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Posted in Shortlines by Rob Chant. (Last activity on Thursday, March 17, 2022 at 18:26:00 ADT.)

SHORTLINES: Warrenton Railroad Company (1871-1985)

Company Name: Warrenton Railroad Company (1871-1985)
Acronym: WRR
Reporting Marks: WAR
Year Chartered or Incorporated: 1871
Year Line Operational: 1884
Final Year of Operation: 1985
Termination: Dissolved
Location: North Carolina, USA
Original Starting Point: Warrenton, NC
Original Ending Point: Warren Plains, NC
Towns on Route: Warrenton (NC), Warren Plains (NC)
Length of Mainline: 3 miles.
Predecessor Lines: None.
Interchange Points: (1) Warren Plains (NC) with Raleigh & Gaston RR. (Later Seaboard & Raleigh Railroad, later Seaboard Coast Line, later Seaboard Air Line Railway, later Seaboard System.)
Commodities Carried:   
Summary: The Warrenton Railroad was a 3-mile connector line from Warren Plains to Warrenton, North Carolina. It operated from 1884 until 1985 when the Seaboard System ceased service to Warren Plains, and the line was closed down.

History of the Warrenton Railroad:

To get a complete story as to why the Warrenton Railroad came into existence, we must travel back to 1838, when the proposed right-of-way for the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad (R&G) was being surveyed through Warren County with the intentions of laying track through the county seat of Warrenton. Although railroads were starting to prove themselves as a safe means of transportation, for whatever reason, town officials in Warrenton were opposed to the line cutting through their boundaries. A town meeting was scheduled by these local leaders to discuss their concerns, and the motion put forth was to intimidate the survey crew with a show of force. It was decided that a group of armed men would confronted the railroad surveyors, to make certain their opposition to the line was clear.

This confrontation caused the R&G engineers to immediately alter their plans and they decided to survey a route that passed through Warren Plains instead, which was three miles distant to the north of Warrenton. The R&G right-of-way was eventually laid through Warren Plains, and in April 1840 the line opened for traffic between Raleigh and the town of Gaston, North Carolina. It was state's second railroad, after the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, which had opened one month earlier.

As with all early rail transportation, service was eventually provide to the town of Warrenton by a stage coach line owned and operated by Mr. Oliver P. Shell which handled freight and passengers coming in through the R&G depot at Warren Plains. Business owners in Warrenton also saw an opportunity to move their products throughout the state, so freight was also being shipped out by rail via Warren Plains. This would continue for the next 40 years, until the Warrenton Railroad was finally opened for traffic along its 3-mile route.

The first sign that officials in Warrenton were considering the idea of connecting their town by railroad to the R&G in Warren Plains happened in 1871, when a charter for the Warrenton Rail Road Company was issued by the North Carolina State Legislature on January 28, 1871. However, not much progress was accomplished under this original charter, in fact, very little would be accomplished between 1871 and 1877.

By 1876, a new generation of town leaders were finally starting to realize that in order for the town to flourish, a direct rail connection had to be completed between Warrenton and the depot at Warren Plains. These officials appreciated that their forefathers' had made a error not letting the R&G pass directly through town. To correct that mistake, on April 21, 1876 they organized the Warrenton Railroad under the laws of North Carolina. The Warrenton Railroad Charter was for 2.9 miles with one end starting at the Warren Plains Depot on the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad lines (which was now merged into the Seaboard & Raleigh Railroad), and the other at the "north part" of Warrenton.

To re-energize the push to build the railroad, legislation was introduced to hold a special election in Warren County to decide whether the town of Warrenton would subscribe $3,000 towards the new connector line from Warrenton to Warren Plains. After that election was held and the motion approved, the Legislature issued an Act on February 10, 1877, authorizing the town of Warrenton to subscribe to stock in the Warrenton Railroad, among other minor amendments to the original charter.

The Sheriff of Warren County, Nat Jones, was named president of the board, joined by a number of prominent Warren County residents, and soon thereafter things began to happen. Richard Kingsland (company president) and William H. Ayers (contractor) were the first drivers of the project and began work in earnest grading the roadbed with mule teams and local workers. In this first venture, it seemed that everything was progressing nicely. The town residents were excited and everyone was getting behind this new project.

However, before a cross-tie was laid, both energy and money ran out. The county's treasury was exhausted, and public funds were badly needed to repair the rundown county roads and bridges, which was a much higher priority to the citizens. After the money apparently dried up, Mr. Kingsland and Mr. Ayers left town, and soon railroad ties were being sold as firewood. It would take another eight years before the short line was operational.

