Trains, Timbers & Tourists

Montreat and its forest primeval is the description often used; except it isn’t true.

In the 1890s, a sheep farm occupied the cove where Montreat was eventually created. The valley trees had been previously logged, since trees and sheep don’t work well together.

Logging in the Swannanoa Valley had been occurring since the 1870s on a modest scale. But with the dawn of a new century, large-scale timber harvesting on the steeper mountain slopes in Western North Carolina became industrialized.

In 1911, logging companies obtained the timber rights to large tracts of spruce and fir forests in the Black Mountains surrounding Mount Mitchell.  C.A. Dickey and J. C. Campbell obtained rights to 9,000 acres.  In 1912, Dickey, Campbell and Company established a large double-band saw mill one mile east of Black Mountain.  This mill could process 110,000 board feet of lumber per day.  In order to transport the needed 200 million board feet of spruce and fir down to the mill, a narrow gauge railroad was built with donkeys, dynamite, and manual labor. But it needed to pass through Montreat.

When Judge James D. Murphy resigned as president of the Mountain Retreat Association (MRA) in 1911, he had negotiated a contract for the railroad right-of-way for six miles through Montreat, but it was not signed.

The Black Mountain station with saw mill in the background.

When Rev. Dr. Robert C. Anderson became MRA president in 1911, he signed the logging contract with the added clause that the right-of-way would revert to Montreat when the logging operation ended.  Ah, the wily Scot!

The Mount Mitchell Railroad was completed in one year and consisted of three trestles, nine switchbacks, and 18 miles of track after gaining 3500 feet in altitude. 

In 1913, Frederick A. Perley and William H. (Bert) Crockett bought out the logging contract from Dickey and Campbell.  From 1913 until 1919, the Perley and Crockett Lumber Company added passenger cars on the Mount Mitchell Railroad for tourist access to Mount Mitchell. 

The Mount Mitchell passenger station was dedicated in August 1915.  It was near the saw mill, one mile east of Black Mountain. The station allowed the interchange of passengers between the narrow gauge Mount Mitchell Scenic Railroad and the standard gauge Southern Railroad.

In August 1915, the round-trip fare from Asheville, with the changing to the Mount Mitchell Scenic Railroad and back, was $2.50.  The fare included a hot meal on the mountain and included four hours at the summit.  The trip was 21 miles long and took three hours on the ascent and 3.5 hours for the descent.  At its peak it carried as many as seven cars and 250 people per trip. Train passenger service stopped in 1919.

Passenger cars in Montreat passing over a trestle.

In August 1915, the round-trip fare from Asheville, with the changing to the Mount Mitchell Scenic Railroad and back, was $2.50.  The fare included a hot meal on the mountain and included four hours at the summit.  The trip was 21 miles long and took three hours on the ascent and 3.5 hours for the descent.  At its peak it carried as many as seven cars and 250 people per trip. Train passenger service stopped in 1919.

Note: This Fall, the Presbyterian Heritage Center (PHC) will open an exhibit and model train layout of the Mt. Mitchell Railroad.


Today’s post is edited from Montreat, Mary McPhail Standaert and Joseph Standaert, Arcadia Publishing, 2009

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