The morning of October 3, 1880, dawned like any other in the busy hamlet of Asheville, North Carolina. People went about their business as usual, and shops and feed yards bustled with activity that catered to the seemingly endless army of livestock led by drovers heading north and south on the Old Buncombe Turnpike – a toll road of dirt and planks that, 50 years earlier, had brought prosperity to the mountains of western North Carolina. This day, however, would change everything forever, for it was the day the railroad came to town.
Opening up Doors
For years, the rail line had ended in the town of Old Fort, located 24 miles east of Asheville. At that time, track construction simply could not surmount the steep hillsides of the Appalachian Mountains. Tourists and goods had to make their way by stagecoach, horse or foot if they wanted to reach Asheville and westward. The principal obstacle was the Swannanoa Mountains, which rise 2,000 feet above the valley. To solve this challenge, work began to create a tunnel that would be dug out from both sides of the mountains to allow the train to pass through. With considerable labor, mostly by convicts “on loan” by the state, the project was completed in 1879, but at a cost of nearly 450 men, the majority of whom were African Americans. Upon completion, a telegram was sent to North Carolina’s governor proclaiming, “[D]aylight entered Buncombe County.” Seventeen months later, the Iron Horse made its first scheduled stop at the village of Best, which was later renamed Biltmore Village. With this new transportation system came money, power and influence to the Asheville area.
See It for Yourself!
The Rocky Cove Railroad at The North Carolina Arboretum is a G-scale (garden scale) working model train that commemorates the coming of the railroad to western North Carolina. Expertly-crafted scale modeling recreates a depot and surrounding houses and buildings to simulate a late 19th or early 20th century town scenario much like Best or Old Fort. Starting in April and continuing through October, Rocky Cove Railroad will operate on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 4 p.m., weather permitting.