It was love at first site for most communities when the train rolled into town for the first time in the 1800’s setting off parties and celebrations. The people could not have known then, but the start of the modern era for Iredell County began on October 1st, 1858 when the Western North Carolina Railroad reached Statesville from Salisbury.
The Iredell County Public Library continued its Adult Programming series Sunday with a program on the history of the railroads in Iredell County. The program held in the libraries auditorium was well attended by local train enthusiast who came to listen and share their railroad knowledge and memories.
Visiting were author Matthew Bumgarner and Local Historian Mac Lackey who discussed the June Bug Railroad line and the Bostian Train wreck that occurred outside of Statesville.
Hickory native Matthew Bumgarner is a publisher and author who has written several books on railroads including “The Legacy of the Carolina and North-Western Railroad,” “Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad,” “Watauga and Yadkin River Railroad” and “The June Bug Line.”
He shared how his love for trains first began with the Jun Bug Line. The “June Bug” was given birth in the N.C. State Legislature when Senator Romulus Linney of Taylorsville introduced a bill to establish a Statesville and Western railroad.
In a speech to the legislature on February 22, 1883 Mr. Linney spoke of the virtues of Alexander County and described the natural beauty of the area.
At one point in his speech he described a green gem that had been discovered there by the name of Hiddenite and claimed it was so valuable that a “junebug” could fly away with a thousand dollars worth on its wing.
Immediately Mr. C.B. Watson of Forsyth County who opposed the bill began referring to the purposed train as the “June Bug Railroad.” Instead of being angry about the nickname local people took it in good humor and by the time the line was completed and made its first run on Nov. 1, 1887 it was affectionately known as the “June Bug Line.”
In 1894 the Southern Railroad took over the Statesville and Western, but in the 1930’s automobiles made the passenger runs unprofitable. By the 1940’s the Southern had decided to abandon the line and tear up the tracks.
Lawrence A. Zachary a traveling salesman for a Chicago publishing company and seven other local citizens formed the Alexander Railroad Company and rose over $100,000 to purchase the “June Bug Line” from Southern. In 1945 they purchased the railroad for $50,350 and used the remaining money to buy a diesel engine and finance operations.
The “June Bug” still operates today at a profit and is used as a common carrier of carload freight between Taylorsville and Statesville. The locomotive is green and gold and it averages 10 miles an hour as it makes its 18.5 mile run from Taylorsville to Statesville.
Local Historian Mac Lackey painted a vivid picture of what it was like on August 27, 1891 when the Bostian Train wreck occurred outside of Statesville killing 22 people and injuring 30 others. It was one of the worst railroad accidents in North Carolina’s history.
The wreck occurred at 2:30 am when the train jumped the track and fell 60 feet into the creek below. At first no sound could be heard other than the steam still escaping the engine. Finally the surviving passengers began to climb out of the wreckage and make their way to town to seek help and warn other trains of the damaged track.
The entire town of Statesville poured out to help the victims traveling out of town by horse, wagon, and on foot. There was no hospital here then and the injured were taken to various homes, hotels, and churches in the area. Some of the bodies of the dead were never identified and were buried in the Fourth Creek Cemetery.
Mr. Lackey related several of the tragic tales that came out of the accident such as the daughter who held her trapped mother’s head out of the water until the river which had been dammed up by the fallen railroad cars rose and drowned her.
Then there was the story of the newlywed couple who were badly injured and separated after the wreck each thinking the other was dead until they were reunited some months later.
The story of the wreck continued when many years later the train wreck was reported to have been seen as a ghost train reliving that night’s fatal accident.
Next month on September 26th, at 3:00 pm the program series will continue when historian and Civil War reenactor Skip Smith will speak on the N.C. 26th regiment and its heroic efforts at Gettysburg.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Local authors share history of railroads in western N.C.” on Aug. 25, 2004