First Published in the Roanoke Rapids Sunday Herald on January 28, 1996
John Tyler is the tenth President, Texas is not a state, the telegraph and sewing machine have not been invented and the California Gold Rush has not occurred.
January 6, 1843. The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill and incorporated the Town of Weldon.
However the beginning of Weldon was much early.
The Weldon Family
Daniel Weldon purchased 1,273 acres of land in 1752. Upon his death, this tract was inherited by his son, Major William Weldon who built a house and planted an orchard. This plantation became known was "Weldon's Orchard". Other names that were given to the settlement that grew up around it included "Weldon's Place" and "Weldon's Landing", the latter referring to its location on the River.
Ownership of the property that contained the house and orchard of William Weldon descended to two of his granddaughters, and in 1819 the guardian prepared to sell 100 acres of land at Weldon's Landing for the girls benefit. The next year lots were laid out and offered at auction, the first lot sold for $140.00 at the northeastern corner of Second and Poplar streets.
The Roanoke Canal
After many years of negotiations and raising money the Roanoke Canal was completed in 1823. The canal was necessary due to an 85 feet drop in sea level along a nine mile stretch of the river. As originally built, the lower end of the canal did not connect directly with the river. Rather, bateaux--flat-bottomed vessels--came down the canal ended in a basin (in the area Coca Cola's truck parking lot) where the goods were either removed and stored in nearby warehouses (along First Street) or transferred by cart a short distance to the river wharf (current site of boat landing) and placed on larger vessels (steamboats) to continue the trip downriver.
Thus, by the mid 1820's, the trade of a vast Roanoke River that extended over 370 miles into the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina was funneled into the fledgling community known interchangeably as Weldon's Place, Orchard or Landing.
During the prosperous early years passages through the canal numbered as much as one hundred per month. Tolls on the canal increased steadily, from $1,825.00 in 1830 to $12,190.22 in 1840.
Ironically, it was during the canal's first years of financial success in the 1830's that a new transportation mode came to Weldon's Place that would completely transform the community and render the canal of secondary commercial importance.
The Railroad Comes
The first railroad charter in the United States was the Baltimore and Ohio in 1827. The first car to run on this railway (in 1830) was drawn by horses.
Meanwhile, steam locomotives had been brought from England, and built in America. "The Best Friend of Charleston, the first American-built locomotive used commercially, began operating out of Charleston South Carolina in 1830.
In early 1830 the Commonwealth of Virginia Chartered the Petersburg Railroad Company to run a line to connect the Appomattox River at Petersburg to the Roanoke River near Weldon.
Construction was rapid and by August 1833 the First Railroad to Enter into North Carolina had reached its terminus at Blakely, a few miles down river from Weldon.
In 1837 the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad had completed the first bridge across the Roanoke River into what is now Weldon.
The year 1840 saw the completion of two entirely North Carolina railroads, the Wilmington and Raleigh and the Raleigh and Gaston, to or near Weldon, making the still-unincorporated community a regional railroad hub.
Chartered in 1834 with original plans to connect the state's chief port to the capital city, the Wilmington and Raleigh was diverted to Weldon when interest in Raleigh failed. When completed in 1840 the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, 161 1/2 miles, was the Longest Railroad in the World at that time.
Thus, within the amazingly short period of eight years, the businessmen and residents at Weldon's Place saw their community transformed from being dependent on river transportation to being the crossroads of a burgeoning railroad system connecting the leading cities and ports in North Carolina and Virginia to each other and to larger markets to the north, especially Richmond and Baltimore.
It was amid this growth and prosperity that Weldon became a town.
Information for this article was taken from Weldon's application to the National Register of Historic Places, as prepared by Tom Butchko.