Communities Heritage/History

WNCHA Presents: Logging Railroads of Champion Fibre Company November 23

WNCHA Champion Fibre Logging

Shay Locomotive Number 8. Courtesy of Western Carolina University, Hunter Library Digital Collections

The Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) invites you to join them via Zoom on Tuesday, November 23, at 6 p.m. for a virtual event featuring guest Gerald (Jerry) Ledford. Ledford will present the history of the narrow-gauge logging railroads of Champion Fibre Company and their effect on the WNC environment and the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).

“Gerald has extensively researched and retraced these narrow-gauge logging railroads,” says Trevor Freeman, WNCHA public programs director. “The remnants of their routes crisscross many of our cherished forests, and exploring their somewhat forgotten history gives us a better perspective on the balance between progress and conservation in our mountains.”

Gerald “Jerry” Ledford

In 1905, paper manufacturer Peter Gibson Thomson came to WNC in search of pulpwood and a suitable location for a mammoth pulp mill to provide pulp for his paper mill in Hamilton, Ohio. He also planned to build a large chestnut extract plant. This is the story of Thomson’s 420,000-acre timberlands and the railroads the Champion Fibre Company built to transport the wood to the pulp mill and extract plant in Canton.

The PowerPoint presentation includes historical photographs, track maps, information on several of Champion’s railroads that became hiking trails and the story of the settlement with Champion Fibre that was the key to the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Champion Fibre was the only logging company that had a professional forester to manage cutting and establish a nursery for replanting,” says Ledford. “And while Champion was initially antagonistic to the idea of the national park, they did settle on a price that allowed the Great Smokies to be established.”

Ledford has researched WNC logging railroads for more than 45 years. With Ron Sullivan, he is co-authoring a planned eight-volume book series of the history of logging railroads in WNC titled, If Rails Could Talk…. The first five volumes are currently in print.

Tickets are free for WNCHA members and $5 for the general public. A number of no-cost, community-funded tickets are also available. Those who are able are asked to consider making a donation along with their ticket purchase, in order to allow WNCHA to continue offering tickets at no cost to those who would not be able to attend programs otherwise. Registrants will receive a Zoom link with which to view the program. It will also be recorded and later available on WNCHistory.org. For questions, email Trevor Freeman at education@wnchistory.org.

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