Did you know the most profitable railroad in the world from 1831-1850 was right here in Manchester? It was the first railroad in Virginia, and the second in the Unites States. It was built to connect the first coal mines in the Unites States located in Midlothian, to the docks of Manchester. That’s an awful lot of firsts there, don’t you think?
The Chesterfield Railroad connected the wildly successful coal mines discovered in Midlothian to the docks of Manchester where the coal was transported to various markets. Originally the Midlothian Turnpike was first constructed in order to haul coal. It was built with split logs called corduroy road. However, that was very slow and difficult to maintain. So a railroad was built instead.
From Wikipedia: By September, 1831, the railroad was operational, using horses, mules and gravity as motive power. One hundred and sixty cars were put into operation, and it was an instant financial success.
In 1836, the Chesterfield Railroad Company reported carrying 25,903 cars, 84,976 tons (77,089 tonnes) of coal. It received gross revenues of $83,409. This equaled 19% of stockholders’ original investment repaid plus 6% dividend. It was reputed to be the most profitable railroad in the world at the time.
In 1840, one of the mining companies reported that 300,000 bushels of coal were extracted from the 777-foot (237 m)-deep Pump Shaft alone, one of the more active mines, using the labor of approximately 150 men and 25 mules. It is believed that most of this coal was shipped out by the Chesterfield Railroad.
By 1844, the Chesterfield Railroad had repaid the stockholders’ entire original investment and consequently came under regulation of Virginia Board of Public Works, which adjusted charges to fix a dividend return of 6%. The rate for carrying coal reduced from 6¢ per bushel to 3¢.
Today you can visit the old Coal Mines at the Mid-Lothian Mines Park. The park is located at 13301 N Woolridge Rd Midlothian, VA 23114.