News & Events

The Convicts' Experience in the WNC Railroad Boom

Marion Mayor Steve Little will provide a convict’s perspective on the hardships, heroism, and heartbreak of building the railroad up the Blue Ridge Escarpment and through the mountains of Western North Carolina in the late 19th century. His performance is scheduled in conjunction with the current exhibition at the university's Rural Heritage Museum, “How The West Was Won: Trains and the Transformation of Western North Carolina.” The program is scheduled on Thursday, September 24, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. in the Broyhill Chapel on the Mars Hill University campus and is free and open to the public.

In the living history program at Mars Hill, Little will relate the epic struggle to lay tracks through the high country from the perspective of one of the hundreds of prisoners from Central Prison in Raleigh who were shackled together, jammed into boxcars and forced to build the rail lines to and through the Western North Carolina mountains. Little, who has authored three books on the construction of the Old Fort Mountain Loops between 1875 and 1879, dons prisoner’s garb to tell the story of the building of the railroad up and over the Eastern Continental Divide. The story of this herculean feat was made famous by regional author John Ehle in his novel The Road.

Little earned his B.A. in history from Wake Forest University in 1973 and his J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1977. He is senior attorney at Little and Lattimore in McDowell County, where has practiced law for over 30 years. He has been a deacon at First Baptist Church in Marion since 1978, a member of the Marion City Council from 1985 to 2009, and mayor of Marion since 2009. Among his publications are three books related to the construction of the Old Fort Mountain Loops: Tunnels, Nitro and Convicts: Building the Railroad That Couldn’t Be Built (2010); The Mighty Locomotive, a children’s story (2012); and Andrews Geyser: Star of the Mountain Railroad (2012).