The History of the James River Railway and Riverboat Company

The Royal Route



            The James River Railway and Riverboat Company started with chartering of the James River Logging Railroad in 1836.  The railroad was owned and operated by The Royal Timber Corporation to haul timber from the surrounding forests.  The original charter called for the railroad to start at City Point and follow the Appomattox River down to Petersburg, cross the Appomattox River west of Petersburg, and finally terminate somewhere in the forest.  Royal Timber Corp. founded several company towns and numerous camp towns for its saw mill workers, lumber jacks, and railroad employees.  Hope's Well was a company town for the mill and its workers.  Ridgeland was founded as a large company town for the lumber jacks.  Highland Colony was founded as the James River Logging Railroad's center of operations.  It contained a small yard where the log cars would be made into trains and sent to the mill or broken up and sent to various logging sites.  Highland Colony also contained a locomotive terminal where the locomotives could be serviced.  All construction (railroad, saw mill, and towns) was started in 1837 and was completed at various times over the next year.  Late in 1838 the James River Logging Railroad actually began daily operations that connected these towns, logging operations and the Mills.


            In 1840, the Royal Timber Corporation landed its first big client.  North Pointe Shipbuilding set up shop right next door in City Pointe.  Before North Pointe even opened its dry dock, Royal Timber Corp. ordered three car ferries: and named them Virginia, Appomattox, and the James River These car ferries were a part of an expansion for the railroads logging operations.  Their port was on the Appomattox River, from which the town of Murrey grew to support the workers and the businesses that were needed for the Ferry operations.


            In 1858 the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad began operations.  Since the N&PRR was a standard gauge railroad, the only interchange between the two railroads was via a transfer dock in Petersburg. Interchange between these two railroads was a rare occurrence. 


            Also later in 1858 the railroad was extended again to the mine at Winterpock and the James River Logging Railroad started hauling coal.  A coal cleaning station was built in Petersburg. At the cleaning station the coal was also separated by size.  Most of the coal was then sent to Norfolk.  That same year a small town developed to support the mine and its employees and was named Camp Winterpock.


            1880 was a very big year for the James River Logging Railroad.  On January 1 of that year the officials of Royal Timber Corporation announced:


The James River Logging Railroad has been sold to a private group of investors.  Effective immediately all rights and ownership of the railroad is transferred to the investors and the line becomes a common carrier named the James River Railway and Riverboat Company.



That same year the line also started providing scheduled passenger service for the cities along its route. A local reporter in Petersburg found the idea of a logging railroad with a public passenger service to be quite humorous and dubbed new line the “Royal Route”, mostly because at the time the only passenger cars the railroad had were the old private cars of the ex-owners that had the name Royal on both sides in large letters.  The new owners liked the phrase.  They sent the reporter a check for fifty cents to buy the rights to the title, he accepted.  Later the reporter found that the joke was on him when he received a bill for using the title without permission.   A new car shop was added in Highland Colony so the railroad could build any new rolling stock it need.  Later the car shop was sold to a private company and the new owners built cars for railroads all over the US.


            From 1882 to 1887 three new narrow gauge railroads were founded in the area and interchange between all of them was via car ferry. 


In 1885 Virginia Steel Company founded the company town of Bessemer for their new steel facility outside of Petersburg.  


 In 1890 the Winterpock mine and branch line were sold and became Winterpock Mining & Rail Road (WM&RR).  The two railroads still maintained interchange traffic.  The camp train track in now used as locomotive servicing track for refueling and light repairs for the WM&RR  


In 1899 the railroad added a telephone system for traffic control.


From 1900 until the present (1914) James River Railway and Riverboat Company has continued to grow and is supplying coal, lumber and passenger services to the many small towns down the Appomattox River to Port Elizabeth and sending the materials beyond the port by its Riverboat car ferries.