The Georgia Railroad Company was chartered December 21, 1833, by a group of Athens citizens lead by James Camak. Their goal was to build a railroad from Athens to Augusta. Construction began in 1835, starting at Augusta.
The company changed its name to Georgia Railroad & Banking Company in 1836. (When the banking side of the business eventually proved more rewarding, the company leased its railroad operations to others.)
The 39-mile Athens branch, completed in December 1841, was operated with horse drawn cars until 1847. Originally built as 5-ft. gauge track, it was rebuilt to standard gauge in 1886.
The Atlanta branch was completed in 1845 and soon the 171-mile Augusta-Atlanta connection became the main line. It was also a key link in a through line from Charleston to Memphis formed by the Georgia, the South Carolina Railroad, the Western & Atlantic, and the Memphis & Charleston.
Early on, Augustans gained control from Athens interests, with Augustan John Pendleton King serving as president of the railroad from 1841 to 1878. The railroad's chief engineer was John Edgar Thomson, who assumed that post in 1834. Thomson later became chief engineer of the new Pennsylvania Railroad and, in 1852, its president. The city of Thomson, in McDuffie County, was named for him.
During the Civil War, the Georgia Railroad provided a critical link in the Confederacy's rail system between Atlanta and Virginia, with the only alternate routes by way of Chattanooga or Savannah. It was relatively well-maintained and was capable of hauling 800 tons of freight per day, which put it in the top tier of Confederate rail lines in 1863.
By the end of the following year, however, the western half of the railroad was in ruins. After the fall of Atlanta in late summer, Union troops completely destroyed the tracks from that city to the Oconee River, leaving only the embankments.
|The Georgia Railroad was the focal point of the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, depicted in the 15,030 sq. ft. painting at the Atlanta Cyclorama. (Image cropped from The Battle of Atlanta...,Georgia Postcards, Boston Public Library on Flickr, Creative Commons License.)
|The collapse of the Confederacy also ended the use of slaves to construct and maintain Southern railroads. The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company had owned at least 162 slaves, according to documentation found by researchers in 2005 and earlier.
|The Georgia Railroad was a key link in the Great Southern Mail Route. (From: Broadsides & Ephemera Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Complete document is online here.)
After the war, the railroad was rebuilt and expansion soon followed. The 78-mile branch line between Camak and Macon, completed in 1873 by the Macon and Augusta Railroad, was merged into the Georgia Railroad system in 1878. The branch, which the Georgia Railroad had leased in 1867 while it was still under construction, was nicknamed the Macon Road.
The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company had made early investments in the Atlanta & West Point Railroad and the Western Railway of Alabama which together connected Atlanta and Montgomery. By the 1880s, the company owned a controlling interest in the former and a substantial interest in the latter and, as a result, had created a small but important rail system that spanned the Georgia piedmont and reached as far west as Alabama's capital city of Montgomery.
In 1881 the Georgia Railroad was leased for 99 years to Colonel William M. Wadley, president of the Central of Georgia Railway. Wadley assigned the lease jointly to the Louisville & Nashville and the Central of Georgia.
In 1883 the lessees acquired controlling interests in the Gainesville, Jefferson & Southern Railroad and the Walton Railroad.
In the 1889 edition of The Official Railway List, the Georgia Railroad reported operating 307 miles of railroad with 48 locomotives, 53 passenger cars, and 949 freight and miscellaneous cars.
In 1894 these figures were 307 miles, 57 locomotives, 74 passenger cars, and 1,079 freight and miscellaneous cars.
|Georgia Railroad train at Stone Mountain. (From Lawton B. Evans. The Student's History of Georgia. 1884. Online at Internet Archive.)
The 1890s turned out to be difficult years for the Georgia's lessees. The Central entered receivership in 1892 and the L&N struggled to maintain its independence and secure its territory from stronger rival systems. In 1898 the reorganized Central sold its half-interest in the Georgia lease to the L&N, which then briefly controlled the entire Georgia system. The following year the L&N assigned the half-interest to the Atlantic Coast Line.
In 1902 ACL gained control of L&N through purchase of its stock but allowed it to continue operating independently.
|Georgia Railroad passenger locomotive built by Baldwin in the early 1900s.
Abandonments and Other Changes:
The former Union Point and White Plains Railroad, built in 1889 and owned by the Georgia, was abandoned in 1927.
The 40-mile section from Union Point to Athens, built in 1841, was abandoned by Seaboard System in November 1984. (The 0.44-mile section from downtown Athens east to Old Winterville Road remained in service until 1997.)
The Macon-Milledgeville section was abandoned in 1985. Camak-to-Milledgeville remains in service in part to deliver coal to Plant Harllee Branch north of Milledgeville (includes trackage rights on Norfolk Southern line).
The Washington Branch, an 18-mile line between Barnett and Washington, is now operated by the Georgia Woodlands Railroad.
The 10- mile Monroe Railroad, which operated as a branch of the Georgia Railroad connecting Monroe to the main line at Social Circle, is now the Great Walton Railroad.
Maps, Timetables, and Other Information:
1839 map at Library of Congress
1859 map (187K)
1859 timetable (229K)
1860 map (190K)
1863 timetable (230K)
1870 timetable (176K)
1881 advertisement (84K)
1883 map (403K)
1895 map (138K)
1895 map, entire system (336K)
1895 timetables (359K)
1906 map, Washington Branch (474K)
1914 map, entire system (228K)
1917 timetables (340K)
1917 equipment list (32K)
1953 map, Washington Branch (300K)
1953 map, Union Point - Athens (532K)
1953 map, Monroe Branch (283K)
1953 map, Macon - Milledgeville (436K)
1969 map, entire system (80K)
|CSX 5944 at the Warren County town of Camak in February 2003. Here the Georgia Railroad's Macon line branched off the Augusta-Atlanta main line. The Macon line doesn't go to Macon any more, but the main line, now more than 160 years old, continues in service under CSX.
|The railroad's logo is similar to the State of Georgia's official seal.
Robert H. Hanson, Safety-Courtesy-Service; History of the Georgia Railroad (Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press, 1996).
Beckum, W. Forrest, Jr., and Albert M. Langley, Jr., Georgia Railroad Album (North Augusta, S.C.: Union Station Publishing, 1985).
Martin K. O'Toole. The Georgia Railroad Mixed Trains. Railfan & Railroad Magazine, May 2011. Extended article here.
RailGa.com. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey
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