Due to the steep grade between Old Fort and Black Mountain, as well as the disruption of the Civil War, the railroad did not come to Swannanoa until the late 1870s. Constructing the railroad up the mountain was a feat of human engineering that took the lives of more than 100 of the approximately 500 convicts who worked in chain gangs to complete the line. Seven tunnels — the longest of which, Swannanoa Tunnel, is 1,822 feet long — and 70 miles of track later, “daylight entered Buncombe County” (as was telegraphed to Gov. Zebulon B. Vance upon completion of the tunnel). Finally, Swannanoa was connected by rail to the rest of North Carolina on March 11, 1879. With the coming of the railroad, businesses migrated to the rail centers. Railroad Street in downtown Swannanoa was the business hub for the town when the above photo was taken in 1933 (photo by Herbert W. Pelton).
To learn more about the history of the Swannanoa Tunnel, please click here.
Editor’s Note: With permission of the author, the above is excerpted in part from the book “Images of America, Swannanoa,” by Anne E. Chesky Smith. The book is available for purchase at the Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 West State Street, in Black Mountain. Cost is $22 ($20 for museum members).