LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

The article “Railroads in Western North Carolina” describes the role of railroads in expanding access to Asheville in the early 19th century. As such, the article can be easily framed in the context of transportation in North Carolina and how it has changed throughout history. The teaching suggestions on this page share ideas for discussing this article with elementary students.

  • Have a class discussion, asking questions like:
    • Why do you think that railroads were being built in the early 19th Century?
    • The article states that “trains brought money, power, and a taste of affluence to Western North Carolina.” Why do you think that was true?
    • According to the article, “the increased popularity of automobile and bus travel took its toll on the railroad.” What do you think this statement means? Why?
    • Finally discuss the statement, “Today, modern day rail travelers follow the same breathtaking route once used by dignitaries, families, laborers, logs, and minerals.”
  • For more information about North Carolina railroads have students explore the article “North Carolina Railroad” in the North Carolina History Project.
  • Many students may be familiar with or have visited the Biltmore House in Asheville. Ask students what they know about or remember from visiting the site and discuss. Tell students that when the Biltmore House was being built in western NC, “a railroad was built from the village to the building site in order to transfer supplies.” Either tell the students more about the house and grounds or have them read the article “The Biltmore House: A slice of History in Asheville, N.C.
  • Have students read the “Biltmore Estate” to learn more about the Vanderbilt family and the building of the estate. Encourage the students to think about why a railroad was necessary for the construction of this house. “The main house is sprawling. It boasts 175,000 square feet, 250 rooms, and 65 fireplaces, all within 4 grand levels. In the late 1800s, the area was still so remote that Vanderbilt had to build a private railway to the site to transport supplies.” This activity could be extended to a research project on the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate.
  • Have students explore the Biltmore House Technology Tour to see the different forms of technology used at the Biltmore House.
  • As an additional activity show the students the railroad map of Eastern NC and have them compare it to the railroad map of Western NC. Emphasize the importance of the water routes on the Eastern NC map.
  • Have the students go on a virtual field trip to the North Carolina Transportation Museum to explore the history of transportation in North Carolina. In addition to exploring the exhibits, have them watch the video ‘History of the Steam Railroads in North Carolina.’
  • Another 4th grade lesson plan that explores transportation routes for people and goods in North Carolina is the “The Road Taken.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 4

        • 4.G.1 Understand how human, environmental and technological factors affect the growth and development of North Carolina. 4.G.1.1 Summarize changes that have occurred in North Carolina since statehood (population growth, transportation, communication and land...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 4

  • Goal 1: The learner will apply the five themes of geography to North Carolina and its people.
    • Objective 1.04: Evaluate ways the people of North Carolina used, modified, and adapted to the physical environment, past and present.
    • Objective 1.05: Assess human movement as it relates to the physical environment.