Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad’s Evolution to the Virginia Creeper Trail


Given the strong connection between Appalachia and its many railways, preserving railway history is crucial. Specifically, a movement happening in Appalachia and across the United States is aiming to preserve the cultural heritage of our railways by converting them to multi-modal corridors known as Rail-Trails. For example, the Virginia Creeper Rail-Trail linking Whitetop, Damascus and Abingdon, Virginia travels along the old Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad, which later became a Norfolk & Western line. This pathfinder, then, endeavors to facilitate research on the history of this railbed, the current rail-trail, and how it serves to preserve Appalachian heritage by promoting awareness of a dying industry.

Introductory Text: 

To consider the historic course of the Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad into twenty-first century’s use as the Virginia Creeper Trail, various works should be consulted. However, for an overview of rail-trails emerging from the long history of coal and timber transport in Appalachia, the cursory introduction is the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.

Abramson, Rudy and Jean Haskell, ed. Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, c2006. ASU Spec App Coll F 106.E53 2006.

See Rails-to-Trails (p 668-69) article by Keith Norman. This encyclopedia was a comprehensive effort of authors from the Appalachian region. See also: Statewide Trail Systems and Sustainable Tourism p 675-676 articles by Keith Norman and Michael R. Evans, respectively. Further suggestions in this encyclopedia are Railroads, Railroad Museums, Railroad Promotion and In-Migration, Railroads, and Transportation entries.

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant:

  • Norfolk and Western Railways Company
  • Appalachian Rails and Railways Collection
  • Rail-Trails Virginia Guidebook
  • Appalachian Region Southern Railroads

Also Relevant:

  • Rail-Trails
  • Outdoor Recreation- -Virginia
  • Railroads- -Appalachian Region
  • Appalachian Region Southern Maps

More General:

  • Railroads--History
  • Trails
  • Tourism
  • Recreation
Clipping Files Subject Headings – W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection: 
  • Railroads
  • Virginia
  • Tourism
  • Recreation
Library of Congress Call Numbers: 

Highly Relevant:

  • HE 2321-3695
  • TF 25
  • F 217, 23

Also Relevant:

  • GV 191
  • G 1290
  • TF 23
  • G3706

More General:

  • HE 1001-5600
  • F 217
  • G 155
  • A 13

Note: Where relevant, specific page numbers are given which pertain specifically to the topic of this pathfinder. Further, I have included one essay here, which provides intimate details of the Virginia Creeper and a detailed chronology.

Books that provide a large and in-depth overview of the history of the Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad [later the Norfolk & Western Railroad via several other acquisitions]:

Jeffries, Lewis I. Norfolk and Western: Giant of Steam 1st ed. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company, c1980. 333 p. This work provides an extensive history of the rail line that stretches from present day Todd, North Carolina to Abingdon Virginia. ASU Spec App Coll Train TF 25.N77 J43

King, Ed. Norfolk & Western in the Appalachians: From the Blue Ridge to the Big Sandy. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing Company, c1998. 128 p. This work is part of The Golden Years of Railroading, which is a series of publications on railroads; I found this particular work to be most relevant. This book provides a rich photographic history of the Norfolk & Western Railroad. Specifically, pages 75 and 76 contain photos of Abingdon, Virginia and pages 79 and 80 have photos of the railway in Damascus, Virginia. ASU Spec App Coll Train TF 25.N77 K56.

McGuinn, Doug. The “Virginia Creeper”: Remembering the Virginia-Carolina Railway. Boone, NC.: D. McGuinn, 1998. 81 p. This work provides an explicit, though brief, history of the section of rail from Abingdon, Virginia to the North Carolina state line, which has become the Virginia Creeper Rail-trail. ASU Spec App Coll Train TF 25.N77 M54 1998.

Vance, James E. The North American Railroad: Its Origin, Evolution, and Geography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 348 p. This definitive work provides the reader with a complete view of the cultural heritage and role of development that railways have had in America as well as Appalachia. ASU Spec App Coll Train TF 23.V36 1995.

