world wars, producing large volumes of minerals from mines in Ivanhoe and Austinville. The Speedwell Extension was abandoned when the quality of iron ore could not compete with the new deposits found in Minnesota. The North Carolina Branch was finally abandoned in the 1980s and the right of way donated to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The former rail line is now the highly popular New River Trail State Park.

U.S. Geological Survey Photographs

1913 Station Listing for the North Carolina Extension

North Carolina Branch Track Charts as of August 5, 1927, revised January 1, 1958.

The New River-Cripple Creek Mineral Region of Virginia by Andrew S. McCreath and Edward V. d'Invilliers, published in 1887, contained this map of the region. Click on the image for a larger (12.1 MB file) view of the map. You can read/download the report.

These images are from the Aug. 5, 1927, track chart for the North Carolina Branch, revised January 1, 1958.

This is a portion of the Speedwell quadrangle from1930, surveyed in 1927. The full-size image is 11.6 MB.

Both the Speedwell and the Max Meadows 15-minute quads from 1930 have been scanned.

The Speedwell quad shows the town of Wytheville on the Bristol line and the Speedwell Extension of the North Carolina Extension, including Cripple Creek and the Norma Branch and the end of the line at Speedwell.

The full-size image is 35.2 MB.

The Max Meadows quad shows Max Meadows on the Bristol line and the start of the Speedwell Extension at Ivanhoe. It also shows the Reed Island Branch to Sylvatus and the location of the Periwinkle Branch.

The full-size image is 15 MB.

This is a crop of the Speedwell quadrangle, showing the Norma branch and additional trackage that branched off the Speedwell Extension at Cripple Creek. The larger image is 1.8MB.

Timetable Data

Pulaski0SKChanged to DI in TT #4, to JN in TT #6
Dora1.7CRStation. Name changed in TT #16
Draper6.2GHStation. Telegraph removed in TT #9
Delton9.4--Water tank.
Hiwassee Station
Jct. Allisonia Branch
Reed Island Jc.13.3--
Barren Springs17.6NUStation. Changed to FG in TT #6
Carter19.1--Later named Loneash.
Bertha20.0BTStation. Telegraph removed in TT #8
Foster Falls23.8FSStation and water tank.
Jackson Ferry Station.
Jct. Indian Camp Branch
Ivanhoe31.7VAStation. Junction of Speedwell Branch
Buck Station.
Fries Junction Station.
Chestnut Yard45.3BXStation and water tank. Changed to SK in TT #4
Galax Station.

Reed Island Branch

Reed Is. Jc.
Reed Island Jc.0--
Kayoulah2.1ADChanged to FQ in TT #4
Patterson Jc.4.7--
Betty Baker9.8BY

Speedwell Branch

Catron Station.
Will Water tank.
Cripple Creek Station.
Simmerman Station.
Speedwell Station.

Fries Branch