(Editor’s note: Mr. Moore wrote this June 17, 1987.)
The Jeffersonian Democrats had been in power in North Carolina from 1801-1835, but in the election of 1836 the Whigs elected The Honorable Edward B. Dudley as governor. The Whigs advocated internal improvements which included state aid to railroads. In fact, the Whigs inaugurated an era of railroad building.
The first railroad to be built in the state was from Raleigh to Gaston on the Roanoke River. Governor Dudley was the founder and first president of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. It was chartered in 1834 and opened in 1840. This railroad was to mean much to Sampson, Duplin, and Wayne Counties. The Northeast Cape Fear River in Duplin was not satisfactory for steamboat navigation and the Neuse River could only be used when there was plenty of water. In Sampson County steamboats were able to make it as far as Clear Run. The old river town of Lisburn was on the decline and the town of Clinton was slowly growing.
The mail and freight had to be carried from Warsaw to Clinton in wagons, with present day Old Warsaw Road being the primary route.
In the early 1850s a plank road was built between Warsaw and Clinton by a stock company. The primary entry points were found at today’s Plank Street in Warsaw and on Lisbon Street in Clinton where it intersects with Railroad Street. This plank road flourished for a time but fell into disrepair during the War Between the States.
Between 1885 and 1887 the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad built the line from Warsaw to Clinton on the right of way and directly atop the road bed of the old plank road. It was opened on April 1, 1887, although the official celebration was not until April 27, 1887.
The stops on this line were Woodlawn, the plantation owned by Abner M. Faison (shed only) and was located near today’s I-40; Turkey; Summit (later renamed Elliott); Moltonville, Milo (shed only), the J. J. Matthis place; and finally Clinton.
The first stationmaster in Clinton was Henry B. Chestnutt. The agent at Turkey was Edd Mann and the agent in Warsaw was David Morisey.
The first trains used wood instead of coal. On some odd occasions the train would stop and passengers were called upon to help gather firewood for the remainder of the trip. For many years there were two trips made by the passenger trains and two by the freight trains each day. The mail was carried by train and there were also express cars.
The celebration for the opening of the railroad was held on April 27, 1887, and was attended by thousands. Excursion trains were run from Wilmington to Goldsboro. I have heard old timers say that the roads leading to Clinton were filled with horse-drawn vehicles even by day break that day. The hotels and rooming houses were filled.
There was a grand parade which included the Wilmington Light Infantry, the Goldsboro Rifles, the Sampson Light Infantry, and the Cornet Concert Club of Wilmington. An official address was made at the Academy (on College Street) by the Honorable Thomas S. Kenan, former Confederate Officer (from Kenansville) and the current NC State Attorney of Raleigh.
A gold-headed walking cane was presented by the citizens of Clinton to the late Ferdinand B. Johnson, Sr., for his active part in securing the railroad.
Quoting from the Wilmington Weekly Star dated May 6, 1887, “the delegations from this city to the celebrations in Clinton returned home yesterday morning. One and all speak in the highest terms of the hospitable and cordial treatment received from the citizens of that charming little town….The ball at night was a brilliant affair. The spacious hall was filled with a brave gathering of gallant young men and beautiful women who kept up the dance until morning.” The committee of arrangements was made up of Fred T. Atkins, Henry E. Faison, Theodore H. Partrick, and J. H. Royal.
The celebration was marred when Henry A. James, who was heading the parade with a spirited horse, was thrown with his sword penetrating his body and breaking off. A blacksmith extracted the sword, and in time, Mr. James recovered from his wound. (He was the father of Arthur James, Sr. of Clinton and Mrs. Mildred Atkins of Clinton.)
The railroad brought prosperity and expansion in Sampson and Duplin. In 1889 another railroad was completed between Fayetteville and Wilmington, with stops and depots at Autryville, Hayne, Roseboro, Parkersburg, Garland, Kerr, and Ivanhoe.
The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad became the Atlantic Coastline in 1900 and much later the Seaboard Coastline. Services to Wilmington have been discontinued but the railroad is still doing business on the Warsaw-Clinton branch.