Romancing the Railroad:
Part 1: How Bluemont Citizens Brought the Railway to Bluemont in 1900

Railroad Meeting!

Early April 1900, just over a century ago, there must have been a lot of excitement in the vicinity of Snickersville.  Talk was flying about a railroad extension from Round Hill and Volney Osburn was putting up posters everywhere announcing a railroad meeting.

According to the poster: “the Southern Railway Company, having made a proposition to the citizens of Snickersville and vicinity, that if they will give the said Company right of way and money sufficient  to construct a suitable depot, the Company will extend their road to Snickersville, in the near future.”

The poster’s call to the public: “All interested in said extension will please meet in Snickersville, at 2 o’clock Saturday, April 7 1900.”

We do not know exactly when the railroad made its original  “proposition” or to whom.  Three documents from mid-April refer to three deeds dated April 3, so it may have been in late March.  

Eight citizens became the first “subscribers,” and they had been working on the project even before the meeting.  They allowed their names to appear publicly on the poster, no doubt giving the matter more weight in the community:

VOLNEY OSBURN                           JAMES F. OSBURN
C.H. OSBURN                                   DR. C.B. TURNER
Dr. G.E. PLASTER                              J.R. MARSHALL
WM. L. HUMPHREY,                       JNO. W. SILCOTT

Volney Osburn was a man in a hurry.  He called the meeting for Saturday, having only on the previous Monday, April 2, paid for the printing of his 100 flyers at the Loudoun Telephone Directory office in Hamilton.  We know this because he saved the receipt.

A newspaper article on the railroad meeting appeared, from what newspaper is not indicated.  The article was probably written and submitted by C.H. Osburn, Volney’s cousin, who signed it as secretary, at the bottom.

The meeting evidently followed parliamentary procedure for “it was moved and seconded that a committee of three be selected by the Chair to meet on Tuesday April 10 and confer with Messrs J.R. Hill and Frank Purcell in regard to adjusting their damages.”  Serving on the committee were Mr. Townsend Frazier, Wm. L. Humphrey, and O.I. Thomas.”
Five others-- Wm L. Humphrey, Richard Frazier, C. H. Osburn, T.B. James, John Gill—were “selected to act as canvassers in raising the required amount of money.”   

Thus, the key elements of the citizens’ part of railway extension got underway quickly.  Snickersville citizens were now organized to do business with the railway.  The local citizens had begun to work on raising money to fund the construction of the depot.  And, some citizens had taken it on themselves to indemnify the landowners across whose lands the tracks would be laid.  They would agree to fund any damages if the railroad failed to keep its part of the bargain.

The documents left by Volney Osburn that relate to the extension of the railway to Bluemont include:

  • A full (or partial?) list of lands to be “condemned” for the railroad;
  • An April 14, 1900 agreement between the Mahlon Thomas heirs and extension subscribers;
  • Two notes dated April 16 1900, apparently written by Volney  (one to Edward Nichols or R.W. Lynn, the other to W.A. Tompson) concerning right-of-way arrangements; 
  • An April 16 agreement between Miss Virginia James and the subscribers;
  • An April 16, 1900 typed receipt to Volney Osborn from the Southern Railway concerning deeds conveying the right of way, from “Miss Virginia James,” “Owen Thomas and wife,” and “Volney Osburn and wife;”  
  • An April 28 note on Southern Railway Stationary;
  • A November 6 letter  signed by Charles Janney to “Volney Osburn Esq,” discharging Volney “from all liability;”
  • A November 6 endorsement in red ink on the April 14 agreement, releasing Dr. George Plaster and other subscribers, signed by William Birdsall as agent for the Mahlon  Thomas hiers; 
  • An undated auditor’s note to Volney Osburn, requesting $100.00;
  • A November 12 note from E.F. Packam, Assistant Treasurer, the Southern Railway Company to Volney Osburn, enclosing a check for $100.00.

Those who want to follow how the subscribers negotiated with the railway company and provided assurances to those whose land the railroad would cross may do so on this link.  Part 2 of this story focuses on the documents themselves, supplying transcriptions and whenever the quality of the original permits, links to the actual images.

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