The Main Line.
When the Civil War began Randolph County was without any direct rail connections. The North Carolina Railroad had opened in 1856, passing just 2 miles north of the county line and creating the new city of High Point. The Western Railroad to the Chatham coal fields was complete from Fayetteville to Sanford in 1861. In 1862 a proposal was made in the legislature to extend that line through Franklinville and Asheboro, all the way to Winston-Salem, but this never happened.
The Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad was chartered in 1879 as a merger of the Fayetteville & Western Railroad and the Mt. Airy & Ore Knob Railroad, having plans to build a line stretching from Wilmington through Fayetteville and Greensboro to Mt. Airy. The original proposal was to build the main line up Deep River through the factory villages, but the final route ran directly to Greensboro through Staley and Liberty, with a future branch line to Franklinville.
The original company suffered financial difficulties, went into receivership, and in July of 1883 was reorganized into the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway. Construction of the track south from Fayetteville finally began in 1883, reaching Bennettsville, SC by the end of 1884. The northern line reached Greensboro by 1884 and Mt. Airy by 1887; the line to Wilmington and the “Factory Branch” to Ramseur were complete in 1890.
The expense of building this network, together with a general financial depression in 1893, forced the railroad into foreclosure in 1894. The line was initially purchased by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and operated under the name of Atlantic & Yadkin Railway. However, the legal and corporate turmoil was only resolved by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1924, when Southern Railway obtained the line from Fayetteville to Mt. Airy, while the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad retained the southern portion.
The Factory Branch
When the CFYV Main Line bypassed Randolph in 1879, efforts began almost immediately to extend the Western North Carolina Railroad from Raleigh to Pittsboro and on through “the thriving Franklinville section” to Salisbury, “following the old stage road.” The route was surveyed, but the line was never built. In 1883 the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley sought legislative permission to borrow funds to build the factory branch, using “convict labor.”
The Deep River line was approved in 1884, but right-of-way acquisition only began in 1886. The initial plan was to run from “the 85 mile post, about midway between Pleasant Garden and Julian” [the future community of Climax], south about nine miles “to a point about 1 ½ miles from Worthville, as the most convenient point to all the factories.” In 1887 that convenient shipping point took on the name “Millboro,” and for several years that was the literal end of the line.
Controversy arose in 1887 over the CFVYRR’s use of forced labor, at a time when “a great many laboring men of [Wilmington] would otherwise be idle.” The company took pains to assure eastern North Carolinians that convict labor would only be used to complete the Main Line to Mt. Airy, and the branch line to Franklinsville, else “the company shall immediately forfeit all right and claim to work convicts, and they shall be immediately returned to the authorities of the State penitentiary.”
Final extension of the Factory Branch from Millboro was approved in 1889, with survey of the route beginning in June, and construction quickly following, with “four hundred convicts” put to work grading the trackbed. In August a news article announced that “Work on the Millboro & Columbia Branch of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad is being pushed with great energy by Col. Hick. A new squad of 140 convicts was brought down last Friday and placed in the new stockade erected between Franklinsville and Columbia Factory. The force at present numbers over 400 strong, and additional force is expected… Dirt is being thrown as low down the line as the town of Cedar Falls, and all along the line above that point the work is going on.”
Grading was completed to Cedar Falls by December 1890, with work continuing on the line to Ramseur, “formerly known as Columbia Factory.” In March “The Asheboro Courier says that Franklinsville rejoices over the near approach of the railroad… It would not surprise the Courier to see one of these days Cedar Falls, Franklinsville and Ramseur linking together and consolidating as one big bustling and stirring manufacturing town.” The first train running north from Franklinsville arrived in Greensboro on Monday morning, May 19, 1890. J. M. Ellison, one of the first passengers, said that “Franklinsville people are very proud of the railroad.”