Roanoke Belt Line Right-of-Way Question

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Tue Nov 5 18:32:32 EST 2019

Here are some bits and pieces of the Rorer narrow gauge railroad/Roanoke 
& Southern/Roanoke Belt Line chronology puzzle that I have run across.  
They may raise more questions than they explain.

The Rorer narrow gauge was under contract for completion May 1883 (The 
Virginias, A Mining, Industral & Scientific Journal .... January 1883, p. 6)

A USGS 1891 topo map, Reprinted 1945, titled "Bedford Va" shows a 
railroad from the "Rorer Mines" (obviously the narrow gauge) crossing 
another railroad marked, "Winston-Salem Div., Norfolk and Western R. 
R.," on Colonial Heights where generally agreed upon by current 
researchers and then again crossing over another railroad (obviously the 
Roanoke Belt line) just west of the mouth of Murray Run after which the 
narrow gauge runs alongside the Belt Line and the Roanoke River until 
diverging into present-day Wasena Park (original Rorer washer location) 
and then on to the ore transfer station on the south side of the N&W 
yard.  This is reinforced by a copy of a portion of an undated, 
unidentified different map which also shows the same relationship of the 
narrow gauge, the Winston-Salem line and the Belt Line.

But, the R & S did not begin service into Roanoke until March 1892 
(Lambie, p. 144), even though it is shown on the 1891 topo map and 
identified as N & W RR. Also, until 1904, as shown in N&W Annual 
Reports, the Roanoke Belt line extended only 1.59 miles eastward from 
the vicinity of the present-day Roadway Material Yard, placing its east 
end far short of present-day Wasena Park.  In 1904 in order to reduce 
routing options to the Tidewater RR through Roanoke, the N&W extended 
the Belt Line another 2.34 miles to a connection with the Winston-Salem 
District of the N&W (Lambie, p. 270 and N&W Annual Report 1904).

So, the 1891 topo map and the unidentified map both show the narrow 
gauge in the vicinity of the the Belt Line even though the latter was 
not built until 1904.  Is it not true that we can believe everything on 
a map just as we can believe everything on the internet?

Maybe the best answer about whether the narrow gauge was still in the 
vicinity of the 1904 Belt Line is provided by available Shenandoah 
Division Employee Timetables in the NWHS Archives.  Examination of ETTs 
No. 4, 12/5/1897 thru No. 1, 12/3/1905 revealed no grade crossing of the 
narrow gauge with the Winston-Salem line during that time span.  So, the 
narrow gauge could not have been operating in the vicinity of the 1904 
Belt Line as shown on the maps.

