In 1881, Frederick J. Kimball chose Roanoke (then named Big
Lick) as the spot where his north-south Shenandoah Valley Railroad would cross
the east-west line of the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio. The two railroads
were combined to form the basis of the Norfolk and Western.
The Norfolk and Western Railway was really the product of more than 200 railroad mergers spanning a century and a half. Beginning in 1838 with a nine-mile line from Petersburg, Va., to City Point, Va., NW grew to a system serving 14 states and a province of Canada on more than 7,000 miles of road.
William Mahone, a Virginia Military Institute engineering graduate, built the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and eventually became its president in the pre-Civil War era. Mahone's innovative roadbed through the Great Dismal Swamp near Norfolk, Va., employs a log foundation laid at right angles beneath the surface of the swamp. Still in use today, it withstands immense tonnages of coal traffic - today's freight on a brilliantly engineered 19th century track.
After the war, Mahone was the driving force in the linkage of N&P, Southside Railroad and the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, a new line extending from Norfolk to Bristol, Va. When this company entered receivership, Mahone's role as a railroad builder ended. In 1881, E.W. Clark and Co., a private banking firm in Philadelphia, purchased the AM&O and renamed it Norfolk and Western Railroad.
Frederick J. Kimball, a partner in the Clark firm, headed the new line and consolidated it with the Shenandoah Valley Railroad. He and his board of directors selected a small Virginia village called Big Lick, later renamed Roanoke, as the junction for the Shenandoah and NW. The Roanoke Shops, where decades later the famed classes A, J and Y6 locomotives would be designed, built and maintained, made NW known industrywide for its excellence in steam power.
Kimball, whose interest in geology was responsible for the opening of the Pocahontas coalfields in western Virginia and West Virginia, pushed NW lines through the wilds of West Virginia, north to Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, and south to Durham and Winston-Salem, N.C. This gave the railroad the route structure it was to use for more than 60 years. The opening of the coalfields made NW prosperous and Pocahontas coal world-famous. It fueled half the world's navies and today stokes steel mills and power plants all over the globe.
Norfolk and Western operated profitably through World War I and II and paid regular dividends throughout the Depression.
Kimball, West Virginia is names after Frederick J. Kimball.