LENOIR – Many years ago William J. Grandin had a dream that included a railroad that is little known today – the Watauga and Yadkin Railroad – and a lumber empire in Caldwell and Wilkes counties.
Thanks to Matthew C. Bumgarner and R. Douglas Walker people can now read about the railroad and Grandin’s dream. The two men have complied” “The Watauga and Yadkin Railroad: A History of Grandin.”
The book is the latest in a series of books that Bumgarner has compiled on the history of Western North Carolina. Other books he has written include two books on the Civil War – “Kirk’s Raiders,” and “My Face to the Enemy.”
“I am interested in the history of Western North Carolina,” said Bumgarner, a Hickory native. “I am especially interested in the history of North Carolina railroads, particularly smaller ones. It’s easy to get to know the people who ran them and lived beside them.”
The president of an electronic manufacturing firm, Bumgarner spends his spare time doing research and writing historical books. “I find it to be relaxing,” Bumgarner said. “I can’t dig up a dinosaur, but I can read a 100-year-old newspaper.”
Bumgarner’s first book on a railroad was about the June Bug line in Alexander County. “I fell in love with the history of railroads,” he said. “They have a marvelous history. I love the stories of the people who ran them. Railroads have a rich tapestry of history that is fascinating.”
Bumgarner also wrote a book about the Carolina and Northwestern Railroad. “I am glad that Caldwell County was able to save the line to Hickory,” he said. “I served on the committee that worked on the effort to save the railway.”
While doing research, Bumgarner became interested in the Watauga and Yadkin Railroad. “It’s a little railroad that not many people have heard about that has a wonderful history,” he said. “It was not just a railroad. William Grandin was planning a way of life around the forest, the mill and the village. He was creating his whole lumber empire. Any one project would have been daunting enough for anyone else. Grandin was from southeastern Missouri. He was trying to relocate his timber business from there to Caldwell and Wilkes counties. Ultimately he was unsuccessful, primarily because of the Yadkin River. The Yadkin River has not been beaten in thousands of years.”
The story of the Watauga and Yadkin Railroad “is a story of real interest that at the turn of the century Grandin was trying to build a railroad to Boone through the mountains to Tennessee,” Bumgarner said. “It’s a good story of yet another episode in Western North Carolina’s history, like the stories of Tom Dooley and Fort Hamby. It’s an epic tale of man versus nature.”
A native of Tidoute, Penn., Grandin was a grandson of Samuel Grandin, a Quaker State investor in oil and lumber in Pennsylvania. His two sons led a successful effort in Southeastern Missouri to create a logging company and a town also called “Grandin.”
As that business began to slow down, Grandin turned his sights on North Carolina. He hoped to harvest timber along Elk Creek into Darby and Buffalo Cove. By 1912, he had begun to put his dream into action.
Grandin wanted to build a railway from Lenoir into Grandin and eventually into Watauga County. However, human events and the flooding of the Yadkin River created problems. He chose instead to build his railroad from Wilkesboro.
This lumber venture of Grandin’s lasted a lot shorter than his Missouri venture. However, it did result in the creation of the town of Grandin in Caldwell County. A few people who relocated with Grandin remained after the lumber business failed and contributed to Caldwell County’s growth.
The town of Grandin had water lines and fire hydrants and some people had electricity from a generator. Thirty-two houses were completed or in the process of being completed. The town also had an official boarding house, a company store, a Baptist church, a company doctor, a brick kiln, a horse barn, a blacksmith shop and a small depot. At one time, approximately 50 people lived in Grandin. Today, all that remains are two mill buildings and the boarding house.
On May 3, 1913, the Watauga and Yadkin train made its first run. The railroad had a spur line up Elk Greek to near Darby. The name of the train reflects Grandin’s intention of extending the line on the Boone. The Grandin Lumber Co. had 66,000 acres of timber in Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties.
“One can only speculate what the future of Grandin Lumber Company and the town of Grandin might have been if the war in Europe had not broken out and the floods of 1916 and 1918 had not occurred,” Bumgarner said