Nitro, WV

NYC 1785 F-7A Nitro, WV JUL 67 Watermarked

NYC F-7A #1785 with sister unit, leading Northbound train of tank cars at the south switch to the siding and yard in Nitro on a warm July evening in 1967

Nitro, a town situated on the Kanawha River approximately 15 miles west of the capital city of Charleston, came about as a result of World War I.  It was established by the Federal Government in 1918 to produce Nitro-Cellulose, a type of gunpowder. Approximately 1217 acres of land was acquired by the government in December, 1917. Because of the enormous size of the of the explosive plant, it was necessary to bring in thousands and thousands of workers to build the plant and also construct housing for the workers who built the plant and those who worked in the plant itself.

Eleven months later the war ended and the need for the explosive plant ended. By his time the town of Nitro was nearly 90% complete. The population was nearly 24,000. Nitro at that time had the latest design for housing and utilities, plus it had its own school system and full time police and fire protection. A more detailed history of how Nitro came into existence can be found on the city’s website www.cityofnitrowv.com.

After the war, the city of Nitro was established in 1921 and the site used for manufacturing munitions had become attractive to a number of  chemical companies. By the time my dad graduated from Marshall College (now University) in 1950 with a degree in chemical engineering, the town could boast of companies like American Viscose, Monsanto, FMC, Ohio Apex and General Chemical being located there.  The latter company was the one my dad began working for. I was two years old at the time we moved from my grandparents home in Huntington to a rental house on 9th Street in Nitro. A few years later my mom and dad bought property on North 21st Street and built a house which I lived in during my elementary and high school years.

Besides the rich history of the formation of Nitro, the rail line through the city has a history as well. The Kanawha and Ohio which later became the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad, due to reorganization, was built from Point Pleasant, WV  and completed to Charleston some time around 1890.  During that time the K&M purchased the Charleston and Gauley which gave the K&M a connection with the Chesapeake and Ohio in the Gauley Bridge area plus enabled it to tap into the coal fields north of Gauley Bridge.

In 1910 the C&O gained control of the K&M hoping to get access to the Great Lakes but anti-trust laws forced the C&O to give up the K&M. The C&O sold its K&M shares to the Toledo and Ohio Central in 1914. In 1922 the T&OC with its interests in the K&M was leased to the New York Central Railroad. In 1938 the K&M was officially merged into the T&OC and in 1952 the T&OC was merged into the NYC. For all practical purposes it was an NYC operation from 1922. A  recently published book entitled “The Kanawha and Michigan Railroad” by Don Mills documents the history of this line.

The line through Nitro was operated as part of NYC’s Kanawha Secondary. The line was single track with yards and passing sidings that were located for the most part in the yards. Besides Nitro, yards were located in Institute, Charleston and Dickinson. Smaller yards were located at Belle, Alloy and Gauley Bridge. Maximum speed on the Secondary was not much more than 25 or 30 MPH. Besides coal and merchandise freight, the line handled a good bit of chemical business.

In addition to the plants in Nitro mentioned earlier, the NYC also served the Union Carbide and Goodrich-Gulf plants in Institute,  Union Carbide’s North Charleston facility, DuPont’s Belle operation and Union Carbide Metals plant at Alloy. Also the coal mine at Cannelton and Appalachian Power plant near Cedar Grove was served by the NYC.

The NYC merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad on February 1, 1968 to form the ill-fated Penn Central Transportation Company. Two years later Penn Central went bankrupt. On April 1, 1976, Penn Central became part of Conrail which brought together the PC and six other bankrupt railroads in the northeast. Then on June 1, 1999, as part of the Conrail breakup between CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., the West Virginia Secondary, which included the old Kanawha Secondary, became part of Norfolk Southern Railway. Originally it was placed in NS’s Dearborn Division but approximately a year later it was transferred to the Pocahontas Division with the exception of the first seven miles out of the yard in Columbus, OH which went to the Lake Division. Incidentally I retired from NS on November 1, 2003.

I began photographing around Nitro in 1966, the year I graduated from high school. By that time I was old enough to drive on my own plus I was aware of the impending merger with the PRR and wanted to document NYC’s operations not only in Nitro but other areas in the Kanawha Valley. The Nitro yard had a full time switch engine to work the yard including leads to the chemical plants. The old Nitro depot which was a fixture in the city since its inception was torn down in 1967 and replaced by a new building located across the yard from the Nitro business district. First Avenue which was the main thoroughfare in Nitro and paralleled the Secondary, curved around the old depot. A few years after it was torn down First Avenue was straightened.

I hope this brief glimpse of Nitro has given you a taste of its history and the railroad(s) that served it, and still do to this day.

 

Two Views of Nitro Depot. On left is looking North and on right look south toward Charleston. Both photos were taken in July, 1966.

