Monday, December 04, 2006

Milton and Sutherlin Narrow-Gauge Railroad

Milton and Sutherlin Narrow-Gauge Railroad

After many attempts, in 1878 Milton finally obtained railway service. On March 2, 1876, the Virginia assembly incorporated the Milton and Sutherlin Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company, and a year later the North Carolina general assembly followed suit.

The result was a narrow-gauge railroad seven miles long from Milton to Sutherlin Station on the Richmond and Danville Railroad in Virginia.

Convict labor was hired from both Virginia and North Carolina for use in constructing the roadbed, and the stone pillars to carry the tracks across Country Line Creek and the Dan River. The Town of Milton subscribed to stock in the enterprise, and the one engine owned by the company began running in 1878. It primarily was a freight line but some passengers were also carried. Initially, three round trips were made each day.

The Richmond and Danville acquired control of the Milton and Sutherin in 1882 and operated it until 1894, when the Southern Railway Company leased the larger line and also operated the Milton and Sutherlin. The opening of the regular-gauge Atlantic and Danville Railway in 1890 into Danville, through Semora, Milton, and Blanch in Caswell County cut into the revenue of the Milton and Sutherlin route so deeply that its operation by the Southern ceased on September 6, 1894. It was returned to the Milton and Sutherlin Railroad Company and a mortgage of 1880 was was foreclosed; the property of the line was sold on November 23, 1896, and the rails soon afterwards were taken up.

L. M. Warlick purchased all the stock of the Milton and Sutherlin, foreclosed on the mortgage, and had all the assets sold November 23, 1896. Warlick, from Winston (became Winston-Salem) purchased these assets for $6,000 and proceeded to tear up the rails. The right of way purportedly became a public road.

See: Powell, William S. When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977. Durham: Moore Publishing Company, 1977, pp. 505-506.

Photograph: Southern Railway Company early 1900s (possibly 1920s) at Danville, Virginia. Third person from right in front of locomotive is Jackson Lee Allen (1863-1925) (hand in pocket). He is the engineer on this Southern Railway Company Engine #1091, purportedly was the last engineer on the "Little Janie" of the Milton & Sutherlin Narrow Gauge Railroad, and is believed buried in Cedars Cemetery (Milton, North Carolina). He married Nettie H. Gordon, whose father owned the Milton Hotel. The person second from right is believed to be a Burton, but this is unconfirmed.

Photograph courtesy the Danville Historical Society and Mark Cornelius. Click on photograph for a larger image.

For a history of the legal steps taken to create and eventually discontinue the Milton & Sutherlin Narrow Gauge Railroad Company see: Harrison, Fairfax. A History of the Legal Development of the Railroad System of Southern Railway Company. Washington, D.C.: The Transportation Library, 1901: 252-255. Print.



Brief history of the Milton & Sutherlin Narrow Gauge Railroad from Hilton, George Woodman. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford (California): Stanford University Press: 544. Print.


About the photograph: Some time ago, I posted in this forum some information about a Mason Bogie, Richmond & Danville 830, including the reference to a photo of the locomotive taken in the mid 1880s in Catawba County NC. I cannot now find the thread ... but, I do remember that we were unable to trace the lineage of this loco.

I just managed to track down Matt Bumgarner, the guru of North Carolina railroad histories. Matt told me that he did not have the definitive proof of the history of this Mason Bogie but he suggested:

(1) the loco was acquired by the Carolina and North Western (the narrow gauge railroad controlled by the standard gauge Richmond and Danville) from the Milton and Sutherlin, a small 7 mile long ng railroad. Where and how they got the Mason remains a mystery.

(2) the loco was scrapped by the Richmond & Danville in 1888 or 1889 because it was difficult to maintain, perhaps because it was the only MB on the roster.

I would continue to treat this information as conjecture ... but does anyone have info that suggests a ng MB went to the Milton and Sutherlin about 1880?

Source: My Large Scale Forum

Caswell county voted in the affirmative on the proposition to tax itself to build the Milton & Sutherlin Narrow Gauge Railroad. This short line will connect Milton with Danville, the main market for the productions of Caswell county.

Source: Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, North Carolina), 19 April 1877.

Caswell County suffered economically because it lacked adequate transportation infrastructure to attract industry. Several attempts were made at railroads. All eventually failed. One, the Milton & Sutherlin Narrow Gauge Railroad, became operational in 1877 but was out of business by 1895. It ran seven miles from Milton to Sutherlin, Virginia, which was on the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Bonds were issued to finance the railroad's construction.

