Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, the Chessie System, and CSX are all names for a series of railroad corporations that serves West Virginia and surrounding areas. Dubbed “George Washington’s Railroad” because of its ties to the James River Company, which Washington organized in 1785, the C&O had a colorful history and continues on as the CSX System. The railway was chartered as the Virginia Central Railroad and ran to the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in 1850. The name Chesapeake & Ohio was adopted in 1873, as the suffering Virginia Central Railroad reorganized under Collis P. Huntington. He expanded the company with the intention of a coast-to-coast chain of railways. The C&O incorporated approximately 150 smaller lines, such as the Louisa Railroad in Louisa County, Virginia. The C&O ran from the Chesapeake By to southern West Virginia, Kentucky, Chicago, Michigan, and Niagara Falls.

Due to a great demand for coal and iron, the company weathered the Great Depression and the World Wars comparatively well. Robert C. Young, upon taking over control of the company, continued the trend of expansion, tying in controlling interest of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway. This resulted in additional lines from Baltimore to St. Louis, Toledo, Buffalo, and Rochester. Since 1972, this railroad empire has been named Chessie System.  It merged in 1980 with Seaboard System and is a primary component of the CSX Corporation umbrella.

The Appalachian Rails and Railways Collection consists of approximately 175 items about this railway. Legal documents and legislative bills document the growth and legal considerations in developing this corporation. Promotional materials, particularly of Chessie the Cat, provide insight into the company’s marketing strategy. Chessie entered the C&O family in 1933. While searching for ideas for a new advertising campaign, L. C. Probert saw a sketch entitled “The Sleeping Cat” by Guido Gruenewald in a copy of the New York Herald Tribune. The slogan “Sleep like a Kitten” was formed, and by 1934, Chessie was the core of C&O’s advertising campaign and was featured in advertisements, passenger literature, calendars, as well as the company logo. 

To locate materials related to this railway, click here.


Casto, James. Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2006. Train TF25.C45 C37 2006

Dixon, Thomas. Chessie System: Railroads in West Virginia. Clifton Forge, VA: Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, 2007. Train TF25.C44 D59 2007

“Learn About CSX: Our History” website, accessed at, visited on 4 November 2009.

Turner, Charles W. Chessie’s Road. Alderson, West Virginia: The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, 1986. Train HE2791.C5763 T94 1986