Building the Community Connector
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Are you a history buff ? A student in need of a topic? A local that just wants to know more? Well here's a quick history from the railroads beginning in 1887
1887 — The railroad corridor is chartered before the Civil War as the Wilmington, Charlotte & Rutherford Railroad (completed to Rutherfordton in 1887). The Charleston, Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad also begins construction (connects Rutherfordton to Marion in 1892).
1894 — Railways consolidate into Southern Railway, which later merges with Norfolk and Western Railway in 1982 to become Norfolk Southern Railway.
1889 — Rutherford County and the NCDOT pay $100,000 to purchase this stretch of short line railroad extending from Gilkey to Alexander Mills (now Forest City).
1990 — The rail corridor is deeded to Rutherford Rail Development Corporation (RRDC), a non-profit local business group that uses the railroad. Southern Shortlines (DBA Thermal Belt Railways) is later contracted to manage railroad operations.
1998 — Rutherford County passes a resolution supporting the preservation of rail corridors within the county.
2001 — A 7.87-mile section of the short line is rail banked to Surface Transportation Board. This preserves the corridor for future railroad use by graveling over existing rails and ties, creating a trail from Oak Springs Road in Gilkey to Oakland Road in Spindale. A one-mile stretch of Norfolk Southern line in Alexander Mills also opens. Rutherford Railroad Development Corporation receives the right to operate the trail and is regulated via county ordinance.
2008 — The county agrees to contract with Bechtler Development Corporation to manage the Thermal Belt Rail Trail.
2013 — Rutherford Outdoor Coalition and RHI Legacy Foundation raise funds for a compacted stone base, while Rutherford Regional Auxiliary funds paving, from Whitesides Road to Hwy 64. RTP Grant with local match provided by Stonecutter Foundation paves 1.8 miles from Spindale Street to Whitesides Road.
2015 — Forest City enters a 99-year lease agreement with RRDC along with making a one-time payment of $250,000 to Thermal Belt Railways for its corridor management rights.
2016 — As Trail Partners, Ruth, Spindale, Rutherfordton and Rutherford County, through Forest City, submit a grant proposal to RHI Legacy Foundation for the common design of the full 13.58-mile trail system.
2017 — RHI Legacy Foundation grants $4.25 million to construct and develop the trail. The Trail Partners approve an interlock agreement and master plan for the Thermal Belt Rail Trail.
2018 — With a grant from RHI Legacy Foundation, construction work begins on the 12-foot asphalt trail/greenway from Oak Springs Road at Gilkey Lumber to Forrest W. Hunt Elementary School in Forest City.
2019 — The RHI Legacy Foundation grants an additional $750,000 to Forest City for bridge improvements on Hwy 74 and CSX Railroad. The fully paved 12-foot wide trail officially opens, spanning 13.58 miles and connecting rural Rutherford County with Ruth, Spindale, Rutherfordton and Forest City.