If you believe the map, the Cape Fear & Yadkin Rail Road was the first railroad completed within the state of North Carolina.
The map was wrong.
“North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia“ was first published in several 1835 atlases, the best known of which is Thomas G. Bradford’s A Comprehensive Atlas Geographical, Historical, and Commercial. The map shows an early network of proposed and chartered railroads crisscrossing the state. Only one railroad is depicted as “Finished”, that being a segment of the Cape Fear & Yadkin Rail Road running from Wilmington to the Cape Fear River near Fayetteville. Northwest of Fayetteville towards Rowan County, the CF&YRR is shown as proposed on this map.
Bradford’s map suggests that the Cape Fear & Yadkin Rail Road was the first of its kind in operation in North Carolina. That was not the case. In James C. Burke’s North Carolina’s First Railroads, a Study in Historical Geography (2008), we learn that the Cape Fear & Yadkin Rail Road was “incorporated during the 1831-32 Session of the General Assembly”, and the books open for subscription in May of 1832. Just one year later, news of the demise of this proposed railroad was published in a Wilmington newspaper, and subscribers were informed that their money would be returned. I suppose one could say it was “Finished” before it ever got started! In 1838, Bradford published another atlas with slightly larger maps. The North Carolina map in that atlas shows only the Wilmington & Weldon and Raleigh & Gaston railroads, the former completed on March 7, 1840, and the latter completed one month later.
As for a Cape Fear & Yadkin railroad, one was eventually completed… more than fifty years after the original incorporation, and under the slightly different name of Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad. A detailed contemporary account of that railroad is available on line: The Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway : (from Mt. Airy, at the base of the Blue Ridge, to Wilmington, N.C.) : its origin, construction, connections, and extensions
For those of you who use maps for genealogical or other historical research, this is another excellent example of how maps don’t always reflect reality. For those of you who would like to read more about North Carolina’s railroad history, J.D. Lewis provides extensive coverage on his Carolana web site. There is also a multipart entry in the online version of the North Carolina Encyclopedia.
If you prefer to hold a book in your hand while learning about North Carolina railroads, try some of the following:
Railroading in the Carolina Sandhills ; the 19th century (1825-1900), by S. David Carriker (1985)
Crossties through Carolina; the story of North Carolina’s early day railroads, by John F. Gilbert and Grady Jefferys (1969)
The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1871, and the modernization of North Carolina, by Allen W. Trelease (1991)
North Carolina Railroads, by S. David Carriker (1989)