Posted by Mark WoodardSouth Carolina Train History

     The 1820’s had been hard years for Charleston.  Since the founding of Augusta Georgia in 1736, there was competition on who would ship products.  Now if things came to Charleston, we were right on the Atlantic Ocean and shipping was no big deal.  But for those who were mid-state South Carolina, it was a long way to get their products to Charleston.   Augusta was situated on the Savannah River and it was much closer.  By boat you could ship your products down the Savannah River to Savannah Georgia.  Charleston knew business was declining; they wanted to get the business back.  For years, they had heard of railroads.  In the late 1700’s, England had experimented with railroads.  Some railroad cars were horse drawn, some cars had sails for wind power, and the latest was steam power driven locomotives. 

     Some prominent businessmen in Charleston got together and talked about what could be done. They decided the best thing to do, was build a railroad from Charleston to Hamburg. Hamburg was just across the river from Augusta Georgia.  The men figured a train would make it possible to ship products to Charleston.  They filed with the state of South Carolina and on Dec 19, 1827, were given a charter for the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad.  Mr. Alexander Black was proposed to build the railroad.  A month and a half later on January 30, 1828 the charter was changed to the South Carolina Canal and Railroad.  This new charter gave the men more room to move.  For years after this, the company was known as the Charleston Hamburg Railroad, when in fact, it was part of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad. The men got busy surveying routes. It was finally decided the best route was to go straight up from Charleston between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, going northwest all the way to Aiken, then turning south, going to Hamburg, South Carolina. There was also talk about going to Columbia, Camden and many others cities in South Carolina?

     Horatio Allen, a well known name in railroad circles, came to Charleston and took the position of chief engineer for the Charleston Hamburg Railroad. Alan was born in Schenectady, NY, on May 10, 1802.  He had become the chief engineer, for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company.  Horatio Allen was the first person to operate a locomotive in the western hemisphere.  He left his previous job, when they decided horse power was better than steam.  He pushed the benefits of the steam locomotive. 

     The stockholders formed the South Carolina Canal and Railroad on May 12, 1828.  It was the second railroad company in the United States.  The South Carolina Canal and Railroad had no money, but local businessman E. L. Miller provided $4,000.00 to purchase a locomotive. It was understood that Charleston and Hamburg Railroad would buy the machine if it proved to meet the requirements. Miller had preliminary plans drawn up by Christan Dettmold, of Eason and Dotterer.  The plans were sent to the West Point Foundry, in New York City.  Work started the early part of the summer of 1830.  The engine a 0-4-0, vertical boiler was called the Best Friend of Charleston.  This was the first practical steam locomotive built in America, all four were driver wheels. 

     In the fall of 1830, the Best Friend of Charleston was ready.  The locomotive was disassembled and shipped down the Atlantic coast, on board the ship, Niagara.    

      At about the same time in August 1830, the Tom Thumb locomotive, built in England, had several trial runs.  The Tom Thumb was an experimental locomotive, built for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. 

     The Best Friend of Charleston arrived in Charleston, October 23, 1830.  It was taken from the boat to the shop of Thomas Dotterer and his partner, Eason, and was reassembled. The locomotive weighed about 4 tons but could produce only six horsepower.

      In January of 1830, construction of the tracks was started. The tracks began at Line Street and by Christmas day, the tracks went to San Souci. On Christmas Day 1830, 141 passengers rode in two passenger cars up to San Souci. Traveling speed was 15 to 25 miles per hour. On Christmas Eve, the Charleston papers contained the following announcement, “The time of leaving the station in Line Street, will be 8:00AM, at 10:00 AM, at 1:00 PM, and half past 3 PM”. That first trip of the Best Friend of Charleston was reported around the world. This was the first regularly scheduled passenger train to operate in America.

      With the success of the Charleston Hamburg Railroad, they decided to order a second locomotive from the New York foundry. It was called the “West Point”. It had a horizontal boiler, and it was a 0-4-0.

      The railroad experienced several problems during 1831. Train derailments, but no loss of life.   Hot ashes from the locomotive, completely burned a freight car and the wooden tracks. This happened about five miles north of Summerville.  The biggest event was the explosion of the Best Friend of Charleston.

       On June 17, 1831 engineer Nicholas Darrell and his firemen ran up the line to eight mile house to pickup some cars hauling lumber. It was there a turntable had been installed to turn the locomotive around. When they arrived, Nicholas went over to inspect the lumber cars and left his firemen to turn the engine around. The firemen finished the task of getting the locomotive turned around on the turntable. He was sitting, waiting for Nicholas Darrell to get back. Suddenly, the up right cylinder of iron that held the boiling water exploded at the bottom. The iron boiler was thrown some 25ft. from the platform. Boiling water was also thrown. Darrell wrote about the accident later. ” when I ran the best friend, I had a Negro fireman to fire, clean, and grease the machine. This Negro annoyed at the noise occasioned by the blowing off the steam, fastened the valve lever down and sat upon it which caused the explosion, deadly injuring him, from the effects of which he died afterward and scalding me.” The death of the fireman was the first fatality on an American railroad. It was at this time the company started  mandating a flat car which was loaded with 6 bales of cotton behind the locomotive to protect the passengers from another explosion.  The enthusiasm of the work already completed, was dampened.

       Charleston Hamburg Railroad was the first railroad to carry the U.S. mail. It would leave Line Street in Charleston and would go up twelve mile house. There the mail bags would be transported to stagecoaches. This started in November of 1831. The further northwest the train went, the further the mail would go.

        By the end of 1831, the railroad was eighteen miles long and reached the area of Woodstock. The Charleston Hamburg Railroad went on to buy many other locomotives. Locomotives like the, South Carolina {2-4-2}, Phoenix {0-4-0}, Charleston {2-4-2}, Barnwell {2-4-2}, and Edisto {2-4-2} and many others.

        The tracks reached Summerville in the summer of 1832.  It was the first town of consequence to be reached. On October 3, 1832, the company started running passenger trains, two times a day. The passenger trains did not haul freight. The people loved it. Now you could live in Summerville and work down town Charleston. 

       The railroad kept growing. There were very few towns or villages along the way, but when the train came, so did the people. Many of the towns were named for railroad people. Blackville was named for Alexander Black.  Aiken was named for William Aiken, the first president of the railroad. William Aiken died in 1831. He never had the privilege of visiting the town that bears his name.

       The train finally reached Hamburg, South Carolina on  October 2, 1833. The fare between Charleston and Hamburg was $8.00. The Charleston Hamburg Railroad was the longest railroad in the world at that time. The cost of building the railroad was close to its estimation, $950,000.00. Henry Schultz, who founded Hamburg in 1821, donated land for the depositary at the end of the line. Elias Horry was president of the Charleston and Hamburg railroad from 1831 to 1834.

            The South Carolina railroad was finally able to purchase a license for $150,000 from Augusta Georgia. In July of 1852, they built a bridge and came into the city of Augusta. The Georgia Railroad had been operating westward out of Augusta since 1837. The South Carolina Railroad paid 50% and the Georgia Railroad and others paid the remainder. The bridge was completed in the summer of 1853 but there was still a gap of one mile between the trains. The Augusta City Council said that freight should be unloaded from one train and transferred using horsepower to the other train.  This ruling lasted for only 4 years. In 1857, the rule changed and they did not have to use horsepower.

            On December 28, 1837 the Louisville, Cincinnati, and Charleston Railroad purchased the parent company, the South Carolina Canal and Railroad for $2,400,000. 


Mark D. Woodard

June 2009

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