Chartered November 13, 1889, the 5-mile SD&C was built in 1890-92 and operated by James Monroe Smith, owner of a 30 square-mile plantation in Oglethorpe County. Smith, a country boy of modest means who began in business by cutting crossties and selling them to the Georgia Railroad, gradually put together one of the state's largest farms, with ten thousand acres under cultivation and upwards of 500 buildings of various types. Smithonia, the center of his small empire, had a hotel, a post office, and several factories and warehouses.
Realizing that horses and wagons could not continue to efficiently transport the ever-growing products of his plantation and town, Smith built two railroads, the SD&C and the Smithonia & Dunlap. The SD&C ran five miles from Smithonia north to a connection with the Seaboard Air Line Railway at Five Forks, later renamed Colbert. The S&D ran west to connect with the Georgia Railroad at Dunlap, two miles down the tracks from Winterville.
The SD&C never reached Danielsville or Carnesville; only the five miles between Smithonia and Five Forks was built. Other lines that Smith considered, but did not ultimately build, included a Danielsville-Hartwell connection and a line from Smithonia to Augusta. The Augusta line would have passed through Sandy Cross, Danburg, and Lincolnton.
Smith considered building his lines as narrow gauge, but changed his mind and constructed standard gauge tracks instead.
In the 1894 edition of The Official Railway List, the SD&C and the S&D jointly reported operating 20 miles of railroad with 2 locomotives, 1 passenger car, and 8 freight and miscellaneous cars.
Smithonia was described in Allen D. Candler and Clement A. Evans' Georgia, an encyclopedia published in 1906:
|"Smithonia, one of the important towns of Oglethorpe county, is about eight miles northwest of Lexington. It is the terminus of the Smithsonia, Danielsville & Carnesville and the Smithonia & Dunlap railroads, and in 1900 had a population of 200. It has a number of good stores, some factories, schools, churches, etc., a money order post office, and handles a large volume of freight."
Poors 1917 Manual reported the SD&C as operating 4.3 miles of track with equipment consisting of two locomotives and eight cars. The railroad’s offices were noted as being in Colbert and its president was indicated as James M. Smith. Farmer Smith, however, had died in 1915 and his SD&C was abandoned the next year.
While Smith was undeniably successful as a farmer, businessman, railroad builder, and self-made man, much of what he accomplished was built through the use of forced labor. He was a leading figure in Georgia's barbarous convict leasing schemes in the years after the Civil War, and he defended that system and profited from it. The self-made man contributed mightily to the unmaking of others.