|Gerhard Spieler, Columnist|
Railroads once were vital to Beaufort's economy
Studies are under way on the feasibility of running a tourist train on 25 miles of track between the [sic] Port Royal and Yemassee. The train would be in addition to the limited cargo service on that line now.
(The tourist train idea did not get sufficient traction to become a reality and limited cargo service ceased on November 26, 2003. In 2008 Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority acquired the right-of-way to use as a utility corridor. After years of discussion, efforts to set up a walking/biking "Beaufort Rail Trail" began to flower once the BJW&SA granted a surface easement to Beaufort County to develop 14 miles of the corridor as a recreational trail in January 2011. The tracks were ripped up in stages between 2011 and 2015. The Spanish Moss Trail opened in 2013 and now occupies 10 miles of the former line. The trail is included in the TrailLink system of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. BTW: We helped with the historic markers near the Old Depot trailhead. There are iPhone and iPad apps available. Newspaper and magazine clippings about the history of the Port Royal Railroad Company and various ideas about what to do with the rail bed are in a permanent vertical file in our Research Room.)
|Donner Collection, BDC, LCDL|
Lowcountry historian William Whitten has one of the "few remaining passenger coaches" at his home in Port Royal. Whitten wrote in the Hilton Head Report that the 66-foot-long car was"on the round-trip run from Port Royal to Augusta from about the turn of the century to World War II."
Beaufort's only freight warehouse, located on Depot Road, was retired and later demolished in 1974.
|Beaufort Gazette, June 18, 1974, p. 1|
Built in 1908, it was owned and used last by the Seaboard Coast Line. At one time, according to town historian John F. Morrall, the warehouse was the center of Beaufort's economic life, a place where town merchants met to talk as well as send and receive merchandise.
|Arnsberger Collection, BDC, LCDL|
The Charleston and Savannah Railroad, completed shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, (First passengers climbed aboard on April 21, 1860) was the first railroad to operate in county limits. (The trip between the two cities took approximately nine hours each way. The train leaving Charleston set off at 7:40 am while the train leaving Savannah left at 9:00 am.) Located on the mainland, it was an important link in Confederate military control and in providing quick service between Charleston and Savannah. (In 2008, H. David Stone, Jr. examined the operation of the C&S RR in his book Vital Rails: The Charleston and Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina. His book is available for check-out through the Local History sections of the Beaufort County Library as well as in the BDC's Research Room. The supplemental information about the date and schedule are from pp. 32-33 of Vital Rails.)
|Gift of Nancy Guthridge, former docent, BDC|
The railroad was completed by 1874, (though parts of it opened in 1871 as this advertisement from the Beaufort County Republican attests)
|Beaufort County Republican, Dec. 21, 1871, p. 3|
|1899 Sanborn Insurance Map, Beaufort Sheet 8, BDC, USC|
After protests and threats of legal action by stock-and bond- holders, the sum was lowered to $500,000 and the board of directors was "paid for its endorsement by the transfer of enough stock to allow it to control the Port Royal Railroad Company."
The railroad had found itself in financial difficulties from the start. After staring service March 1, 1873, the company defaulted on interest payments on its bonds by November. The railroad was sold at a foreclosure sale on June 6, to be succeeded by the Port Royal & Augusta Co. (The best explanation of the financial problems involved with the PR & A RR is "'Black an' Dusty, Goin' to Augusty:' A History of the Port Royal Railroad" by John Martin Davis, Jr. in the South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 105, (2004), pp. 198-225. Read it in our Research Room where we have the complete run of the magazine.)
|Arnsberger Collection, BDC, LCDL|
By 1915, the Charleston-to-Savannah Railroad began laying a railroad spur to connect Jasper, Bluffton and lower Beaufort County to the main line.
"Cotton, corn, beans and potatoes... would have been useless without a way to get them to market in the early parts of this century," according to Fran Smith in a 1982 article in The Island Packet. (I wish that Spieler had said what issue this article was in because we do not have an index to our newspapers - but if you'd like to come into the BDC Research Room we'll be happy to set you up with the microfilm reader/printer and the reel of the 1982 Island Packet issues so you can locate the precise article.)
The line was operated later by the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, but by 1973 the company sought permission to abandon that stretch. Many of the cargoes once carried by the railroad now came and went by trucks, over new highways and bridges.
In 1978, the last freight shipments on the railroad spur were unloaded at Levy Station in Jasper County.
|Culp Collection, BDC, LCDL|
There were two trains a day both ways at the Beaufort station. Going to Charleston would take about three hours. Going to Savannah took about four. Going either way required a change of trains, and the time taken was only an hour shorter than the normal running time of the regular boat to Savannah (from Bay Street). The railroad accommodations were coaches. Fresh air came in the open windows during the summer only. (Read Barnum's unpublished "History of Public Transportation in Beaufort County" in our Research Room.)
Through the years, first the Palmetto Post and then The Beaufort Gazette, recorded railroad news in their pages. A 1911 story in The Gazette reported a new through train from Port Royal to Augusta, Ga. A November 1914 article headlined "Seaboard Railroad from Charleston to Savannah." An April 1918 story told of "Dale Station on Seaboard Air Line Doing Good Business."
Earlier, in August 1896, the Palmetto Post reported the "Sale of the Port Royal and Augusta Railway." In 1915, The Gazette reported "Seaboard Air Line Puts Beaufort County on its Main Line" and in October 1917, "Service on the new Seaboard Air Line Begins."
Look at the "All Aboard! Railroads in Beaufort District and beyond" post on Wordpress for additional links and materials.
We are thankful for our decade long partnership with the Lowcountry Digital Library. They provide technical assistance, preservation, and hosting of the digital images to make some of our materials available over the internet.
The eagerly anticipated model trains exhibit will be at Beaufort Branch from 12 December through 16 December this year. Contact: email@example.com or call 843-255-6456 for details.