Gordon Hamilton

On 10/28/2019 11:13 AM, NW Mailing List wrote:
> Stephen,
> Great information here. Thanks.
> Just to add a little to the mix . . . you said “There is no 
> explanation of what the N&W would provide later, in terms of a branch 
> line to get the ore to market from the Tanglewood Mall area. BUT, I'm 
> assuming this period of 1889-91 is when we're seeing a plan come 
> together to move the washers out of Wasena, freeing up the Belt Line 
> section, and creating a new ore washer and transfer station over at 
> the Red Palace Restaurant at Tanglewood Mall.”
> There would have probably been no need for an R&S/N&W “branch line to 
> get the ore to market from the Tanglewood Mall area” because the 
> Roanoke & Southern Ry. reached Roanoke in early 1892. I assume the 
> Rorer NG would have then considered moving their washing operation 
> from Wasena to Tanglewood and abandoning much of their R/W after that 
> time including the portion btwn Murray Run and Wasena needed for 
> construction of the the Loop Line. Due to the limited width of that 
> portion of right-of way I rather doubt that both roads were ever 
> located there at the same time. It would be interesting to know when 
> construction of the Belt (or Loop) Line was begun/completed on the 
> south side of the Roanoke River.
> John Garner
> *From:*NW Mailing List [mailto:nw-mailing-list at]
> *Sent:* Saturday, October 26, 2019 3:08 PM
> *To:* NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>
> *Subject:* Re: Roanoke Belt Line Right-of-Way Question
> Capt. Abram, et al -
> You've covered a lot of ground here, literally and figuratively. I 
> like your assessments of where the Rorer line made its way from point 
> A to point B. Here are a couple of thoughts, since I drive that 
> stretch of Colonial Avenue every day:
> - Your straight line proposal is subject to terrain, as you were 
> 'inclined' to say. I can confirm there are definitely a few elevation 
> issues that keep the Rorer line moving along the flat of Colonial 
> Avenue, just past Persinger Road. However, the residential section 
> beyond that consists of a single row of houses (from Persinger to 
> Towers Mall) - behind which you can still see a natural swale that was 
> probably the NG roadbed leading down towards Brandon Avenue. That 
> trajectory runs past the back of a more recent construction of storage 
> units (called Kustom Film & Tint on Google maps, approximately across 
> from Broadway). This trajectory picks up at the short street called 
> "Brandon Lane" and dumps out directly across from Wheeler Laundry on 
> Brandon Avenue. Murray Run is behind that.
> - The Alms House shown on the Winston Salem Division section map is 
> the VERY same two-story brick building that you described as the 
> Thomas Center for Advanced Studies. By the way, that building was 
> reported to be very haunted up until the mid 1980s, when some expert 
> went ahead and "freed" the ghosts who were holed up in that building. 
> True Urban Myth in these parts...
> - At the GOB-East archives session this morning, Mssers Harper, Shaw, 
> and myself were busy unearthing new information about the Belt Line, 
> Roanoke and Southern, and the Rorer NG line. Several items seem to 
> point out that the N&W was trying to build a belt line, at first 
> called the "Loop Line," as early as the late 1880s, and its 
> configuration changed from an interior line to the north of the River, 
> to an exterior line that was positioned in its final location to the 
> south side of the river.
> - Joe, who has much more brain plasticity due to his youth, was quick 
> to retrieve about seven different drawings which showed references to 
> both the Belt Line and the Rorer NG, including the washers in Wasena 
> Park. He also located a Nov., 1890 drawing (attached here) which shows 
> how the N&W obtained property from the Lowman and Howbert families 
> along the Roanoke River near Murray's run. I suspect it was only a 
> planning map, not a final version of what really happened. It showed 
> how the NG and standard gauge tracks would have to cross each other 
> twice. I'm starting to believe this "diamond" which would be necessary 
> for the NG to cross the N&W never actually came to pass.
> - Another document, found mysteriously by master sleuth Harper (aka 
> "Bruce out of Blacksburg") showed a formal transcription of the deed 
> conveyed in May, 1890 by the Consolidated Mining Company (*successor 
> to Rorer Iron) to the N&W. It discusses a lot of NG track properties 
> on the County end. There is no explanation of what the N&W would 
> provide later, in terms of a branch line to get the ore to market from 
> the Tanglewood Mall area. BUT, I'm assuming this period of 1889-91 is 
> when we're seeing a plan come together to move the washers out of 
> Wasena, freeing up the Belt Line section, and creating a new ore 
> washer and transfer station over at the Red Palace Restaurant at 
> Tanglewood Mall.