 

Approximate same views as above after the old depot was torn down. This was taken in July, 1967. In picture on the left you can see smoke stacks of the chemical plants in the distance and the new yard office building. Also where I was standing, First Avenue was realigned and now runs through this spot.

  

 

 

 

 

NYC SW-9 8999 sitting at the old depot between assignments. You can see part of the old ESSO gas station in the photo on the left and downtown Nitro in the right photo. If you look close enough you can see the posted price of regular gasoline which was 31.9 cents/gallon.Both photos were taken in July, 1967.


Two southbounds at different times in 1967. The photo on the left was taken in July 1967 . You can see a mixture of locomotives in this train. Photo on the right was taken on a crisp clear day in March with classic F-7 units coupled back to back. Train was switching in the yard before heading toward Charleston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northbound leaving Nitro headed to Point Pleasant. Evidence of the Penn Central merger is real with SD-40 6075 in the lead with ex-NYC bay window caboose bringing up the rear. Six axle units were uncommon on the Secondary until after the merger. Photo was taken in November, 1970.

 

 

 

 

 

Closeup of NYC yard office taken in July, 1967. Compare photo on left with that on right taken in May, 2003 nearly 4 years after the breakup of Conrail.  They are at different angles but you can see the change in the exterior of the building and also the old brick smokestack left from the days of the munition plant is gone. Unit is ex-Southern Railway GP38-2.







 

Leave a comment ?

12 Comments.

  1. Just wanted to say “hi” Stumbled upon your site while Googling for pics of the old smokestacks in Nitro. Your depot pics sure bring back some fond memories. Nice photos. Walked those rails many times. Take care, buddy.

  2. Mr. Bess, I found your page in researching history of Nitro, WV. I found a ring in my late father-inlaws belongings. It apparently is a commemorative piece of jewelry. The face of the ring has a house and is inscribed around the face of the house with “Energy co. Nitro, WV 1918″ Appears to be made of a high grade of sterling silver. If you can give me any information or a directive on tracking down the story behind this ring it will be deeply appreciated.

  3. Doug,

    Thanks for posting this information. I found your site searching for information about the American Viscose plant in Nitro.

    My grandfather spent two years in Nitro working at American Viscose’s rayon plant after getting a chemical engineering degree, from 1943 to 1945.

    He passed away last week, and, inspired by some stories he told me about his time in Nitro, I decided to do some research about his time there, and maybe plan a trip sometime soon to see if I can locate any records of his time there. Probably a long shot, but I’d like to try.

    So thanks for posting these pictures and writing about the history of the town and your connection with it. If you’ve got any thoughts about ways to look up records in Nitro, I’d appreciate it.

    Best Regards,

    Will

    • Will,

      I find it interesting that your grandfather worked at Viscose’s as we called it. We moved to Nitro in 1950, when I was two years old, after my dad graduated from Marshall with a degree in chemical engineering. My dad worked for General Chemical in Nitro and then left there a couple of years later to work for Union Carbide at the Institute Plant. Nitro has always had a special place in my heart.

      If you do make it to Nitro you might want to contact Rich Hively. He has become the town’s historian and now has a website http://www.cityofnitrowv.com. It contains a wealth of info on Nitro you might want to check out prior to going there. You also could contact Mayor Rusty Casto. His parents lived on the same street we did. It’s possible that Rusty’s parents might have known your grandfather. If you happen to talk to Rusty please tell him I said hello.

      Doug

  4. Jerry Jenkins

    Doug – I stumbled across this page googling kanawha & michigan rr. What memories it brough back! My dad was a dispatcher for the nyc/pc/cr railroads in the charleston office in the 50s thru 1976. I remember those old switchers and remember his late night conversations after he got home from work, telling my mom about all the railroad happenings along the line. Would love to see more.
    Jerry

    • Jerry I hope to post more pictures although I don’t really have that much more on the NYC/PC. I changed computers and I need to find drivers for my Epson scanner. That is one reason why I have not posted anything lately.

  5. Jerry Jenkins

    Doug – I stumbled across this page googling kanawha & michigan rr. What memories it brough back! My dad was a dispatcher for the nyc/pc/cr railroads in the charleston office in the 50s thru 1976. I remember those old switchers and remember his late night conversations after he got home from work, telling my mom about all the railroad happenings along the line. Would love to see more.
    Jerry

  6. :razz: I was born and raised in Nitro ( Sattes ) I Love trains,When we went in town i would stay in the car across the road from gas station so i could watch the trains run back and forward. All of your pictures bring back memories. Thanks

  7. :razz: I was born and raised in Nitro I Love trains,When we went in town i would stay in the car across the road from gas station so i could watch the trains run back and forward. All of your pictures bring back memories. Thanks

  8. Thanks Darryl for sharing your memories of Nitro. It must have been exciting to ride on a passenger train between Charleston and Nitro. I doubt that that was the case for your other ride. Yes, I am on “You’re Probably from Nitro” Facebook page. By the way the NYC did not go to Norfolk.

    Doug

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