Trains and the Transformation of WNC

This Thursday, November 9 5:30pm
33 Meadow Road, Asheville MAP

Hear this informative, moving  and entertaining presentation about the challenges of building railroads into these mountains, and the revolutionary changes that resulted after the first train arrived in Asheville October, 1880.

The heartbreak and heroism of constructing rail lines up the Blue Ridge escarpment involved convict labor building loops, tracks on shelves along rivers and the famous Saluda Grade, the steepest standard gauge railroad  in the United States.   Learn details of the dramatic growth of timber, mining and tourism as mountainsides gave way to lumber barons and landscapes scarred by miners prospecting for iron ore, feldspar,  mica, zircon , marble, copper and other minerals.   At the same time Railroads took the title of Christian Reid’s novel,  The Land of the Sky, to promote summer visitors to the region. Tourism burgeoned as businesses and communities grew along the right of way making Black Mountain, Hot Springs, Hendersonville and Waynesville new destinations.

The historical impact is given with a glimpse into current efforts by the WNC Rail Committee’s current effort to improve and expand service to the region, including restoration of passenger rail service to Asheville.


Ray Rapp retired in 2009 as Dean of Adult and Graduate studies at Mars Hill University and is presently a consultant to the university  President.  He is married to Dorothy Rapp, a retired school counselor at Asheville High. They have two children: Jennifer Rapp Shelton, Principal at Fletcher Elementary and Aaron Frost Rapp, PhD student in theoretical math at UNC-Greensboro.  Ray  served 5 terms in the NC House education appropriations committees and select committees on improving and expanding rail service in NC. He is co chair of the Western North Carolina Rail Corridor Committee.  In 2015 he curated the exhibition at Mars Hill University Rural Heritage Museum:  “How the West Was Won”.  This exhibition traveled to Saluda and Marion and will be featured at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer for 12 months. Ray lectures extensively on regional rail history to civic groups and in 2016 to the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in Shepherdstown, West Va.  He developed week long learning adventures for Elder Hostel ( now Roads Scholars) and the NC Center for Advancement of Teaching entitled “Whistle Stops in Western North Carolina”.


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