A narrow gauge railroad is technically defined as any line where the distance between the rails is less than 4 feet eight and a half inches, commonly referred to as "standard gauge." Between roughly 1870 and 1885, "narrow gauge fever" swept the nation under the pretenses that the smaller equipment cost less, construction requirements were less stringent, and therefore, were easier to finance and build. By far, the most common of these narrow gauges was 36 inch, or rather, 3-foot gauge. Though there were numerous private railroads and logging companies that operated their own narrow gauge railroads, far fewer actually acted as "common carriers," or in essence, federally-regulated railways that were allowed to serve the public at large. Below is a list of these narrow gauge common carriers that ran in the Carolinas:

Carolina & North-Western Railway
Chester & Lenoir Narrow Gauge Railroad
Caldwell & Northern
Lower Creek & Linville Transportation Company
Danville & Western
Danville & New River
Dismal Swamp Railroad
East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad
Linville River Railway
Laurel River & Hot Springs
Lawndale Railway & Industrial Company
Milton & Sutherlin
Mt. Airy & Eastern
Suffolk & Carolina
Washington & Plymouth
Wellington & Powellsville

Source: Tar Heel Press

Milton and Sutherlin Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company Records

Records, 1877-82. 0.1 cu. ft. Ran from Sutherlin, Virginia, to Milton, North Carolina (7 miles). Chartered in Virginia (1876) and North Carolina (1877); line opened in 1878. Part of the Richmond and Danville system (1882-94); operated by Southern Railway Company after 1894. Records include contracts. Southern Railway Archives. Ms84-106.

Source: Virginia Tech Special Collections

Annual Report (1877)

Milton and Sutherlin Narrow-Gauge Railroad Company Records, 1877-82. Ms84-106. Returned to NS Corp Archives in Atlanta.


This schedule was published in the Daily Danville News on Saturday August 23, 1879.

The records of the Norfolk & Western and Southern railways, their subsidiaries and predecessors have been returned to Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS), which is consolidating its historical materials into a corporate archive in Atlanta. Under the terms of agreements established in the early 1980s between NS and Virginia Tech, the historical records of the Norfolk & Western Railway Company and the Southern Railway Company were deposited in the University Libraries' Special Collections while NS retained ownership of the materials.

We are updating our web pages to reflect our resources currently available for railroad history and directing inquiries to the contact person with questions about materials now in the NS corporate archive.

Virginia Tech's Special Collections will continue to be a significant source of railroad history through the more-than-200 cu. ft. of business records and drawings, photographs, personal papers and publications relating to various regional railroads from the 1840s to the 1980s acquired through other donations and purchases. More than 12,000 scanned images from NS and other sources will continue to be available through the VT ImageBase, one of our most popular online resources.

Rolling stock: One locomotive called "The Little Janie" after Maj. W. T. Sutherlin's daughter, four freight cars and one passenger car. In 1880, the Milton & Sutherlin traveled 6,000 miles, hauling 1,535 passengers and earned $2,700 after expenses.

South Bend was not as isolated during the Bruce years as it appears today. The Milton and Sutherlin Narrow Gauge Rail Road Company built a line after 1877 to connect Milton to the Richmond and Danville line. The track right-of­-way passed a short distance from South Bend. When a later railroad came through Milton from Clarksville to Danville, the narrow gauge was torn up and its right-of­-way became a public road.

Source: History of VIR

Image courtesy Danny Ricketts

Based on personal observation from the river and on the reading of Powell’s History, I infer that the stone structure in question is a pier of a ruined trestle of the Milton & Sutherlin RR, swept away in a windstorm in 1894. See Powell, page 334 and Dan River Book page 226. Unfortunately the endnote note to “Trip 19” in the Dan River Book erroneously refers not to page 334 of Powell but to page 224.

Information provided by Forrest Altman


Danny Ricketts and his son Bobby Ricketts found a short section of the small track Milton and Sutherlin Railway track used as a support with rocks at the Sutherlin Mill where the Milton and Sutherlin Railroad began. Freight from and to the Richmond and Danville line had to be transferred because the railroad gauge was not the same. The same was true of the the Piedmont Airline Railroad that opened from Danville to Greensboro during the Civil War as a narrow-gauge line.


"Sutherlin & Milton. -- This narrow-gage road, extending from Sutherlin, Va., three miles from Danville, to Milton, N. C., seven miles, was sold last week under foreclosure of the $26,000 of first-mortgage bonds. The property was sold to L. M. Warlick, of Winston, at $6,000, who says that the purchase has been made for his individual account."

Source: The Railroad Gazette, December 4, 1896.


Bumgarner, Matthew. The History of The Carolina and North-Western Railway.

Harrison, Fairfax. A History of the Legal Development of the Railroad System of Southern Railway Company. Washington, D.C.: The Transportation Library, 1901: 252-255. Print.

Hilton, George Woodman. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford (California): Stanford University Press: 544. Print.

Lincoln, Wayne. Milton and Sutherlin Narrow-Gauge Railroad, No. 15. Wayne Lincoln: 1994. Print.

1 comment:

  1. If its any help Mason Bogie locomotives were built by the Mason Locomotive Works of Taunton, Mas. - sometimes called the Taunton Locomotive works. William Mason,their founder acquired the US rights to Fairlie's Patent for articulated locomotives and supplied them to a good many US narrow gauge lines in the 1880s and 90s. You may find a lead to this engine's history in the company records.