Central of Georgia Railway

The Central Rail Road and Canal Company was organized in 1833 by a group of Savannah businessmen who were concerned that Charleston’s new railroad to Augusta would bring a loss of Central of Ga logo shipping business for their port. Construction of their new line began in late 1835. Meanwhile the company decided to go into the banking business to attract capital investment in the railroad. To better reflect its new interests it changed its name to Central Rail Road and Banking Company of Georgia.

The line was complete from Savannah to Oliver by 1839 and to Macon in 1843. (It was not until 1851, however, that a bridge over the Ocmulgee was built.) At Macon a connection with Atlanta was made by way of the Macon & Western Railroad, which had completed its line in 1846.

At Millen, the Central connected with the Augusta and Waynesboro Railroad, a 53-mile line to Augusta. The A&W was chartered in 1838 and completed in 1854. Its name was changed to Augusta and Savannah Railroad on February 16, 1856.

The Eatonton Branch Railroad, from Milledgeville to Eatonton, was leased by the Central. Chartered in 1850, the line opened in 1853. It was later consolidated into the Central by an act of 1859. It connected with the Central main line at Gordon via the Milledgeville and Gordon Railroad (chartered 1837, opened 1852).

The Central leased the Augusta and Savannah Railroad in 1862 and the Southwestern Railroad in 1869.

The 16-mile Upson County Railroad from Thomaston to Barnesville was controlled by the Central from the early 1870s. The Central eventually acquired all of its stock.

In 1875, the Georgia Railroad and the Central jointly purchased the Western Railroad of Alabama.

In 1881, William M. Wadley, president of the Central from 1866 to 1882, personally leased the Georgia Railroad. Along with it he acquired the Georgia’s interests in the WR of A and the Atlanta and West Point. Wadley then assigned the lease jointly to the Central of Georgia and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

In 1886 the railroad changed the gauge of its tracks from five feet to the standard four feet, eight and a half inches.

In 1887, the Central built a short connecting line between Americus and LaCrosse, the latter a place about six miles east of Ellaville on the Central-controlled Buena Vista & Ellaville. The BV&E, which ran from Buena Vista to Andersonville, was purchased by the Central in 1889. It was extended west to Columbus the same year.

In June and July, 1888, the Central consolidated seven of the lines it controlled or leased into the 400-mile Savannah & Western.

By 1888 the Central was controlled by the Richmond Terminal Company, a Virginia holding company with extensive railroad interests throughout the South.

In July of 1890, the Central acquired all of the stock of the Savannah and Atlantic Railroad, an 18-mile excursion railroad between Savannah and Tybee Island. See 1897 map (132K).

In 1890 the Central owned or controlled 2300 miles of railroad and was one of the most efficient and prosperous systems in the South. Unfortunately its control by the Richmond Terminal Company would lead to financial disaster.

As a result of a bond default and a shareholder's lawsuit in 1892, the Central entered receivership. The Terminal Company suffered the same fate that summer, along with the Terminal Company-controlled lines Richmond & Danville and East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia.

In the 1894 edition of The Official Railway List, the Central reported operating 1,524 miles of railroad, 241 locomotives, 241 passenger cars, and 4,856 freight and miscellaneous cars. These figures were for lines owned, leased, and controlled. The receivers were identified as H. M. Comer of Savannah and R. Somers Hayes of New York.

The Central was sold at foreclosure and reorganized as Central of Georgia Railway on November 1, 1895. The new company also acquired the properties and franchises of the Savannah and Atlantic Railroad, the Macon and Northern Railway, and the Savannah and Western Railroad, as well as two lines in Alabama. A major interest in the Central was held by the Southern Railway, successor to the Terminal Company.

On April 1, 1896, Seaboard Air-Line Railway began operating the Central's 58-mile Lyons Branch (Meldrim-Lyons) under a perpetual lease.

In 1897, the Central purchased the Middle Georgia and Atlantic Railway, a 64-mile line from Milledgeville to Covington, and the following year it bought the Louisville and Wadley Railroad, a 10-mile line in Jefferson County.

In 1898, the Central's half-interest in the lease of the Georgia Railroad was sold to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

The Central completed a branch line to Porterdale, south of Covington, on June 30, 1899. See 1964 map (120K).

