James W. Wilson Memorial, Old Fort
The memorial consists of an irregular shaped granite block roughly six feet tall and two feet wide with a bronze plaque twenty one inches wide and twelve inches high.
Images: Plaque | Former location, west of Old Fort near Point tunnel
TO THE MEMORY OF / JAMES W. WILSON / 1832-1910 / WHO AS CHIEF ENGINEER AND PRESIDENT / OF THE WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA RAILROAD / PLANNED, SURVEYED AND BUILT THIS LINE / ACROSS THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS / ERECTED BY THE SOUTHERN RAILROAD / AS A TRIBUTE TO A MASTER BUILDER
City of Old Fort
1920s or later
35.628980 , -82.182100 View in Geobrowse
Bromberg, Alan B. “Wilson, James William,” NCPedia.org, (accessed July 14, 2015) Link
Color 35mm Slide 2_0116: Memorial plaque to James W. Wilson on old highway Number 70 adjacent to Southern Railway tracks west of Old Fort, N.C., near Point tunnel, date unknown: Scan 1, in the Frank Clodfelter Photographic Collection #P0032, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Link
Little, Stephen R. Tunnels, Nitro and Convicts: Building the Railroad That Couldn’t Be Built, (AuthorHouse, 2010) 18, (accessed July 14, 2015) Link
Phi Gamma Delta. “Old Fort, North Carolina. James W. Wilson Monument“ in The State of North Carolina,, http://www.phigam.org (accessed July 14, 2015) Link
“James W. Wilson, Old Fort, North Carolina,” Waymarking.org, (accessed August 12, 2015) Link
After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1852, Wilson chose the profession of civil engineer. During the Civil War he helped raise Company F, 6th N.C. Troops serving as the company’s captain. After being promoted to major he served on the staff of General Stephen D. Ramseur. In 1864 Governor Zebulon B. Vance appointed him superintendent of the Western North Carolina Railroad. Although removed as superintendent during Reconstruction he continued to work for the railroad and also became involved in politics. As a state representative he championed a bill that reorganized the railroad. Post-reconstruction he became chief engineer and superintendent of the railroad and pushed for completion of the line through the mountains. In what is considered a remarkable feat of engineering he succeeded in doing so which helped reduce the isolation of that part of the state. Wilson also twice served on the University Of North Carolina Board Of Trustees.
Much of the work on the railroad was done by convict labor which was upwards of 90% African American. Although the exact number is unknown, hundreds died during completion of the railroad. Restoration of the Zebulon Vance monument became controversial because of Vance’s role in the Civil War and Reconstruction and having been a slave owner. The deaths of African American convicts and Wilson’s association with Zebulon B. Vance have been noted in calls for a new monument honoring African American’s in western North Carolina.
The monument is located next to a restored railroad caboose at the Old Fort Train Depot located at 25 W. Main St. (Highway 70) in Old Fort. A short distance away at the other end of the train depot is the Old Fort Arrowhead Monument.
The Old Fort Train Depot after restoration was rededicated in May 2005. It now appears to be empty but at one point was used as a history museum and visitor center.
The memorial was originally located on Old US. Highway 70 adjacent to Southern Railway tracks west of Old Fort near Point tunnel. The monument was still at the original site as of 2004. It was most likely relocated in late 2004 or early 2005 during the train depot restoration.