A Brief History
Morgantown, West Virginia, is home to three recreational trails that trace their histories back to former rail corridors, all once part of the historic Baltimore & Ohio. The Deckers Creek Trail extends southeast away from the city as it travels the former right-of-way of the Morgantown & Kingwood Railroad. The system was constructed during the early 20th century to tap the area’s rich coal reserves and remained independent for nearly two decades before being swallowed up by the B&O. For many years, the branch provided the railroad with considerable coal traffic as well as offering a secondary route into Morgantown. However, as time passed, the online business disappeared. During the early 1990s, latest owner CSX Transportation abandoned the section now comprising today’s trail.
Despite its rugged geography, West Virginia found itself home to several noteworthy railroads by the turn of the 20th century. While the interest of many was all about natural resources (e.g., coal, timber, and oil, natural gas), the B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Norfolk & Western all constructed their main lines across the state, reaching locations in the Midwest, such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago. The C&O and N&W focused their efforts to the south, while the B&O largely served the north. The B&O was our country’s first common-carrier railroad, established during early 1827, and the first to reach then-Virginia at Harpers Ferry in 1837. Progress west was slow because of the topography and financing, but the B&O had finally reached Cumberland, Maryland, in 1850 and Wheeling, Virginia (via Grafton and Fairmont), along the banks of Ohio in 1852, completing its original charter. The railroad would later build a more westerly route to Parkersburg and eventually extend main lines to St. Louis and Chicago.
The B&O’s coalfields were never as extensive as those in the southern part of the state; however, they were still quite important. Over the years, the company acquired or built several secondary lines all across the region to serve them. One particularly important route was the Fairmont, Morgantown & Pittsburgh, chartered in 1883. Opened for service about a decade later, it became a key component in the B&O system, linking its St. Louis and Chicago main lines at Clarksburg, West Virginia, and Connellsville, Pennsylvania, via Morgantown. During the FM&P’s busiest years, it funneled coal toward Pittsburgh, connected with B&O subsidiary Monongahela Railway (a coal-hauler), and handled a variety of other freight. Today, part of that line comprises the Mon River Trail. The right-of-way, which now makes up the Deckers Creek Trail, also linked the B&O to Morgantown; however, it was not originally constructed by the railroad. According to George Hilton’s extensive title on the subject, American Narrow Gauge Railroads, in 1889, J. Ami Martin and George C. Sturgiss incorporated the Morgantown & Kingwood Railroad to tap coal reserves in the area.
Construction of the new line did not begin for some time. The first section from Morgantown to Bretz down the Deckers Creek Valley, about 15 miles, was completed more than a decade later in September 1903. The next segment to Kingwood was in service by March 1906, spanning 14.4 miles. Finally, the last 18.4 miles were finished in July 1907 to a location known as M&K Junction along the B&O’s main line near Rowlesburg. This final segment included the line’s only tunnel—the 473-foot Elkins Tunnel at milepost 15.0—about 1 mile west of Albright. In all, the M&K stretched 47.9 miles.
As an independent operation, the Morgantown & Kingwood established its primary maintenance shops and terminal at a location known as Sabraton (formerly known as Sturgiss City), slightly southeast of Morgantown. In 1922, the B&O took control of the Morgantown & Kingwood, renaming it as the Morgantown & Kingwood Branch (or M&K Branch for short). In the coming years, the line witnessed an explosion of coal mines dotting its property. By the 1940s, coal mines totaled 15, requiring several trains to be dispatched from M&K Junction and Morgantown each day to serve them. Aside from coal, the branch served other customers, handling such traffic as sand, lumber, coke, limestone, cement, petroleum products, and animal feed. As the years passed, business dwindled when coal reserves became exhausted, resulting in the closure of many mines. During the early 1970s, under the direction of Chessie System, the M&K Branch was abandoned between Kingwood and Reedsville (11.7 miles). From then on, the remaining segments were served from each end.
By the 1980s, the Chessie System had become part of the much larger CSX Transportation, and the former M&K Branch was down to only a few mines in operation. With no traffic remaining in 1991, the railroad abandoned the northern section, now part of the Deckers Creek Trail. The southern segment continued to see service for roughly another decade until its last mine closed in 2000, resulting in its abandonment soon afterward.
Railroad attractions across West Virginia include the West Virginia Central/Durbin & Greenbrier Valley excursion trains in Elkins; Cass Scenic Railroad in Cass, featuring historic geared steam locomotives; Harpers Ferry Toy Train Museum & Joy Line Railroad in Harpers Ferry; Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum in Wheeling; Oglebay Good Zoo in Wheeling, featuring scale train rides; and the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad excursions in Romney.Do you have Historical Photos of the Deckers Creek Trail?
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