From the Sampson Independent, May 5, 1955
April 1, 1887 was perhaps the most memorable day in Clinton’s history, as on that day the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad established transportation to and from the outside world. Their name was changed to Atlantic Coast Line in 1900.
In was on this day that the first passenger train pulled out of Clinton for Warsaw to make connection with the world, from Clinton’s viewpoint. A few citizens of Clinton, desiring to ride on the first train out, boarded at the old tollhouse site on Lisbon Street. Everyone was in a jolly mood because of the fact that Clinton merchants could at last bring their goods in by train, instead of mules and wagons.
One sad note was sounded though, as Joe Nolly had on March 29, 1887, made his last haul from Warsaw, and Bill Russell had bought the last buggy load of mail to the Clinton post office by horse and buggy, the train now taking over all this transportation.
The engine was number “94”. The engineer was a Mr. Avant, the conductor was Captain Cutts, the fireman was named Deems, and the station agent was Henry B. Chesnutt, who had taken training from his uncle, David Morisey, at Warsaw. The railroad station there was located on the south end of town, near where NC 24 crosses the railroad.
This first train left Clinton at 6:30am and returned about 8pm, being delayed on the return trip because of being overloaded with eight carloads of fertilizer. On account of the heavy load, the train had difficulty in climbing the grade west of Turkey, along the Faison property. Little “94” had to back up three times and get fresh starts in order to pull over this steep grade. It required an extra cord of wood, $1.75 worth, in the firebox to pull these cars of fertilizer over the grade.
Ferdie Johnson, a passenger on this first train, has now brought back the memory of those days by erecting in his yard in Clinton one of the beautiful bells taken from one of the first engines to pull a train out of Clinton. Champ Davis, president of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and an old boyhood friend, presented this bell to Mr. Johnson.
Another interesting thing about this bell is that the fat lightwood post supporting it was furnished by Bob Allen Davis of Clinton, this being one of the supports of the original Daughtry Bridge which had been built over the Great Coharie near the Joe McPhail homeplace about 150 years ago.
Such interesting relics as this one are fast disappearing. We should not be so derelict in such matters; as such memories should be preserved for future generations to learn just how our forefathers handled their affairs.
On a later train trip, an old lady flagged the train and Captain Cutts, in his usual courtly manner, alighted and offered to assist the lady in boarding the train. She held back saying that she did not wish to go to Warsaw, but wanted to sell him a quart of huckleberries. Captain Cutts, being much irritated by this interruption in his schedule made the air blue for a few minutes. It was indeed a gala day for all of Sampson County as the first rail communication was established with the outside world.
Reprinted with permission of the Sampson Independent