History of the New Hope Valley

      The New Hope Valley Railroad (NHV) was organized in 1904 by W. Roscoe Bonsal, Samuel O. Bauersfeld, and Henry A. London.  Bonsal and Bauersfeld were originally from Baltimore, but came south to Hamlet, NC in 1895 as civil engineers to work on the railroads then building across the South.  London was from Pittsboro, NC, and among many other achievements in his life, owned or controlled the timber rights in the New Hope River Valley.  Bonsal had been very successful in the railroad business, and by 1898, was a vice president of the Seaboard System with an almost exclusive contract to supply ties for the expansion of that railroad.
        The original charter of the New Hope Valley Railroad authorized the owners to build a railroad from a point said to be near New Hill, NC on the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad (later named the Seaboard Airline Railroad and merged into the CSX Corporation of today).  This place was later named Bonsal, NC in honor of the first president of the company.  The northern end of the railroad was set in the charter as a point in Orange County near Chapel Hill, NC.  This was probably the village of West End, now the town of Carrboro, NC where a market dealing in railroad ties had already existed for some years.  Seven strips of one-hundred foot wide right-of-way were purchased in Chatham County for the railroad, but no track was ever laid by the NHV.
        On 20 January 1905 the partners chartered another company, called the Durham & South Carolina Railroad (D&SC), to build a railroad from Durham, NC at a place called Keene (now the junction of Fayetteville and Riddle Roads in south Durham) to an unnamed point in South Carolina.  They then sold the NHVRR to the new company on 7 April 1905, and began grading the right-of-way and laying track.  The D&SC completed the thirty-one miles of railroad from Bonsal to Durham on 15 October 1906.   To the right is a picture of some remaining original rail.
       The original purpose of the Durham & South Carolina Railroad was to tap the timber resources of the New Hope River Valley, primarily for the manufacture of railroad ties.  There was a sawmill at Farrington (just east of the present Fearrington Village in Chatham County) where the timber was cut to rough length for shipment, and a planar mill at Bonsal where the ties received their final shaping.  Other communities along the railroad (like Beaver Creek, Seaforth, Penny, and Blands) loaded some lumber as well, but also produced cotton, corn, beans, and tobacco for shipment.
        The line was extended to the south by ten miles from Bonsal to Duncan, NC in 1911, to a connection with the original Norfolk Southern Railroad (NS).  This included the now abandoned communities of Burt and Rogers Store (along Cass Holt Road just north of the Harnett County line) as stations along the railroad.
        Then in 1920 the D&SC was leased to the NS for a term of ninety-nine years.  Under the NS, the so called American Tobacco Spur was built in 1924 from Keene Yard directly into the American Tobacco Company plant in Durham.  This business became the biggest profit center on the entire NS for a time, with revenues realized from just that short spur of track being enough to pay the operating expenses of the entire 978 mile railroad!
        The D&SC was originally operated with two Mogul type (2-6-0) steam locomotives on lease from Southern Iron & Equipment Company in Atlanta, GA.  These were replaced with two Ten-wheeler type (4-6-0) locomotives in 1907 (Number 100; later NS 137) and 1912 (Number 101; later NS 138), both purchased new from the Baldwin Locomotive Company.  Other company equipment consisted of a passenger coach, a passenger combine (half passenger, half baggage), a number of track speeder motor cars, and seven boxcars.  None of this equipment has survived to the present day.  The D&SC never owned a caboose, but used their combine passenger car for this purpose instead. 
        Operations from 1906 to 1931 consisted of a mixed train (both freight and passenger) each way on a daily schedule.  The two passenger cars, and anyone in them, were shunted between Keene and downtown Durham at the beginning and end of each run, but the D&SC maintained its own passenger shelter (station) just a quarter mile short of Durham Union Depot.  One can guess this was a cost saving move to avoid the station charges using the larger depot would incur, but it still meant a quarter mile walk for passengers.  After 1931, when passenger service was abandoned completely, the line continued as a freight-only operation with the schedule further reduced to one train each day, alternating northbound and southbound on alternate days, after the hurricane of 1945.
        A disastrous flood caused by the hurricane of 1945 indicated the need for a major flood control project in the area, and plans were submitted on 15 October 1969 by the US Army Corps of Engineers to construct what was then to be called the New Hope Dam at the junction of the New Hope and Haw Rivers.  This project was renamed on 26 October 1973 in honor of B. Everett Jordan, member of the State Legislature.  Construction of the dam was completed on 1 September 1981, and Jordan Lake filled to capacity by 4 February 1982.  The Jordan Lake Flood Control Project also meant the end of the towns and communities of Beaver Creek, Seaforth, and Farrington.  The people living in those areas were relocated, the buildings burned to the foundations to remove the possibility of them becoming a navigation hazard and the locations are now under water in Jordan Lake.
        The line used by the New Hope Valley Railway (NHVRy) today is a relocated line completed by the US Army Corps of Engineers on 14 March 1974 to replace the original line inundated by the construction of the Jordan Lake Flood Control Project.  It was last used for revenue service by the Southern Railway in 1981.  (The original Norfolk Southern Railroad was reorganized in 1953 into the Norfolk Southern Railway, and merged into the Southern Railway System on 1 January 1974.)  Some of the last major revenue trains moved on the line brought in much of the heavy equipment and supplies to build the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant, located between Bonsal and Duncan.  This reactor came online on 12 January 1987.
        The New Hope Valley Railway of today was begun on 15 January 1982 when the East Carolina Chapter, National Railway Historical Society purchased the tracks and right-of-way in Bonsal and New Hill from the Southern Railway.  This consists of Bonsal Yard, the line currently operated from Bonsal to New Hill, and a small portion of the original 1906 trackage along Beaver Creek Road in Chatham County just north of Bonsal.  This old line can be seen to the left side of the train as it passes Bonsal Junction just after leaving the Bonsal Depot.  The first public ride operations were held in April of 1984, and it has been operated as a living railroad museum ever since.
        North of New Hill, the track has been removed from remnants of the new line constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1974, and the right-of-way has been converted into a hiking facility called the American Tobacco Trail.  The buildings of the American Tobacco Company itself in Durham have been renovated into modern office space.