This project originated from the minds and hearts of Dr. Dan Pierce and Mayor Steve Little.

Dan is a native Western North Carolinian and was sitting on his porch in Ridgecrest one afternoon, contemplating his next hike along Old Highway 70. This got him to thinking about the Railroad. Soon, he decided to invite Steve over for a socially distanced porch visit to discuss an idea that had popped into his head.

Dan and Steve spent the afternoon talking about the History of the WNC Railroad and how the majority of the men who had labored to build it were not mentioned in the tale.

They decided then and there this needed to change.

Dan began reaching out to several community members with local ties to see if they had interest in helping with the project. Soon a Steering Committee was formed and Dan and Steve went before the Old Fort Board of Aldermen to suggest the creation of a memorial plaque to honor ALL those who helped to lay the tracks.

The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the request, with the mayor saying, “We need to do this because it’s the right thing to do.” And so the RAIL Memorial Project was launched.

Steering Committee


Dan Pierce: Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South; UNC Asheville Professor of History and Resident Hillbilly

Steve Little: Attorney, Little and Lattimore, PA; Mayor of Marion, NC; Longtime Historian of the WNC Railroad

Melvin Lytle: Chief of Police, Old Fort; Member of the Old Fort Board of Aldermen

Eric Boyce: Chief of Police, UNC Asheville

Ray McKesson: Retired CFO, McDowell Technical Community College; President of NAACP of McDowell County

RoAnn Bishop: Director of the Old Fort Mountain Gateway Museum

Ashley McGhee Whittle: Archivist and Special Collections Assistant, UNC Asheville; Local Historian; Third Generation of Norfolk Southern Railroaders; therailproject.org Webmaster

Darin Waters: Executive Director of Community Engagement and Director of Honors Program, UNC Asheville; William C. Friday Faculty Fellow; North Carolina Historical Commission; North Carolina Advisory Commission on Portraits

Jim Stokely: President, Wilma Dykeman Legacy

Anne Chesky Smith: Executive Director, Western North Carolina Historical Association

Jeff Futch: Regional Supervisor, Western Office, North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

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