This abandoned railway evolved from a short line built originally in support of a late 19th century mining operation in eastern Aiken County, to Southern Railways' main route between Columbia, SC, and Savannah GA.
The original Blackville, Alston, and Newberry (Blackville-Sievern) road was built in 1888 to serve kaolin mines near the North Fork Edisto River. Kaolin, pine forest products, and crops became a mainstay of this line, as well as some industries that located in Springfield. At Blackville it connected with the Charleston-Hamburg railroad, by this time owned by the SC & Ga RR. The Barnwell Railway, built in 1888, proceeded south from Blackville to serve that town. The BA&N was reorganized into the financially unstable Greenwood, Anderson, & Western that ended up going bankrupt by 1895.
The Carolina Midland Railway Co., formed in 1891, acquired the Barnwell railroad. In 1898, the CMR acquired the former BA&N between Perry and Blackville from the bankrupt GA&W, while the newly incorporated Sievern and Knoxville acquired the Perry-Seivern section, intending to extend it to Batesburg. The CMR extended the Barnwell line in 1891 south to Allendale, where it connected to the Charleston & Western Carolina (now operated by CSX). The CMR and the S&K were closely related, as the treasurer of the CMR, Col. Mike Brown, was the owner of the S&K. The CMR seems to have operated the trains over the S&K. The story of the Perry-Batesburg section is covered separately on this web site.
It may be at this time that the Barnwell Railway and the former BA&N / GA&W now owned by the CMR were joined end-to-end in Blackville to form one north-south line that crossed the east-west Charleston-Hamburg line of the South Carolina and Georgia RR at a diamond just west of downtown. A two-sided Union Station was built in Blackville facing the diamond, so that its platforms could serve both railroads. Some significant payloads of cotton and cottonseed oil apparently originated in Barnwell in the early 20th century, where cotton platforms and at least one cottonseed oil works used the line.
In 1899 CMR began a branch line from the Columbia-Augusta line in Cayce, across Lexington County and the North Fork Edisto River into Aiken County, to join the existing line at Perry just east of Wagener. A number of whistle stops in central and western Lexington County and eastern Aiken County were created along this branch line. A company officer's daughter gave them names derived from mythology, such as Thor.
Pelion, SC, was the only full-fledged permanent town to originate from the construction of this section. The new town grew up by Fort's Pond, where unusually good water was available for the railroad's steam boilers.
In 1899 Southern Railways took over both the S&K and the CMR, as well as the SC & Ga that the CMR crossed in Blackville. The Cayce-Perry branch and a new section from Allendale to Hardeeville were completed by Southern, whose resources evidently dwarfed those of CMR, that year. Southern Railways apparently intended to compete with the other dominant systems in the region, particularly the Seaboard Air Line that had acquired the Florida Central and Peninsular, by creating a new route between Columbia and Savannah, GA and points south into Florida, often referred to as the "Southern Columbia-Savannah Route".
The line in Allendale apparently used the C&WC line (via trackage rights, presumably) for roughly a quarter mile before its new turnout to the south headed down towards Hardeeville. In Hardeeville, the line connected with the Atlantic Coast Line Charleston-Savannah route, providing direct access to Savannah and points beyond. This also added to the line the communities of Furman in Hampton County, and Tarboro in Jasper County. A number of logging operations with logging railroads of some extent, including the huge Argent Lumber concern in Hardeeville, were served by this new Southern route.
This section included, at a point just north of Estill, a bridge, rather than a grade-level crossing and diamond, over the north-south Seaboard Air Line between Savannah and Cayce, aka the "Southbound" railroad ( formerly the Florida Central & Peninsular railroad, now a CSX line) and the highway that is now US 321. Since this is very flat coastal plain country, long inclines had to be built up artificially to approach it with an acceptable grade.
After the Perry-Batesburg section was abandoned in the 1930s, the Southern "Columbia - Savannah Route" stretched between Cayce and Hardeeville for a few decades. As late as the early 1960s, the line evidently still had strategic significance to Southern Railways, because Southern intervened in the merger case (approved in 1963) of Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line, requesting that it be given outright the ACL lines between Hardeeville and Jacksonville, FL. The request was denied by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which instead stipulated some mutual trackage agreements between Southern and the new Seaboard Coast Line railroad formed by the merger.
Evidently this did not suffice to make the line profitable. At some point presumably after 1963 but before 1970, the southern end of the line was abandoned between Hardeeville and the small town of Furman. Some roadbed can still be seen beside US highways 601 and 321 south of Furman to the outskirts of Hardeeville, along with a crossbuck sign left nostalgically in a private driveway a few miles south of Furman.
In the early 1980s, Southern Railways abandoned the Blackville-Furman section, which included Allendale and Barnwell. A small spur now serviced by CSX remains in Allendale to this day (late 2001) to serve the large lumber mill just north of town. While the turnout south from the CSX (former C&WC) line through Allendale has been obliterated near the highway and CSX line, its "ghost", in the form of a barely visible ridge crossing US 278, remains. The abutments, piers, and embankments of the bridge by US 321 outside Estill remain as of 2002. Much of the roadbed between Barnwell and Furman is still plainly visible, except places mostly south of Allendale where ROW through fields were apparently obliterated by farming. A possibly intact plate girder bridge in Barnwell could be glimpsed at a distance from SC Hwy 3 in 2001. It crosses the northeast-southwest bed of an abandoned ACL / CSX line (part of the former Manchester & Augusta) where it passed through southern Barnwell.
A few small industries and commercial concerns in Springfield in western Orangeburg County apparently continued to use the line for a few years. When the Branchville-Oakwood section of the Southern, which crossed this line in Blackville, was abandoned in the mid 80s, the former CMR / Southern line was abandoned back to Springfield. Blackville's Union Station was removed from its former location at the crossing of the two lines to a downtown location, restored, and now serves as the town library.
By the late 1980s, the tiny volume of traffic between Edmund and Springfield evidently ceased altogether. By 1992 Norfolk-Southern had officially abandoned the remaining line back to Edmund. The tracks were taken up by late 1994. The remaining spur line out of Cayce still serves a sand mine near Edmund, and some industry and heavy commercial installations in Cayce and South Congaree. In 2001, the old roadbed to Springfield was still quite fresh and obvious, with some gravel ballast visible in spots. Springfield, Salley, Pelion, and Perry have obvious "railroad parks" in early stages of reclamation. Salley still has what appears to be an old-style covered wooden platform / loading dock by the old roadbed downtown.
Four volume History of Wagener compilation and More About the Swamp Rabbit by the late Rev. William J. Buchner, Sr.
Woody and Johnson South Carolina Postcards Vol IV: Lexington County and Lake Murray (Arcadia Publishing, 2000)
Woody and Johnson South Carolina Postcards Vol II: Southern Carolina Beaufort to Barnwell (Arcadia Publishing, 2000)
Listing of SC railroad abandonments by decade from the South Carolina Rail Plan: 1994 Update and Notices. Since it dates back only to 1970, and the Hardeeville-Furman section is not listed, it is inferred that the section was abandoned before 1970. The fact that the remainder was abandoned in the 1980s and early 90s is confirmed.
Set of 1974 SC Hwy Dept county maps, which show the end of the line in Furman.
1956 SC rail map, which confirms the line existed to Hardeeville at least that long.
Conant, Michael "Railroad Mergers and Abandonments", Univ CA. Source for the story of the intervention by Southern in the ACL/SAL merger case before the ICC, and its outcome.
Thanks to Mitch Bailey for contributing information about this route.