In keeping with the ongoing focus on Tarboro’s 250th birthday, Edgecombe Arts has arranged to exhibit a collection of railroad memorabilia, specifically that of the East Carolina Railway, that will be on loan from Farmville collector, Bob Newton through Oct. 25.
The railway was a major means of transportation, both passenger and freight, for more than half a century.
“This is our annual historic exhibit, a feature of History Day each year,” said Arts Council Director Buddy Hooks.
The display will be installed in the gallery at the Blount-Bridgers House by Friday, Sept. 10 and will remain on display through History Day, Saturday, Sept. 25 and for another month, closing Oct. 25.
A reception will be held in the gallery from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept 12.
Pieces chosen for the exhibit range from an array of old and rusty railway signs, a nine-foot water tower spout from the tank in Fountain, lanterns, early railroad maintenance tools and a switch stand. Newton’s collection includes several scrapbooks of old photographs of the engines, the station personnel, rare documents, telegraphed correspondence and clippings from newspaper writeups.
The East Carolina Railway, incorporated in Tarboro in 1898, was built with labor force from the State Prison in Raleigh. The state was paid 75 cents per man per day and the laborers lived in camps along the rail. Construction of the track extended from Tarboro to Pinetops by July 1900, to Macclesfield by September, and a year later it extended all the way to Farmville. The Macclesfield Co., owned by Tarboro businessman, Henry Clark Bridgers, purchased a considerable amount of land around the tracks and developed it with warehouses and offered building lots up and down the line. The town of Macclesfield was started between 1900-01.
On completion of the Tarboro-Farmville line, Bridgers, the founder and president of the ECR, invited Tarboro’s mayor James Pender and many other officials and their families to ride the length of the line and treated them to a reception and luncheon at the Horton Hotel in Farmville.
The ECR not only provided freight and passenger services all the way to Farmville, but in 1902, Western Union Company’s telegraphic services were offered.
By 1908, Farmville’s track was extended on to Hookerton, adding 12 more miles eastward to the railway, but that particular part of the line was abandoned in 1933.
The ECR began operating their steam hauled passenger service with gasoline powered motorcars and trailers around 1910. The cars were built from retired Washington, DC streetcars in ECR’s Tarboro shop. The cars got the nickname, “Yellow Hammers” from the unusual sound of the motor and the clicking sound along the rail joints, like that of a yellow-hammer flicker from the woodpecker family. The ECR shops turned out three generations of those unique motor cars and were in continued use for about 17 years.
The Atlantic Coast Line took over the ECR in 1935, but continued to operate the line as the East Carolina Railway under the continued management of Bridgers until his death in 1951.
The last steam engine run on the ECR was in April 1957. The old Locomotive No. 1031 now rests on display at the state Transportation Museum in Spencer. The ECR operated its last train on Nov. 16, 1965 and abandoned the line.
Though the ECR has been out of business for 45 years, collector Bob Newton continues to find more information, more artifacts, track maps and memorabilia to keep his passion going. Tarboro attorney Marvin Horton, Farmville native, shares an almost equal interest in the railroad that once connected his native hometown to his current one. Horton has contributed significant items to Newton’s stash.
This unique collection was exhibited at Farmville’s May Museum where Horton presented Newton with an old ECR railroad firebucket.
Capt. Henry Clark Bridgers, Jr. the founder’s son, published a book about this unique railway titled “East Carolina Railway, Route of the Yellow-hammer.” There are two copies at Edgecombe Memorial Library. in the reference book section.
Newton will also have his prized copy on display at the exhibition.
A reception will be held in the gallery on Sunday afternoon, Sept.12 after which Bob Newton and his wife Bernice will be headed to the airport to catch a plane to Colorado, a trip that will likely include finding more railway stuff.