> - What stands out to me is a comment on the Section Map I shared 
> yesterday. Just below the Alms House it describes a commitment to add, 
> per Roanoke City Council, a siding that will hold no less than four 
> cars and to be opened as a flag station. Joe and I debated today 
> whether that was to serve as the actual point of connection for the 
> Consolidated Mining Co's track leading back over to the Chinese 
> Restaurant. Methinks that's a topic for another day.
> Stephen Warren, Roanoke
> DSC_4693.jpg
> On Fri, Oct 25, 2019 at 1:15 PM NW Mailing List 
> <nw-mailing-list at <mailto:nw-mailing-list at>> wrote:
>     Cardinal Warren's drawing, posted yesterday and showing the Rorer
>     R/W crossing the Roanoke & Southern about 100 feet south of MP 8,
>     hath ye done sent me to the satellite imagery in the Google Earth
>     program.
>     The goals were:  (1)  Find the spot where Rorer R/W crossed R&S
>     R/W, and (2) to project a line from that point to Murray Run.
>     A PDF is attached, showing four satellite images with some notes
>     added.
>     I had the standard, usual and customary problems:  (1) MP 8 could
>     not be seen in the satellite imagery. So, (2) I had to locate MP 8
>     by measuring from the track chart mileages for O.H. bridges, which
>     are generally expressed to 2 decimal places;  but when O.H.
>     bridges are over 100 feet wide, who knows whether the track chart
>     dude measured from the exact center lines of the bridges?  So
>     right off the bat, you have a potential error of 50 feet.
>     The Virginia Division track Chart indicates that MP 8 is 0.67
>     miles south of the Wonju St OH Bridge, and 0.29 miles south of the
>     Rt581/Rt220 OH Bridge.  I began my question for MP 8 from these
>     two points.
>     Fortunately, the mile between MP 7 and MP 8 is indicated as a
>     5,280 foot mile (many are not so, you know.)  So, to find MP 8, I
>     measured 3538 feet southward from the center line of Wonju St OH
>     Bridge, and 1531 feet southward from the centerline of the Rt 220
>     OH Bridge.
>     Those two measurements for finding MP 8 yielded results differing
>     by 210 feet.  To each of these two measurements I added the 100
>     feet, and marked the two points with yellow push pins reading
>     *Wonju + 100 ft* and *Rt581 + 100 ft.*  Those two push pins should
>     bracket the area where Mr. Rorer crossed the Roanoke & Southern. 
>     Sheet 1 of the PDF shows these two push pins and identifications
>     identifications.
>     An on-ground reference is the angled corner of the parking lot
>     located about 865 feet north of the Thomas Center Building of
>     Virginia Western College.
>     Sheets 2, 3 and 4 of the PDF show a heavy blue line projected onto
>     the satellite imagery, from the assumed Rorer/R&S crossing near MP
>     8 down to Murray Run.  The distance referenced by this line is
>     0.97 miles long.  The elevation at Murray Run is approximately 930
>     feet; at R&S MP 8, the elevation is approximately 1014 feet; the
>     disparity between the two elevations is approximately 84 feet.  On
>     Sheet 4, the view looks southward from Murray Run, up the small
>     declivity now occupied by Brandon Lane, towards Colonial Avenue
>     and R&S MP 8.
>     If Mr. Rorer's engineers had the luxury of locating their railroad
>     on a perfectly straight alignment from MP 8 down to Murray Run,
>     their alignment would have crossed Colonial Avenue at an acute
>     angle, approximately 170 feet west that Avenue's present
>     intersection with Persinger Road.  Unfortunately, that area is one
>     I never explored as a kid, because I had no inkling the narrow
>     gauge had run that way.
>     In these images, the vertical disparity exaggeration is ramped up
>     to its maximum, for the purposes of making the hills and valleys
>     more apparent.
>     No carping, please, about where the end of the blue line ended at
>     Murray Run.  Google Earth is not a precision draughting program,
>     and I did the best I could with the tools available.
>     Decades upon decades ago, Bob McNeill, a 1926 Punkin Vine
>     Conductor who had earlier been a Fireman on the Danville &
>     Western, showed me the spot where the Rorer railroad had crossed
>     Rt. 220, in the vicinity of present Tanglehead Mall.  I looked at
>     the Google Street Views and cannot identify the location, because
>     everything has changed and the area no longer looks even remotely
>     like I remember it.  So we shall send out Detective Bundy and Gum
>     Shoe Blackstock, led by the capable Police Chief Warren, to bring
>     back the goods...  Y'all git busy, Boys !
>     -- abram burnett,
>     Ancient Order of the Mystic Turnip
>     ===========================================
>                       Sent to You from my Telegraph Key
>     Successor to the MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH LINE of 1844