By 1881, more and more railroads starting operating in the state. The 12-mile Oxford & Henderson Railroad had been just competed in nearby Granville County. It was just after this time, that another encouraging development happened in the push to get things started on the Warrenton Railroad project. To sweeten the pot, Oliver P. Shell of Warren County (who operated the stage coach line between Warren Plains and Warrenton), volunteered to build a railroad depot at Warrenton and to purchase an engine to run on the track, once it was completed. Joining him to boost the railroad was local businessman Willie White, who touted the railroad at every opportunity. With these two local men leading the project, and an apparent increase in the subscription amount by the legislature to $10,000, rail service to Warrenton was on its way to becoming a reality at last.

The first ties for the Warrenton Railroad were laid down in 1884, and the rails were soon spiked in place. The short connector line was completed and operational by November of 1884, under the guidance of William J. White, who pushed relentlessly for the railroad's completion. The line ran three miles southward from the interchange with the Seaboard Air Line predecessor's mainline at Warren Plains to the town limits of northern Warrenton. The roadbed generally followed Warren Plains Road into town, occasionally ducking into the undergrowth to maintain a straight line.

Once the project was completed, Oliver Shell made good on his promise to build a station, which was erected along the main street to the edge of downtown Warrenton. The original station was built further south down main street than the one that is commonly known today, which was build on Depot Street in 1907. [A late 1880's photo of the original station can be found in "Warren County Historical Tidbits: The Warrenton Railroad Part II, In-Town" by Craig Hahn, 2016.] Mr. Shell also purchase a locomotive which provided the motive power for the first train that ran over the line on November 8, 1884. When the locomotive made it initial run with two passenger cars in tow, Mr. Shell was on the rear platform acting as conductor.

The new railroad began to pay dividends almost immediately and by 1887, service had improved enough that it gave the county commissioners confidence to raise $1,800 to pay off some old debts. By that time, most of the railroad's stock was owned by the town of Warrenton.

From the 1st Annual Report of the North Carolina Railroad Commission, dated December 31, 1891:

In 1907, a new depot was built and a new yard laid out further north than the original station. It was after that date that the Warrenton Railroad Depot began showing up on Sanford Fire insurance maps of the town (see below). The depot, for both passenger and freight, is the Warrenton Depot that most residents of Warren County remember, stood on today's Depot Street off the east side of North Main Street. It burned in 1982 after being renovated by the Warrenton Woman's Club.

2022.01.27B-001.jpg (219969 bytes)

SANFORD FIRE INSURANCE, 1907: The Sanborn map above also shows a cotton gin and associated storage buildings near the depot, providing a product that would have been shipped out by rail. With Warrenton being such a rich farming area, one can probably conclude that lime was transported in for crops.

Topo-Map of the Line, 1970:

2022.01.27B-002.jpg (904141 bytes)

Warren Plains, 1975:

2022.01.27B-003.jpg (156028 bytes)

Warrenton, 1975:

2022.01.27B-004.jpg (175093 bytes)

Rail service on the Warrenton RR lasted for 101 years until 1985 when traffic from Warrenton had dried up. The Seaboard System abandoned their former SAL line though Warrenton Plains leaving the Warrenton RR without their only connection. The railroad didn't even bother to file a petition for abandonment, it closed its offices, ceased all operations, and just faded away.


No. 1 Acquired from Richmond & Petersburg RR in 1884
No. 2 0-4-2T built new by Porter (s/n 858) in 1887.
No. 3 0-4-4T built new by Baldwin (s/n 27916) in 1906.
No. 4 2-4-2 built new by Baldwin (s/n 55467) in 1922. Sold to Beaufort & Morehead RR No 4.


No. 5 45-Ton (#60203), ex-SE Shipbuilding
No. 6 45-Ton (#15159), ex-USN 65-00137 (Sub Base, Norfolk, VA)
No. 7 45-Ton (#17803), ex-USN 65-00104 (Port Chicago, CA)
No. 11 45-Ton (#15159), ex-USN
No. 1876 45-Ton (#17803), ex-USN 65-00104, renumbered to WAR #7


If you have any additional information on this railroad, or have photos that you are willing to share online, please get in touch. We are looking for more material to help with our research.

TAGS: Theme: Regional / Short Line Railway, USA (States): North Carolina, American Railways: Warrenton Railroad Company , Articles: Railway You Can Model

User Comments:

Posted by Mark Heiden on Thursday, March 17, 2022 at 10:24:14 AM.

Hi Rob,

I’m a fan of shortlines, and I have collected books and magazines about a number of them over the last 25 years. I have a magazine article about the Warrenton I think you would find useful. I’d be happy to scan it and send it to you by email. I’ve also have information about the Yancey, Stewartstown, North Stratford, Augusta, and Cotton Plant & Fargo if you like.

Best regards,
Mark Heiden

Posted by Rob Chant on Thursday, March 17, 2022 at 6:26:00 PM.

Hi Mark,

That is a excellent offer, please email what you can share to ... you might also want to join one of my Facebook groups ... "Some Good SHortline Industrial & Terminal Railroads" at this URL:

Take care,

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