November 23, 1869: C&O Railroad Company Transfers Ownership

Engineer William E. Bailey boards his C&O locomotive

On November 23, 1869, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company transferred ownership of its struggling rail line to Collis Huntington and others. It was a major turning point in a venture that would transform southern West Virginia into a coal-producing giant.

The eastern leg of the railroad had been opened between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley prior to the Civil War. Plans were underway to extend the line to the Ohio River. However, the war halted construction. Making matters worse, four years of brutal fighting in Virginia’s heartland had badly damaged the tracks. When the war ended, an effort was started to repair tracks and extend the line to the Ohio River.

Unfortunately, money was scarce. To attract funding, company leaders transferred the railroad to Collis Huntington and his colleagues. Huntington had played a major role in building the first transcontinental railroad and saw the C&O as the eastern section of a coast-to-coast rail line. Most importantly, he had access to major investors. Within four years, Collis Huntington had expanded the railroad to the new city of Huntington and launched the southern West Virginia coal boom.