>     ===========================================
>         ---------- Original Message ----------
>         From: "Abram Burnett (КѢРѢЛЛОСЛАВЪ БЕРИНОВЪ)"
>         <pravoslavna at <mailto:pravoslavna at>>
>         To: N&W Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at
>         <mailto:nw-mailing-list at>>
>         Date: October 25, 2019 at 9:28 AM
>         Subject: Re: Roanoke Belt Line Right-of-Way Question
>         Warren-Garner-Rorer & Associates, LLC :
>         Thank you, Stefanos, for posting that drawing of the Rorer &
>         Pacific N.G. crossing the Roanoke & Southern.
>         I grew up not far from that area.  From the time my father
>         told me of having looked for the ore pits on Yellow Mountain
>         in his own youth in the 1920s and 19e0s, the Rorer fascinated
>         me.  I looked for it never found a trace.
>         The spot where the Tanglefoot [sic] Mall now sprawls was, in
>         my childhood, an absolutely beautiful field, level as a table
>         top and covered with scruff grasses about a foot tall.  There
>         was one pine tree about six feet tall growing near the
>         middle.  I never saw the field under cultivation, but for some
>         reason it did not revert to heavy vegetation and tree and
>         brush cover.  In the northeast corner of the field,
>         approximately in the spot now occupied by the Chinese
>         restaurant, was a small, unpainted, dilapidated cabin.  Of
>         course, the level where the Tanglehead Mall now sits has been
>         raised  by twenty or more feet from its original elevation. 
>         When viewed from the track, this field was the single most
>         idyllically peaceful scenic memory of my childhood.
>         Later I worked two years in train service on the Punkin' Vine,
>         and every time I passed that area, looking for the Rorer was
>         on my mind.  An old-head Conductor, Casey O. Young, a 1926
>         hire, showed me the spot where the Rorer had been located,
>         based on information furnished by men of the generation before
>         him.  But I could never see anything there, and I never dreamt
>         that the Rorer had crossed the R&S alignment, from east to west.
>         So your drawing, fixing the crossing of rights-of-way about a
>         hundred feet south of MP 8, is a delight to me, a delight of
>         the first order.  Thank You !
>         Also quite heuristic was the information you posted yesterday
>         that the Rorer's route to Murray Run was WEST of the Tower's
>         Shopping Center.  I have been up and down Brandon Road
>         thousands of times (60+ years ago,) many of those times on
>         foot,  and the possibility that I was crossing the Rorer
>         R-of-W never entered my mind.  I watched the Towers mall being
>         built.  The first fast-food *burger joint* I ever saw, and
>         possibly the first one in Roanoke, was located on Brandon
>         Road, at the foot of the hill below the Towers, on the spot
>         now occupied by the Kroger gas station; if memory serves, the
>         burgers cost twenty cents.  One day I walked over from my
>         newspaper route, purchased a burger, and quickly developed a
>         dislike for greasy fast food.
>         The small road now identified as *Brandon Lane* was then a
>         dirt road and may have yielded some traces of the Rorer Fast
>         Line, had I looked.
>         Back in the 1960s, I also searched for any indications of the
>         Rorer west of Wasena, along Ferdinand Avenue, through the West
>         End section of Roanoke, and looping back eastward to its
>         connection with the N&W around 12th Street.  Findings?  Nil.
>         My thanks to all for these posts on the Rorer.
>         Raymond Barnes, History of Roanoke, 1968, indicates that
>         Ferdinand Rorer, after his financial ruination, left Roanoke
>         and "was never heard from again" (or words to that effect.) 
>         Hopefully, in the future, something will be found of old
>         Ferd's subsequent life and ventures.  (I worked alongside
>         Raymond Barnes, Esq., in the microfilm room of the Roanoke
>         Library, in the early 1960s, when he was doing the research
>         for that book. Boy, was he a piece of work !!! )
>         Keep up the good research on Rorer.  If anyone deigns to
>         re-incarnate Rorer's Narrow Gauge Railroad, I shall assist by
>         purchasing a few shares of stock. And if you decide to operate
>         the railroad by the Telegraph, I am your guy.
>         -- abramo burnardo
>         i # Turnips, ver. 2.0
>         ===========================================
>                           Sent to You from my Telegraph Key
>         Successor to the MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH LINE of 1844
>         ===========================================
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