‘Virginian Railway Exhibit – The Best Coal Railroad Money Could Buy’ on display
ELKINS, W.Va. — The West Virginia Railroad Museum will open its 2015 season with the “Virginian Railway Exhibit – The Best Coal Railroad Money Could Buy.”
“This new and exciting exhibit has never before been displayed in West Virginia, said WVRM spokesperson Wayne Sheets. “The exhibit features an image and print-panel history of one of West Virginia’s most important and successful railway systems of the 20th century. It depicts the builder’s stealth, engineering innovations, the financial success of those who built and operated the system, and its economic impact on the local and state economy.”
The museum if offers free admission for the exhibit’s official unveiling on April 18, which organizers said is the “gala grand opening of the new season” and the date of the museum’s annual membership meeting.
The “Virginian Railway Exhibit” documents an interesting operation in railroad history, Sheets explained. “The operation, known as the VNG, was built secretly under the noses of such railroad barons of the late 19th and early 20th century as Alexander Cassatt, who controlled the C&O Railroad, and William Vanderbilt, the “boss” of the Norfolk and Western. With the VNG, Henry Huddleston Rogers and William Nelson Page built, arguably, the most successful coal transporting rail system of the 20th century.”
The exhibit was first displayed at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY. Planting Fields, a New York State Historic Park, is the 409-acre estate of Andrew and Mai (Rogers) Coe. Mai was the daughter of Henry Huddleston Rogers, the Standard Oil multi-millionaire who financed the building of the Virginian Railway. Huddleston was persuaded by William Nelson Page, a mining engineer, coal operator and railroad builder, to join forces with him to build the railway to transport the vast bituminous coal reserves under the rugged mountains of southern West Virginia to their sea port at Sewell’s Point near Hampton Roads, Va.
Together they built the most efficient and debt-free railway system that ever existed. The system operated until 1959 when it merged with its archrival the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Still today much of the VGN is still in use by N&W’s successor, the Norfolk Southern Railway.
Information in the exhibit documents the effort: “Building the VGN railway is nothing if not a David and Goliath story pitting the determination of two relative unknown yet resourceful men against the enormous power and resources of the owners and operators of the Chesapeake and Ohio, Norfolk and Western, Pennsylvania and the New York Central Railroads While Rogers and page were the underdogs of the industry, they certainly were not without resources. Rogers was a brilliant engineer, educated at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, and coal mining entrepreneur.
Rogers made his fortune working for John D. Rockefeller using some of the same tactics in the oil extraction industry that were used by the railroad conglomerates to keep him and Page from mining and shipping coal. With complete secrecy and cat-and-mouse tactics, Page and Rogers built the railway literally under the noses of the conglomerates.”The opening will include staff-guided tours, the official unveiling of the Virginian exhibit, a buffet lunch at the Railyard Restaurant, the annual membership meeting beginning at 12:45 p.m., social hour at 5 p.m. with dinner at 6 p.m., guest speakers and special recognition of museum members.The museum’s hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Beginning April 18 through Oct. 31, it will be open Thursday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. The exhibit will be on display through Oct. 31.
For information contact the museum at 304-637-4810, at www.wvrailmuseum.com or [email protected] The museum is located in the Darden Mill at First Street and Railroad Avenue, with a mailing address of P. O. Box 203, Elkins, W.Va. 26241. The museum’s newsletter is posted on Facebook and Twitter.