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Bertie County, North Carolina
Kelford was established around 1893 in western Bertie County at the east-west highway crossing of the Norfolk and Carolina RR, a predecessor of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad The railroad was the lifeline of the community, and eventually the town was also served by a spur of the Seaboard Air Line RR which terminated five miles east in Woodville, NC. Both the ACL and SAL had passenger stations in Kelford at one time. Regular passenger service on the ACL ceased by the late 1950's. The ACL station was moved from its original site in the 1970's, and was recently heavily damaged by a runaway truck.
Kelford was also the home of the Kelford Coca-Cola Bottling Company for many decades, until the plant was destroyed by fire in the 1990's. Prior to the modern highways, Coca-Colas were shipped by train over the Roanoke River to Hobgood and other local stops. In addition to the Coca-Cola plant, Kelford, at one time, had a Ford dealership, hotel, movie theater, several hardware stores, grocery stores, barber shop, drug store, a sawmill, and an oil distributorship, and a blacksmith shop, and a funeral home. These businesses accommodated rail passengers and local farmers with services and supplies.
Kelford was founded on land formerly owned by Col. S.A. Norfleet in rich farming country. Peanuts came to Bertie in the late 1800's, and have been the primary crop for years, along with cotton, corn, and tobacco. Cotton faded from the scene until the boll weevil was eradicated, but has now made a comeback in the area. Kelford had its own school during the early years, but a new school to serve nearby Roxobel and Kelford was constructed half-way between the towns during the early 1900's.
The town acquired its first fire engine in 1955, a 1942 Ford Oren 500 gallon per minute pumper purchased from Craddock, VA. A fire tanker was built by the Kelford VFD from a 1946 Ford V8 pulpwood chassis and a used oil tanker body. The first ambulance was acquired in 1963, a Chevrolet station wagon purchased at cost from Marsh Chevrolet Co. in Aulander. The current fire station and town hall building was constructed in the late 1970's. Fire Chiefs known to have served KFD included Hobart Austin, P.C.Dixon, F.P. Lewis, Eugene Lewis, M.K. Vick, David Lloyd Humphrey, and H.Leslie Parker. The KVFD was famous for years for its excellent homemade Brunswick Stew and fine chopped pork barbeque.
Early churches included the Kelford Baptist Church white, and the Kelford First Baptist Church black. Cemetaries include Roxobel-Kelford Cemetary just west of Kelford. Today 2000, the Coca-Cola plant is gone, and the business district consists of the Kelford Post Office, Linda's Beauty Shop, and Floral Discount. The Kelford Baptist Church was destroyed by fire in the 1990's, but has been rebuilt.
The North Carolina-Virginia Railroad Company line runs thru Kelford on a combination of the old SCL RR trackage. The line connects with CSX at Boykins, VA, and has just been extended to serve the new NUCOR steel plant near Tunis in Hertford County. Upgrade and restoration of the line is in progress, anticipating increased freight traffic. As a footnote, the NC-VA has painted one locomotive in the purple and aluminum scheme of the pre-1957 Atlantic Coast Line. The last passenger train to run to Kelford was NC-VA and State of NC DOT special in the late 1990's, which departed Conway and returned to celebrate improvements to the rail line. The last passenger train to cross the Roanoke River at Kelford was the AMTRAK Kelford Day Special in October, 1972. This special train was hired by the citizens of Kelford to commemorate the town's rail history during the Bertie County 250th Anniversary Celebration. This train ran from Rocky Mount to Kelford, was turned in Ahoskie, proceeded to Rocky Mount, and returned to Kelford with its load of happy passengers. By 1976 this line from Hobgood to Kelford, a portion of the East End Subdivision, had been abandoned. The segment from Kelford to the Roanoke River steel bridge to Kelford was eventually removed.
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