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Although it was one of the shortest branch lines
on the Norfolk & Western Railway, the first
loads of coal from the Pocahontas coal region
were hauled out on this 4.6 mile piece of
railroad. The branch line followed Laurel Creek
south from it's confluence with the Bluestone
River, , spanning the creek a total of five
times. While coal mining began here in 1882,
the N&W didn't complete the railroad into
Pocahontas until March 10, 1883. The first car
load of coal was hauled out two days later. By
the end of 1883 over 105,000 tons of coal had
been hauled over the N&W to Norfolk.
On May 12, 1904 the N&W chartered the Pocahontas
& Western Railroad with plans of extended the
railroad south from Pocahontas to connect with
the Iaeger & Southern which was building a line
south from Iaeger along the Dry Fork This line
is today's Norfolk Southern Dry Fork Branch. By
linking up with the Iaeger & Southern, the N&W
would be afforded an additional route between
Bluefield and Iaeger. The plan never
materialized and rails were only laid as far
south as Boissevain. This segment became
operational in May 1907. An additional portion
of the proposed right of way was graded for over
three miles beyond Boissevain, but work was
never completed. Ultimately the charter for the
Pocahontas & Western was dissolved on December
23, 1912 and the 3.29 mile line was sold to the
Geographically speaking the Pocahontas Branch
was typical of the hundreds of branches tucked
away in the valleys and hollows of the region.
There were steep grades, lots of curves and
bridges, and of course tunnels. All the
ingredients of a classic Appalachian branch
Along the way three tunnels were built.
Pocahontas Tunnel No. 1 is 201 feet long and has
a natural rock face at each end with no lining.
Stretching a bit longer at 366 feet in length
was Pocahontas Tunnel No. 2 which was also a
natural rock tunnel until it was lined with
concrete and portals in 1915. Just south of
Pocahontas is the 37-foot long Western Branch
Tunnel. The name is derived from the Pocahontas
& Western Railroad which built the tunnel.
While the mainline from Bluefield to Vivian was
placed under catenary in 1915, the Pocahontas
Branch was delayed in receiving it's wires.
This was due to the time required to install
catenary on all of the yard tracks in Pocahontas
along with the required lining of Pocahontas
Tunnel No. 2. Electrification of the Pocahontas
Branch was completed and the wires went live on
November 6, 1916.
With most branches being built along streams and
rivers, many bridges were required to help the
railroad to navigate the valleys and hollows.
The Pocahontas was no exception with 22 bridges
situated along less than five miles of track.
The majority were a result of the line's
proximity to Laurel Creek. Five bridges were
located between Bluestone Junction and
Pocahontas, and were numbered 852 and 1151
through 1154. Between Pocahontas and Boissevain
there were 17 spans which carried the numbers of
2151 through 2167.
The mainline of the Pocahontas branch consisted
of a single track. A short passing siding was
located between Bluestone Junction and Bridge
1152 on the north side of Pocahontas Tunnel No.
1. It is thought that this siding was utilized
primarily by passenger trains waiting to enter
the mainline at Bluestone Junction. The yard in
Pocahontas consisted of five yard tracks in
addition to the mainline. There was also a
house track for the depot. A similar track
arrangement existed at Boissevain.
The Pocahontas Fuel Company operated for 73
years until it was closed in October 1955.
During it's years of operation the mine produced
more than 44 million tons of world famous
Pocahontas Coal. The Pocahontas prep plant
continued to operate until at least 1974.
While it is unknown exactly when
the prep plant in Boissevain shut down, the facility was demolished in 1971.
Today the rails are still in place from
Bluestone Junction to the site of the former
Route 644 grade crossing in Pocahontas. South
of Route 644 all that remains are some faint
traces of the right of way, including many
bridge abutments. In Pocahontas much of the
area occupied by the yard and station now
comprise the Pocahontas Town Park which also
includes N&W caboose 530302.