History of the Dawkins Line Trail

                                                                                By Randall Risner
      The Dawkins Lumber Company incorporated the Big Sandy and Kentucky River Rail Road in 1912 to build a 31 mile track from Van Lear in Johnson County through Magoffin County to Breathitt County. The first section completed was to Riceville which was the headquarters until 1920. In 1920 the tracks were extended to Carver through a 662 foot tunnel connecting Ivyton to Gun Creek. The headquarters was relocated to Royalton that year but the tracks never reached Breathitt at that time. Unfortunately the stock market crash in 1929 played the same havoc with the Dawkins Lumber Company that it did to so many other businesses, namely it forced them into bankruptcy. The BS & KR Rail Road stock in its entirety was sold to the Chesapeake & Ohio RR on September 22nd, 1930. In 1949 the track was finally extended to Evanston in Breathitt County through a massive 1555 foot tunnel. Some of the rail bed was rerouted at Carver and the old rail bed was used for a road. In 1972 the C & O merged with the Baltimore & Ohio and the Western Maryland which it had acquired in 1960 becoming the Chessie System. In 1982 Chessie would merge again this time with Seaboard becoming the CSXT Rail Road. In January 2002 R J Corman began the acquisition process to purchase the Dawkins Subdivision from CSXT. R J Corman would operate the last train on the line in 2003 and filed for abandonment in 2004.

     Here are a few interesting facts about the Dawkins Subdivision. By the time it was completed in 1949 it had 36.13 mile of track, two tunnels and 35 bridges several of which exceed 200 feet in length. The Gun Creek Tunnel was completed in 1920 under the original owners and the Carver Tunnel was completed in 1949 by the C & O. The rail line was used to haul timber, passengers and coal; it was the engine that drove Magoffin County’s economy for generations.

      When R J Corman filed to abandon the line it was Rail banked, a state and federal process whereby abandoned rail road right of ways are preserved for future use as a trail. In May 2011 the right of way was purchased from R J Corman by the state of Kentucky for 500,000 dollars and an additional 2,500,000 dollars was set aside by the state for this Rail to Trail project.

     Now having given you an overview of the history of the Dawkins Subdivision as the line was known as I will try to relate a little about the effects of this rail road. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is how isolated Magoffin County was in 1912. Roads were poor or nonexistent in much of the county. This line provided a much better mode of travel in and out of the county and allowed for the movement of goods into and out of the county. The Dawkins Lumber Company was a Canadian firm and a substantial town named after the Royal Bank of Canada grew up around the rail station and lumber mill near the mouth of Gun Creek. Of course I am talking about Royalton which at one time possessed a bank, numerous business and a larger population than her sister city Salyersville. The rail station in Royalton was the receiving point for most goods shipped into the county and was the main pickup point for passengers. When W H Dawkins, T N Fannin and L H Davis Incorporated the BS & KR Rail Road in 1912 I have to wonder if they foresaw the impact it would have in Eastern Kentucky for the next century. Almost every family in the area had someone who worked for the rail road, lumber mill, timber cutting, coal mining or other industries and businesses associated with the Dawkins Line. My uncle Holland Marshall went to work on the RR when he was 16 years old and spent nearly half a century working for them. He loved his job and never missed an opportunity to work overtime.

Photos Courtsey of Adam Manns

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