In October of 1884, the first steam engine arrived at what was then the newly completed New York, Philadelphia, & Norfolk Railroad terminus at Cape Charles. At the time, Cape Charles was little more than an area of windswept sand dunes and marsh next to a shallow mud creek.
As the railroad and town evolved, railroad shops, yards, buildings, a newly dug harbor, barge landings and a steamer terminal soon followed. Houses and stores sprang up. The railroad flourished and provided work for generations of Eastern Shore residents. In its later years, it began to diminish as new roads filled with cars, busses, and trucks slowly began replacing railroads in the movement of people, produce, and manufactured goods throughout the country. Last May, Bay Coast Railroad, which had leased and operated the railroad line, stopped running trains in Cape Charles. After over 130 years, railroad operations finally shut down for good this year.
Only a few things remain of the once thriving railroad on the Shore. The Cape Charles Yard and the associated buildings west of the railroad overpass (the Hump), along with most of the remaining equipment and tracks are to be scrapped or auctioned, and the land will be cleaned up and eventually sold to be incorporated into the town. With all of this in mind, the Cape Charles Historical Society is working with the help of our county supervisors, railroad veterans, volunteers, the Town of Cape Charles, the Cape Charles Main Street Initiative, and many more to save a portion of our railroad history. The owners, Canonie Atlantic Co., along with the Accomack Northampton Transportation District Commission, have offered to donate several railroad cars, a diesel locomotive, signage, photos and ephemera, historic tools, equipment, and more.
Perhaps most significant is the donation of the old railroad office building, which originally was the pilot house of the “Captain Edward Richardson/Nandua”, a railroad barge first put into service in 1949. The barge famously sank in the Cape Charles harbor in 1981. This pilot house was later placed in the railroad yard where it has served as the railroad office - first for the Eastern Shore Railroad, then the Bay Coast Railroad. Because these barges were hard working equipment vulnerable to the elements, and there was little sentimentality attached to them, this is a very rare survivor. Through adaptive reuse, the Pilot House will find a new life with us, as both an important artifact in its own right as well as museum display space. It is the last remaining artifact in Cape Charles from the Pennsylvania Railroad, and one of the oldest authentic local railroad artifacts still in existence. Help us preserve and protect it!
Your support and contributions will enable us to move the engine, railroad cars, and Pilot House to our site for preservation and restoration. Your generous donation will keep our local railroad history alive!