Rural Heritage Museum

Image of train running in western North Carolina. When the Western North Carolina Railroad Company expanded railroad access to western North Carolina, it allowed several industries to boom.
Gerald Ledford Collection

Railroads have always been important to the economic development of North Carolina, but for many years the western part of the state was left out of the equation. The intense, mountainous terrain deterred companies from developing in the area around Asheville.

But in 1877, the state-owned Western North Carolina Railroad Company, headed by Maj. James H. Wilson, began boring through the mountains west of Old Fort. And this started a new chapter in western North Carolina history. Industries like mining, timber and tourism all began to boom.