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Local History Talk: “The Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad and the Civil War”–Central

When: Back to Calendar November 14, 2013 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Where: Arlington Central Library Auditorium
1015 North Quincy Street
Arlington,VA 22201
Cost: Free
Contact: 703-228-5990
Categories: History
Tags: @ Central

The history of a railroad that contributed to the Union during the Civil War.

Historian Ron Beavers will discuss the little used Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad, which once ran through Arlington County but is today one of the Washington area’s most popular bike trails. Learn what caused this transformation – from an underachieving rail line to a major contributor to the Union war effort – and what became of this railroad after the Civil War.

Though now a beloved path for both commuters and recreationalists from Arlington to Loudoun County, the original plan for the AL&H was impressive. Entrepreneurial Virginians hopes to compete with the B&O Railroad for the rich coal fields of what is now West Virginia. But engineering difficulties and financial struggles impeded these plans, reducing the rail line to a local carrier for freight, mail and people just before the Civil War. When the war came, the western portion of this railroad suffered complete destruction. The eastern facilities (Alexandria and Arlington) fared much better. Their contribution to the Union war effort was crucial to success in the Eastern Theater of Military operations. Ownership returned to AL&H directors after the war, but their original plan to reach West Virginia never came to fruition. The rail line went through many reorganizations and mergers, yet continued to serve Arlington and Northern Virginia until the 1960s. Last known as the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, it ultimately became a 44 mile-long park that we now call the W&OD hiker/biker trail.

Beavers last spoke before the Arlington Historical Society in March about Arlington County’s retrocession to Virginia in 1847. He is a seventh generation Virginian and retired federal employee with a life-long interest in history and railroads.

Presented in partnership with the Arlington Historical Society.  AHS, founded in 1956, is a non-profit organization under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The AHS mission is to help Arlingtonians better understand our community through its history. 

Comments (2)

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  1. David Powell says:

    There is a remnant of this railroad as of early 2014 that served the coal powerplant in Alexandria and the Robinson Terminal. I think both of these businesses have been or are in the process of being closed and/or being redeveloped. So I suspect the railroad will not be around much longer. When you enter Alexandria via the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail from the north you see this railroad.
    Just before Robinson Terminal the railroad branched into a straight portion and a curve that led into the Terminal. The straight portion seems to have been removed in the very last few years,I think there is a new development straddling its former path.
    In the past the railroad might have served other businesses in Alaxandria and perhaps used to be connected all of the way to the Windmill Park area where there used to be tracks going through the tunnel there,I think that was considered the beginning of the ancestral Orange and Alexandria R.R.
    It would be interesting to see a map of the railroads in Old Town Alexandria as they were in the past,they may have persisted as local service after the mainline effectively bypassed them (through what became Potomac Yard and then was pared back to today’s mainline). There was also a Ford factory of some sort that had become a derelict ruin as of the 1980s and was then redeveloped into a luxury townhouse cluster. That factory was probably served by the railroad(s). Active until the 1950′s?

    • Jay Roberts says:

      If I recall correctly, one of the recommendations vis a vis the Waterfront Plan is to commemorate the history of this line/spur by keeping part of the rail and giving a permanent home to an old freight car.

      Also, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the roadbed that crosses over GW Parkway/N Washington Street.


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