Tracking the histories of Wenona’s trains

Published 9:51 pm Sunday, January 30, 2011

Contributing Writer

Wenona stands quiet today, save for the sound of distant cars driving by.
But years ago, the area was different.
Two powerful railroads, Norfolk Southern and New Holland railroads, were instrumental in the development of the area.
In 1888, the first engine, belonging to Norfolk Southern and fired by Sam Sawyer, ran from Mackeys to Belhaven.
Logs and other goods were transported by train from the Wenona-Belhaven area to Mackeys, where they were shipped out by water.
The New Holland Railroad ran from Wenona into Hyde County to service the project of draining Lake Mattamuskeet for agriculture.
Marvin Rose, a resident of Wenona, recalled when his father, Ernest Rose, was an agent for Norfolk Southern.
“We lived up in the company house. It is still there about a mile up from the church,” he said. “That is where the Hyde trains met the Norfolk Southern. They brought freight in and took freight back out.”
Rose described what the area looked like when he was younger.
“They told that Mattamuskeet Lake was a crater lake,” he explained. “In other words a crater had come in and just wiped out that dirt and piled it on the side of the Pamlico River. A crater lake meaning a piece of something had come off of something else.”
Rose described the differences in the two railroads.
“New Holland is where the train turned around and came back to Wenona,” he said. “It would stay in the morning and wait until the Norfolk Southern came from Mackeys.
“Freight would come that way from Norfolk to Mackeys, and then they would put it on the New Holland train. Actually, New Holland would pull the Norfolk Southern cars and pull more to be shipped out. That was on the other side of the Lake close to Engelhard.
“The Norfolk Southern went from Mackeys to Belhaven in a round-trip. It used to run two trips a day morning and noon. Then it would back to Belhaven and come back to Mackeys and meet back at the other train. That main connection made it direct from Norfolk to New Holland.”
The first development work on the land in Wenona was in February 1912. As the land varies from 18 to 30 feet above sea level, it was necessary to have means for better drainage. A drainage district comprising 10,000 acres was organized according to the state’s drainage law. The land was surveyed and canals marked off.
Denny and Anne Jackson also are residents of Wenona.
Denny Jackson said that the time when the railroads ran was a tough time for his wife’s parents, Nicholas and Lena Rosenthal, and for all immigrants. The Jacksons continue to live a half-mile from where New Holland train station used to be located.
“They cut down cypress trees with a cross-hand saw,” he said. “I don’t know how they did it, but they were glad to be free. Nicholas built a house, hog pens and a cattle barn that are gone now. Eventually, he had himself established. “
He also described some details of the New Holland Railroad.
“The road right beside our house didn’t get pavement on it until 1947,” he said. “That was the reason everyone had a Model T. Model Ts could just keep on going, anything else would just stop. The track that ran by was expensive to maintain because what was underneath was cypress’ rotten roots. Sometimes for months the stumps would be on fire from lightning. They couldn’t do anything except let it burn.”
Today, trains still run through other area communities, but Wenona stands quiet.