Saturday, January 21, 2006

More than you want to know

The History of another Murphy Branch

Some people think that there are parallel universes. I don’t happen to believe in that notion but I do find the below information, interesting in an odd way. Take it any way you want.

In 1892 Josiah Andrews sold stock certificates he found in an old wooden chest in the home of his recently departed uncle house.

Obidaiah Andrews was involved in the Civil War as a spy for the Confederacy. In such capacity he was stationed in Washington D.C. and in some furtive way was able to invest Confederate gold in Northern Railroads. This is all according to a journal found by Josiah and destroyed by same. The northern railroad stocks had appreciated and the existence of the gold apparently died with the fall of the Confederacy. Finding himself a wealthy man, Josiah bought a ticket on the Yancey and Adkins Railway, destination another universe.
The next historical mention of Josiah Andrews is in a 1993 newspaper article in the Johnson City Gazette:
March 13:
Mr. Josiah Andrews was recently questioned by the authorities concerning the disappearance of Holly Ball of our fair city. Mr. Andrews, President of the Andrews Branch Railroad, swore under oath that the last time he had seen Miss Ball was on the night of March 1st. Authorities now reveal that a Mr. Raphael Fakes of Charleston, North Carolina, stepped forward and offered information that Mr. Andrews was in his presence at the time of the meeting with Miss Ball and remained with Mr. Andrews until his departure on the evening train for Knoxville.
Authorities are still searching for Miss Ball suspecting that she may have been involved in fraudulently supporting a female associate in scamming visitors to their home. This associate is also missing.

This scant mention caught the interest of Harvey McCall who began researching historical records in 2001. Mr. McCall was interested in the two women but runnin into a dead end continued exploring information about Josiah Andrews. Following are the facts that Mr. McCall has gleaned from his research.
First one should be well aware and constantly reminded that though a great number of the place names and railroad listings seem to refer to another very similar railroad in Western North Carolina this is patently incorrect and purely coincidental.
In 1892 Mr. Josiah Andrews appears in Charleston, NC. At a public meeting he extols the beauty and wealth of the area and offers information that he is very knowledgeable in the design, construction, and operation railroads. A second keg of beer was opened and he gained support of the fifty residents in attendance to sHelp him eek a charter from the legislature for a railroad connecting their growing city with other cities. He proposed that those present contribute to his venture. Apparently, some did for a document permitting Mr. Andrews to issue stock in a railroad to be built from near Balsam to Turkey Buzzard Bottom (later to be know as Andrews) was been discovered.
Josiah began construction of his railroad and records also indicate a home near Turkey Buzzard Bottom. Work began in earnest at Balsam in 1893. The right of way was surveyed, grading complete and even a few lots were staked out for new buildings across the track from the site of the future depot. A large cut was begun to take the railroad toward the first crossing of the Tuckasegee River. Today if one compares this first crossing with pictures of the Cowee Tunnel on the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad (formerly the Murphy Branch of the Southern Railway) a question is raised, “Is this the real thing or decaying Memorex?”
Trackwork continued into Charleston and soon a modest railroad “yard” was built in the belief that this area would generate much freight and passenger traffic. This additional work convinced even more citizens that the railroad was their way to riches and they bought a great deal of stock just before the panic of 1894. Records hint that Mr. Andrews sold stock but the existing company records show some accounting irregularities and this cannot be confirmed.
Now for those familiar with the GSMR we know that the railroad enters Bryson City from Silva/Dillsboro after passing through Balsam. It crosses the river on the Governors Island Bridge and soon enters Bryson City.
Josiah built his railroad with a few changes due to apparent warps in the universe that necessitated turning things topsy-turvey. Sure enough after proceeding through Charleston the railroad approaches a location that for seconds might look like Governors’ Island. Amazing.
The railroad continues westward and now reaches a point where a road crosses it near the river. An old man was asked by a passenger on an early train what the name of the road crossing was. He didn’t know. He noticed the man scribbling in a little journal booklet and lied about the place name. He called the crossing after the family of his current sweet love- Bushnell. And so the crossing was called Bushnell Crossing and later simply Bushnell. In the early 1900’s a combination hotel and general store was built across the street from the depot. The structure is not a lot to look at but the beds are clean, the soft drinks in the water cooled dispenser are cold and still cost a nickel (2003)
The railroad surveyor looked ahead and realized that his path was doomed unless the railroad took radical steps to go over the mountain. And so it did. The railroad enters a short tunnel and on exiting begins a very long steep climb using many curves. The next point of small population is a place named by a drunk Indian, Nantahala. This word was later translated as “damned if I know or care” but the Indian’s name stuck.
The next obstacle faceing Josiah’s crew is a mountainside with soft soil. As a consequence they built a very large wooden trestle. The trestle was built not so much as an engineering feat but as a means of expediency. Time and money were running out for Josiah Andrews. The railroad desperately needed to produce some profit because the stockholders were beginning to discuss tarring and feathering Josiah and running him out of town on a rail that he owed money on.
The railroad finally made it to a point at the top of the grade. Josiah gave this point a name even though there wasn’t a building in sight. He called it Top Town. He instructed his crews to add the track work for a siding at this location, stake out a site for a depot and “make haste to get on down the mountain”. The boss is the boss and they complied, leaving in their wake “Top Town” which was indeed at the top of the grade but in no way a town. Local lore states that the first sign on the initial depot was painted by Arnold Gruberbush who thought he was correctly spelling the name. It is now apparent that spelling was not one of his strengths. He claims he spelled it that way to save paint because Mr. Andrews instructed him to do it that way. And so it became “Topton.”
A whistle hoot away is the town of Andrews. When the railroad reached the area, it passed near the half finished home of Josiah Andrews. They did not follow the optimal path into Turkey Buzzard Flats instead making a slight turn to be closer to a small saw mill complex. The railroad needed the traffic. The mill needed the railroad. The fact that Mr. Andrew was the controlling owner of the mill and vast acreages of timber either also helped in the decision process. The town grew later as Mr. Andrews sold building lots. There is some question as to when the town adopted he name Andrews instead of Turkey Buzzard Flats. When Josiah put the sign of his depot we know that it was Andrews.
By the year, 1895, Mr. Andrews was living in Andrews, and directing the further construction toward a small town, Knothere. This was another small town with promise. The fact that a friend of Mr. Andrews, Hiram Murphy controlled the local mines and timber interests probably explains the real reason for these addition expenditures.
Mr. Andrews oversaw the daily operation of the Andrews Branch building business and insuring that his timber company received more than fair rates since he was also the local railroad agent for Andrews. The railroad managed to show a small profit for several years and as long as the timber resources and small mines continue may to do so all though there is concern that most of the large timber is long gone and the mines are on the edge of bankruptcy.
In future years, Josiah would marry Annie Fakes who lived in Raw Dough near Topton.Annie was related to Slayden Fakes owner of the wholesale grocery in Charleston.
Mr. Andrews died, suddenly, at a corporate meeting when it was suggested that since the railroad now went to Murphy that it be renamed the “Murphy Branch.” Mr. Andrews is quoted as saying “Over my dead body.” He then grabbed his chest in pain and spoke no more. Mr. Andrews, his railroad and the other universe are now part of history.
Today the railroad still travels the same route that Mr. Andrews rode. Unlike the similar GSMR, portions of this Murphy Branch were never inundated by a federally mandated dam. In fact, this railroad still uses steam power and old rolling stock. You’d swear it runs in a land that time forgot. Maybe it does but it would make Mr. Andrews proud.