north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     In the heyday of rail service, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACLRR), headquartered in Wilmington, competed with Southern Railway and the Seaboard Air Line. Just as in the nineteenth century, railroads were largely responsible in the twentieth century for the development of port traffic in Wilmington. The founders of the ACLRR in 1889 were Baltimore businessmen. It took its name after a series of mergers, culminating with the acquisition of the historic Wilmington and Weldon rail line in North Carolina in 1900.

     While a reliable and profitable freight carrier, the ACLRR was noted most for its dependable passenger service, extending from Virginia to Florida. The company weathered the Great Depression and was profitable in all years except for 1933-35 and 1938. In 1967 the ACLRR and the Seaboard Air Line merged to form the Seaboard Coast Line and, in 1986, as the fortunes of rail service waned, CSX acquired what remained.

     Champion McDowell Davis dedicated over sixty years to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Born in Catawba County, young Champ and his family moved to New Hanover County. At thirteen he began work for the railroad as a messenger boy. Through the ranks Davis rose from stenographer to clerk to freight agent to traffic engineer to vice-president before assuming the reins of the company in 1942.

     Once installed, Davis streamlined the operation with personal flair. Davis maintained a home in Wilmington, but also had a residence aboard a modified rail car. He chose royal purple as the line’s official color and converted all locomotives from steam to diesel. One of the engines today resides at the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer.

     When the ACLRR headquarters left Wilmington for Jacksonville, Florida, in 1960, the relocation took 3,500 jobs out of the Port City. Two large buildings in Wilmington that served the ACLRR survive. One at 519 Nutt Street, built in 1882, houses the Wilmington Railroad Museum.

Richard Prince, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad: Steam Locomotives, Ships, and History (1966)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—sketch by Wesley Williams
Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait(1984)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources