Along the VCR
In 1853, a group of investors incorporated and began to grade a railway route from Fredericksburg to Orange Court House, 37 miles to the west. In Orange, this new railway would connect with a rail line to Gordonsville, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg. By the time of the Civil War, the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad Company had graded 18 miles of the right-of-way, but had not yet laid any tracks. During the Civil War, the cleared, level railbed proved tactically useful for rapidly moving troops across an otherwise rough landscape. The railway crosses three battlefields, at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness.
Following the Civil War, the South struggled to rebuild its wrecked economy and work eventually resumed on the unfinished railway. By 1873, workers were laying tracks on the previously prepared route and the first train arrived at the Orange station in 1877. By then, new owners of the railway had renamed it the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont Railroad Company. The tracks were narrow gauge.
The narrow gauge tracks carried trains until 1926, when the Virginia Central Railway acquired and altered them to a standard gauge. This effort to remain competitive did not pay off, though. In 1931, the company abandoned its track to Orange, retaining only one mile of rails near Fredericksburg, which linked 15 industrial customers with the main line Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. Even this one mile of railway proved difficult to maintain and it too shut down in 1984.
This bicycle/foot trail opened in 2014 and extends nearly three miles to the Idlewood neighborhood. The sounds of train whistles and struggling armies are gone, but historic bridge piers and remnants of Confederate encampments are still visible in the quiet woods.
1. This 1884 photograph shows the rail yard in downtown Fredericksburg. The view is looking west.
2. The railway cut is visible on the left side of the photo. The houses on the right are still evident along Lafayette Boulevard. The embankment on the left has been replaced by a residential complex called Cobblestone Square.
3. Virginia Central Railway engine No. 1022.
4. The railway had to cross numerous streams and the original stone abutments were later encased in concrete.
5. The railway company pulled up and sold its tracks after it abandoned the link to Orange Court House. The depressions from the wooden ties are still visible in the foreground.