Just Where is "Buford's Gap" ?

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Fri Feb 26 13:01:15 EST 2016

I first stumbled across the term "Buford's Gap" as a teeneager, burrowing
through all the history books in the Virginia Room of the Roanoke Library,
nearly sixty years ago. The books said the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad
crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains at Buford's Gap, but I could find no
further information on "Buford's Gap." With each successive stumbling over
that name, the desire to figure it out has become more intense.

Recently, Mr. Charlie Long sent me some coordinates for old iron ore pits
at Villamont, and the satellite imagery contained an identification mark
for the mysterious Buford's Gap at Lat 37.3936, Lon -79.7814, elevation
1242 feet. My long-smouldering curiosity was relit, and I headed for Google
Earth. (Don't worry, you will get a nice image showing all the following

One of the nice features of Google Earth's rendition of the satellite
imagery is a tool which enables the viewer to exaggerate the vertical scale
by 300%, which really makes the geography stand out. When I activated that
tool, Buford's Gap literally jumped off the screen at me. Here's what I

1. Very interestingly, the geospatial imaging programs place the Buford's
Gap marker right on the N&W main line, not on the roadway or hillside.

2. Blue Ridge Station sits about 8345 feet west of the coordinates listed
for Buford's Gap, at an elevation of 1269 feet, or about 47 feet higher
than the elevation given for Buford's Gap.

3. The highest point in the track is about 3100 feet east of Blue Ridge
depot and about 5245 feet west of Buford's Gap marker, and about 42 feet
higher in elevation than Blue Ridge depot, and about 69 feet higher than
the elevation given for Buford's Gap.

4. The elevations for the track are as follows:

Buford's Gap designated location - track elev 1242 ft, coordinates 37.3936
Highest location in track - track elev 1311 ft, 5245 ft west of Buford's
Gap designated location, coordinates 37.3847 -79.7951
Blue Ridge depot - track elev 1269 ft, 83456 ft west of Buford's Gap
designated location, coordinates 37.3778 -79.8012

5. And now comes the really dramatic part... With Google Earth's vertical
scale exaggerator ramped up to 300%, three towering peaks are obvious at
Buford's Gap, two on the north side of the track, and one on the south
side. (The attached image shows all this.) The two north peaks are 1690
feet and 2141 feet in elevation, and the south peak is 2340 feet in
elevation, or about 1098 feet higher than track level. The two peaks
nearest the track are separated by about 4100 feet. NOW the meaning of
Buford's "GAP" became obvious. Thanks to Google Earth, a question of almost
60 years' standing has been answered.

In the attached image, I have marked the N&W alignment with a blue line,
and have placed a red double-ended arrow between the two peaks which form
Buford's "Gap" and through which the railroad passes. The location and
elevations of Buford's Gap, Blue Ridge depot, and the highest point in the
track are also marked on the image.

CAVEAT: The elevation tool in Google Earth is not perfect, and GPS
coordinates sometimes differ by as much as 75 feet from program to program,
due to a number of complex factors.

HOMEWORK: To the Sage-of-All-Sages, Mr. Aytsch Bundy: This is in your own
backyard. So go find out who Buford was, where he lived and when, and who
first associated his name with this unique geographical feature. For extra
credit, find out if he has posterity still living in your 'hood, and go
conduct an oral history interview.


-- abram burnett
no-stone-left-unturned guy

Sent to You from my Telegraph Key
... better than AT&T 4G LTE


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