History of Virginia | gilded age

Gilded Age

Railroad and industrial growth

The Triple Crossing in Richmond, finished in 1901, was the intersection of (from top to bottom) the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, the Seaboard Air Line, and the Southern Railway

In addition to those that were rebuilt, new railroads developed after the Civil War. In 1868, under railroad baron Collis P. Huntington, the Virginia Central Railroad was merged and transformed into the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. In 1870, several railroads were merged to form the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad, later renamed Norfolk & Western. In 1880, the towpath of the now-defunct James River & Kanawha canal was transformed into the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad, which within a decade would merge into the Chesapeake & Ohio. Others would include the Southern Railroad, the Seaboard Air Line, and the Atlantic Coast Line; still others would eventually reach into Virginia, including the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania Railroad. The rebuilt Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad eventually was linked to Washington, D.C..

In the 1880s, the Pocahontas Coalfield opened up in far southwest Virginia, with others to follow, in turn providing more demand for railroads transportation. In 1909, the Virginian Railway opened, built for the express purpose of hauling coal from the mountains of West Virginia to the ports at Hampton Roads. The growth of railroads resulted in the creation of new towns and rapid growth of others, including Clifton Forge, Roanoke, Crewe and Victoria. The railroad boom was not without incident: the Wreck of the Old 97 occurred just north of Danville, Virginia in 1903, later immortalized by a popular ballad.

With the invention of the cigarette rolling machine, and the great increase in smoking in the early 20th century, cigarettes and other tobacco products became a major industry in Richmond and Petersburg. Tobacco magnates such as Lewis Ginter funded a number of public institutions.

Readjustment, public education, segregation

Former Confederate General William Mahone led the Readjuster Party during the 1870s.

A division among Virginia politicians occurred in the 1870s, when those who supported a reduction of Virginia's pre-war debt ("Readjusters") opposed those who felt Virginia should repay its entire debt plus interest ("Funders"). Virginia's pre-war debt was primarily for infrastructure improvements overseen by the Virginia Board of Public Works, much of which were destroyed during the war or in the new State of West Virginia.

After his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1877, former confederate General and railroad executive William Mahone became the leader of the "Readjusters", forming a coalition of conservative Democrats and white and black Republicans. The so-called Readjusters aspired "to break the power of wealth and established privilege" and to promote public education. The party promised to "readjust" the state debt in order to protect funding for newly established public education, and allocate a fair share to the new State of West Virginia. Its proposal to repeal the poll tax and increase funding for schools and other public facilities attracted biracial and cross-party support.

The Readjuster Party was successful in electing its candidate, William E. Cameron as governor, and he served from 1882 to 1886. Mahone served as a Senator in the U.S. Congress from 1881 to 1887, as well as fellow Readjustor Harrison H. Riddleberger, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1883 to 1889. Readjusters' effective control of Virginia politics lasted until 1883, when they lost majority control in the state legislature, followed by the election of Democrat Fitzhugh Lee as governor in 1885. The Virginia legislature replaced both Mahone and Riddleberger in the U.S. Senate with Democrats.

In 1888, the exception to Readjustor and Democratic control was John Mercer Langston, who was elected to Congress from the Petersburg area on the Republican ticket. He was the first black elected to Congress from the state, and the last for nearly a century. He served one term. A talented and vigorous politician, he was an Oberlin College graduate. He had long been active in the abolitionist cause in Ohio before the Civil War, had been president of the National Equal Rights League from 1864 to 1868, and had headed and created the law department at Howard University, and acted as president of the college. When elected, he was president of what became Virginia State University.

While the Readjustor Party faded, the goal of public education remained strong, with institutions established for the education of schoolteachers. In 1884, the state acquired a bankrupt women's college at Farmville and opened it as a normal school. Growth of public education led to the need for additional teachers. In 1908, two additional normal schools were established, one at Fredericksburg and one at Harrisonburg, and in 1910, one at Radford.

After the Readjuster Party disappeared, Virginia Democrats rapidly passed legislation and constitutional amendments that effectively disfranchised African Americans and many poor whites, through the use of poll taxes and literacy tests. They created white, one-party rule under the Democratic Party for the next 80 years. White state legislators passed statutes that restored white supremacy through imposition of Jim Crow segregation. In 1902, Virginia passed a new constitution that reduced voter registration.

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