In July of 1900, the Central acquired the 58-mile Bruton and Pineora Railway which ran from Bruton (now Brewton) to Register, and in 1901 bought the Dover and Statesboro Railroad, a ten-mile line between those two towns. It connected these two by building 9 miles of tracks between Register and Statesboro. The new line opened June 9, 1901.

On May 16, 1901, the Central reacquired the Chattanooga, Rome and Southern Railroad, a 138-mile line between Carrollton, Ga. and Chattanooga. (This purchase included the 17-mile branch line between Chickamauga and Durham.) The Central had previously owned the CR&S through its Savannah and Western subsidiary, but had lost it during the financial troubles of the mid-1890s.

Ten-wheeler built for the Central by Rogers Locomotive Works in the early 1900s. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, July 1903).

4-6-2 Pacific-type built for the Central by Baldwin Locomotive Works a decade later. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, June 1912).

2-10-2 Santa Fe-type built for the Central by Baldwin in mid-1920s.
(From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, April 1926).

During 1902-04, the U.S. Army built a new cavalry post on 800 acres near the community of Dodge, which was situated at the northern edge of Chickamauga Battlefield Park. Included in the work was a new rail spur from the CR&S tracks at McFarland Gap on Missionary Ridge to the military camp, which was soon named Fort Oglethorpe.

In 1904 the Central built a 9.5-mile line from Lyerly southwest to Dewey, Alabama. The latter was at the foot of Dirtseller Mountain, about two miles from the Georgia-Alabama state line. 1910 map. 1915 map.

In 1905 the Central bought the unfinished Greenville and Newnan Railway and completed it to Raymond. It opened for traffic in mid-1906.

Central caboose at Southeastern Railway Museum

In 1906, the Central acquired the Stillmore Air Line Railway and merged it with the Wadley and Mount Vernon to form the Wadley Southern Railway.

In 1907, rail baron Edward H. Harriman gained control of the Central. He sold his interest two years later to his Illinois Central Railroad (see map).

In 1920 the 4 miles of branch line from Lyerly to Woodyard was abandoned. This was the last remaining section of the 9.5-mile Dewey branch, much of which had been abandoned earlier.

After the Macon & Birmingham Railroad ended operations in the 1920s, the Central purchased the 8-mile section from Thomaston to the peach orchards around the Crest community.

The Central entered receivership again in 1932 and endured a shaky financial situation throughout the Depression and World War II. The Illinois Central gave up on its interests in the system in 1942, writing off the substantial investments made by Harriman and itself since 1907. In 1944 the Central sold its half ownership of the Western Railway of Alabama.

After the war, the railroad’s finances improved significantly and in 1948 the long receivership came to an end.

In 1951 the Central bought the Savannah and Atlanta Railway.

The Central Junction-to-Oliver line was abandoned in 1962. It was replaced by a parallel section of the former Savannah & Atlanta.

In 1956 the Frisco (St. Louis-San Francisco Railway) gained control of the Central after several years of purchasing its stock. The Frisco had reached as far east as Birmingham and Pensacola and was planning to gain direct access to the Atlantic seaboard. Citing a concern about limited competition, and irritated that the Frisco had acquired control before receiving authorization to do so, the Interstate Commerce Commission denied a Frisco-Central merger. Frisco sold its Central stock in 1963 to Southern Railway.

The Central's name was changed in 1971 to Central of Georgia Railroad when Southern Railway decided to merge it, the Georgia and Florida, the Wrightsville and Tennille, and the Savannah and Atlanta into a single subsidiary. This arrangement survived the 1982 merger of Southern and Norfolk and Western, and the Central continues to be an operating unit of the Norfolk Southern Corporation (although few, if any, locomotives or rail cars have any Central markings).

