August 4, 1805: Railroader Ralph Swinburn Born in England

Aug 4, 2017

Railroader Ralph Swinburn was born in England on August 4, 1805.

Swinburn built a narrow-gauge railroad that ran from the Winifrede mines to a barge facility on the Kanawha River.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / West Virginia Humanities Council

As a boy, he was working on a coal-hauling railway, when he met George Stephenson, a pioneer in steam locomotives. This friendship steered Swinburn toward a career in railway civil engineering—first in England, then in America.

He emigrated to the United States in 1851 and landed a job with the Winifrede Mining and Manufacturing Company in Kanawha County. Winifrede was one of the earliest coal operations in present West Virginia.

Swinburn built a narrow-gauge railroad that ran from the Winifrede mines to a barge facility on the Kanawha River. It also was one of the region’s earliest railroads, preceding the mainline Chesapeake and Ohio Railway by two decades. Swinburn soon built another railroad to serve coal mines along nearby Paint Creek. These achievements established him as possibly the first railroad engineer in Western Virginia.

He retired in 1855, only four years after his arrival in America. He purchased land southwest of Charleston, where he lived the rest of his life as a farmer. Ralph Swinburn died in 1895 at age 89.