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

Middleton, William D, George M. Smerk, and Roberta L. Diehl. Encyclopedia of North American Railroads. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007. 1281 p. Pages pertinent to the Norfolk and Western Railroad: 204, 218, 749-751. Also relevant in this work: Norfolk and Southern Railroad: p. 751-52

Noe, Barbara A. The Official Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Guidebook: Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2000. ASU Reference TF 22.E53. 213 p. Pages 87-103 cover the New River Trail State Park (87-95) and the Virginia Creeper Trail (96-103), which are both rail-trails that utilize the previously abandoned Norfolk & Western Railway.

Wolfe, Ed. Southern Railway: Appalachia Division and Predecessor Lines. Pittsburgh, PA: HEW Enterprises, 2010. ASU Spec App Coll Train HE 2791.S753 W65 2010. 416 p.


Burch, John R. The Bibliography of Appalachia: More Than 4,700 Books, Articles, Monographs and Dissertations, Topically Arranged and Indexed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. Print. This bibliography is an exhaustive collection of works regarding Appalachia. The Norfolk & Western Railroad Company is referenced on p 32, article 790 but on closer inspection seems marginally useful. The sections on Recreation and Tourism (pp. 157-160) should be examined as well as the section on Business, Industry, Labor, Transportation, and Technology (pp. 23-33).

Abstracts and Indices: 

America: History and Life, 1955-Present (updated monthly). Available through Appalachian State University library website. Access is restricted to ASU students, faculty, and staff; access available off-campus.

Sociological Abstracts, 1952-Present (updated monthly). This service is available to faculty, staff, and students on or off campus. Provides abstracts of journal articles and citations to book reviews from 1,800+ serials publications, and also provides abstracts of books, book chapters, dissertations, and conference papers.

Worldcat, pre 1000 B.C. to Present (updated daily). This resource includes manuscripts, computer data files, maps, computer programs, musical scores, films and slides, newspapers, journals, sound recordings, and videotapes. Worldcat is restricted to member organization students, faculty and staff and is available off campus.

ABI/Inform Complete, Indexed since 1905 and full text from 1991-Present (updated daily). Covers business related topics such as; trends, strategies, human resources, advertising, marketing etc. May be useful to the researcher interested in the business/industrial aspects of the Norfolk & Western Railway. Restricted to ASU students, faculty and staff, available off campus.


There are several websites that provide varying degrees of depth of information regarding the history of the Virginia Creeper Trail. Following is a short list to introduce the researcher to online sources, from exhaustive resources to simple trail bio/guides.

Myriad articles and resources are available at http://www.nwhs.org/archivesdb/filterdocs.php?index=type The Norfolk & Western Historical Society Archive website.

In order to better understand the reasoning and value of reclaiming inactive and dormant railbeds, the researcher should consult the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website at: www.railstotrails.org

Virginia Creeper Trail resources:

www.vacreepertrail.org Provides a short bullet style history of the trail, demographics, photos, trail user information, news, maps, a thesis regarding economic benefits and impacts of the trail and other useful material.

For a cross reference to the club website above, one can also find maps, images and Virginia Creeper Trail information at http://www.traillink.com/trail/virginia-creeper-national-recreation-trail.aspx

Audio and Video Sources: 

Old Crow Medicine Show (Musical Group). Big Iron World. Beverly Hills, CA: Nettwerk, 2006. Sound recording. WCU Audio CD (item is currently listed as ‘lost and paid’). This album contains the sound recording “New Virginia Creeper,” which gives a lyrical interpretation of the cultural significance of the Virginia Creeper Rail-Trail.

Other Sources: 

Blevins, Thomas H. A Brief History of the “Virginia Creeper”: The Famed Abingdon Branch of the Norfolk and Western Railway. S.l: s.n.[?], 2003. ASU Spec App Coll Train HE 2791.N8135 B54 2003. 15 p.


Allen, Lane, and Scott. Agreement Between Virginia & North Carolina Construction Company, Roanoke & Southern Railway Company, and Norfolk & Western Railroad Company. Philadelphia, PA: 1892. ASU Spec App Coll Train HE 2791. R63 A37 1892. 19 p. This publication documents one in a series of many acquisitions by the Norfolk and Western Railway Company which became the last company to use the “Virginia Creeper” rail line for moving of coal and iron industry products.


Jones, Robert S. The Abingdon Branch: Recollections of the Early Days of a Railroad Era. Boone, N.C.[?]: R.S. Jones[?], 1975. ASU Spec App Coll Train HE 3695. V84 N67 1975

Compiled by: 

Joshua Roe

01 November 2011