Maps:

1860 map (368K)

1882 map, entire system (198K)

1892 map, entire system (736K)

1895 map, entire system (357K)

1877, 1889, and 1899 maps at University of Alabama Map Library

1907 map, Brewton-Dover line (232K)

1911 map, Chickamauga - Durham (144K)

1913 map, entire system (620K)

1913 map, Gordon - Covington (340K)

1915 map, Laurens County section of Brewton-Dover line (318K)

1916 map, CofG and Illinois Central (138K)

1917 map, Fort Oglethorpe spur (113K)

1917 map, Chickamauga area (47K)

1919 map, Eatonton - Machen, Putnam County (324K)

1926 map, Brewton-Dover line (155K)

1935 map, Thomaston - Crest (341K)

1939 map, Candler County, Brewton-Dover line [Metter-Canoe] (260K)

1939 map, Candler County, Brewton-Dover line [Canoe-Cty Line] (157K)

1947 map, Central Junction - Oliver (664K)

1949 "hand full" map (43K)

1953 map, Griffin - Senoia (144K)

1953 map, Madison - Athens (336K)

1953 map, Machen - Covington (316K)

1953 map, Cuthbert - Fort Gaines (265K)

1955 map, Columbus - Pine Mountain (516K)

1953-55 map, Pine Mountain - Greenville (230K)

1953 map, Greenville - Raymond (243K)

1955 map, entire system (153K)

1968 map, Rome - Lyerly (250K)

1981 and 1917 maps, Chambers - Relay (480K)

Not limiting itself to the Peach State, the Central expanded into Alabama and South Carolina when the opportunities arose. Here a locomotive crew takes a break at the Montgomery Brewing Company in Alabama's capital.
(From: Fruits of Industry. Central Railroad of Georgia, 1895. Online at Internet Archive here.)

Timetables and Other Information:

1845 advertisement, at Duke University Libraries

1855 mileage table (61K)

1859 advertisement (80K)

1859 timetable (117K)

1863 timetable (260K)

1870 timetable (162K)

1882 timetable (308K)

1918 timetable (528K)

Charts:

Central of Georgia (and Southern Railway) "family tree"

Abandonments:

Lyerly-Dewey abandoned 1920.
Tybee Division (former Savannah & Tybee) abandoned 1933.
Brewton-Metter (former Bruton & Pineora) abandoned 1938.
Chickamauga-Durham (former Chattanooga & Durham) abandoned 1951.
Fort Oglethorpe spur sold to Tennessee Valley Authority 1953.
Eatonton-Machen (former Middle Georgia & Atlantic) abandoned 1959.
Central Junction-Oliver abandoned 1962.
Sylvania-Waynesboro (former Savannah & Atlanta) abandoned 1962.
Cuthbert-Fort Gaines abandoned 1966.
Chambers-Relay (former Chattanooga, Rome & Columbus) abandoned 1981.
Raymond-Allie (a point 5 miles north of Greenville) abandoned 1981.
Allie-Columbus abandoned 2007.
Lyerly-West Rome abandoned early 1980s.
Senoia-Experiment (north Griffin) taken out of service in 1990s.
Bishop-Madison unused since 1987 (leased in 2001 to Great Walton).
Covington-Newborn (former Middle Georgia & Atlantic) abandoned 2013.

Suggested Reading:

W. Forrest Beckum, Jr., and Albert M. Langley, Jr., Central of Georgia Railroad Album (North Augusta, SC: Union Station Publishing, 1986).

James H. Goolsby, Jr., and Albert M. Langley, Jr., Central of Georgia Railway; Steam Locomotives and Trains; Featuring the Photography of Hugh M. Comer. (North Augusta, SC: Union Station Publishing, 2006).

Jackson McQuigg, Tammy Galloway, and Scott McIntosh, Central of Georgia Railway (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1998).

David E. Paterson. Frontier Link With the World; The Upson County Railroad. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998.

Richard E. Prince, Central of Georgia and Connecting Lines (Millard, Nebraska: Richard E. Prince, 1976).

Richard Saunders, Jr. Merging Lines; American Railroads 1900-1970. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001.

C. of G. engine no. 223 at Georgia State Railroad Museum.

Links:

Central of Georgia Railway Historical Society

Central of Georgia at American-Rails.com

Vintage photos of Central locomotives and rolling stock at hawkinsrails.net.

A caboose in Guyton marks the former Central of Georgia rail line, abandoned a half-century ago. (Jamey Smith photo)

A culvert passes under the former rail bed of the old route between Central Junction and Oliver, abandoned in 1962. (Jamey Smith photo)

The Central's bridge in downtown Buchanan still carries the name, barely.


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