James B. Duke planned the Piedmont and Northern (P&N) electric railway to assist in the industrialization of the Piedmont region of the Carolinas.
James B. Duke planned the Piedmont and Northern (P&N) electric railway to assist in the industrialization of the Piedmont region of the Carolinas. The line was envisioned as eventually connecting Greenwood, South Carolina, with Norfolk, Virginia. An initial twenty-four-mile line between Charlotte and Gastonia, North Carolina, and an eighty-nine-mile line between Spartanburg and Greenwood, South Carolina (connecting with Duke’s existing twelve-mile electric line between Belton and Anderson), were built between 1911 and 1914. World War I and the federal takeover of the nation’s railroads intervened, and it was 1924 before the P&N was ready to construct the fifty-one-mile line between Spartanburg and Gastonia. Although interurbans were exempt from the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), the Southern Railway successfully argued that the P&N, because of its extensive freight business, should be treated as a Class I railway and placed under ICC jurisdiction. The Southern management then successfully blocked any further construction by “that God-damned trolley line.”
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s “The Electric” or “The Poor and Needy,” as it was variously known to local citizens, carried workers to their jobs in the mills, shoppers to the larger cities, families on picnics and excursions, and freight to the mills, among other business activities. Passenger traffic peaked in 1921 and then began to decline. The last passenger train on the South Carolina section, consisting of car 2102 and the business car “Carolina,” ran from Greenwood to Spartanburg on October 31, 1951. These two cars were preserved in a museum in Greenwood.
Between 1950 and 1954 the P&N was converted to diesel power to avoid the expensive replacement of the forty-year-old electric system. Two electric engines were retained until 1958 to serve several Charlotte industries that could be reached only via a section of weak track in the center of Mint Street. One of these engines, the only surviving P&N electric engine, is in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Transport. In 1969 the P&N was acquired, over the protests of the Southern Railway, by the Seaboard Coast Line Railway (now part of CSX). Many of the Piedmont and Northern’s yellow-brick and red-tile-roofed stations, although used for other purposes, continued to be valued by their respective communities in the early twenty-first century.
Fetters, Thomas T., and Peter W. Swanson, Jr. Piedmont and Northern: The Great Electric System of the South. San Marino, Calif.: Golden West, 1974.