Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA

The Charleston Subdivision

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Both the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line, though mighty railroads and direct competitors, were fledgling railroad companies by the turn of the 20th century. Both systems were basically complete by 1900 but there were gaps here and there. The main concern of the SAL at this time was finding a better way to move freight. While the ACL had a level route that passed through the coastal plain of North and South Carolina, the SAL was more inland and had hills and curves to deal with. (The idea to build a second mainline had actually surfaced a decade earlier just after John Skelton Williams organized the SAL.)

There was already a line in place from Hamlet to Charleston and it was reasoned that by constructing a connecting link south to Savannah, a totally new "low grade" route could be created for the bulk of SAL's freight. This second line was of such great importance that it received the green light almost from the moment it was conceived. Thus, what soon became the East Carolina Division was born!

Before construction had even begun on the new route, there was considerable business located on Hutchingson Island and in 1899 a new bridge was placed in service across the Savannah River to serve the industries there. This new bridge was a "swing bridge" and was not constructed for heavy use by SAL's predessors. As a result, SAL rebuilt this bridge into a new heavy duty bascule bridge just as construction started on the new route to Charleston.

In 1915, construction got underway, with three construction gangs starting work — two on either end of the line, and one in the middle. A little over half of the new line was to be built in the marshes of South Carolina Low Country, and numerous bridges would have to be built to cross the many rivers that spanned the 99 miles between the two cities. The largest bridge was located at the Broad River about halfway between Savannah and Charleston. Miles and miles of causeway had to be built across swamps and marshes and most of the fill material came from pits in the Charleston area and a few locations along the line where cuts were required. After just over two years and an untold amount of construction the new route opened on December 31, 1917. The entire route was less than 1% of 1% of a grade, and Seaboard quickly routed all of its through freight to this line. The SAL finally had a quicker line between the two cities than the ACL.

Numerous logging lines connected with the SAL out in the wilderness south of Charleston. The largest of these lines connected at Fenwick, SC, and ran to Bennett's Point. Another major line was located at Wiggens. It is reported that the line from Fenwick was a branch operated by SAL to the wharf there at Bennett's Point. Several other logging lines connected with the SAL in the Dale-Airey Hall area.

Seaboard Air Line passenger train at Grove Street Station.
Grove Street Station sees the last day of SAL passenger service
to Charleston. Photo by George Andrews

Traffic grew steady up until World War II, during which the SAL began installing Centralized Traffic Control on its mainlines as funds and equipment would allow; this was at the order of the government after a series of bad accidents along the line. The EC would have to wait for its CTC installation until 1949, since most of the line crossed rural territory and were without electricity at the time. But CTC was completed and with the help of a few well placed windmills SAL improved overall operations and made good on their promise of "Courteous Service in the South."

The next decade brought more growth, new cars, new locomotives, improved track, the introduction of continuous welded rail, FM radio communication, and one other innovation the Seaboard was famous for: the talking hotbox detector. The first hotbox detector was installed at Riceboro, Georgia, 30 miles south of Savannah, in 1960. Within 5 years these hotbox detectors would be located in strategic locations all along the SAL. The EC got two of these detectors before the merger with the ACL in 1967.

As the 1950s drew to a close, the ACL and SAL began merger talks. While lasting several years, the merger was finally approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission despite many heated court battles over various issues. On July 1, 1967 the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad was born. One of the many routes that had been proposed for abandonment in the merger talks was the EC and it was one of the first routes to get cut. However, the route could not be closed just yet. There was the many issues of the merger talks that needed to be addressed and it took several months to work out all the details. There were also all the hostile feelings that had to be dealt with between Seaboard men and Coastline men. This went on for years after the merger and to this day there are two sides when you mention the merger. Most former Seaboard men feel it was just a hostile takeover of their line. Almost instantly all through traffic was routed off the EC and rerouted onto the former ACL mainline that paralleled the EC. Some assignments were abolished but most were simply absorbed onto the ACL route. The first Savannah Division Timetable dated September 1, 1967 showed the EC still intact but no scheduled trains other than a local running between Savannah and Charleston. A month later though, the trackage was retired from just south of Charleston to Lobeco.

Several other key routes had been proposed for abandoment during the merger talks, all this to streamline the two companies into one. The EC was one of the routes to be eliminated but the new SCL had plans: part of the EC would be retained. Following the merger nothing happened for the fisrt few weeks but soon all through traffic was diverted off the EC and onto the parallel former ACL route. This became permanent on October 1, 1967 and the segment from Charleston to Lobeco was soon retired. However, a short section was retained from Dupont to Stono to serve some business there just south of Charleston. About the same time, connections were built at Coosaw to connect with the former Charleston & Western Carolina line and the diamond was removed. The line to the south remained in service while the segment from Coosaw to Lobeco was switched by the Port Royal Local for the industry located there. SCL needed the portion of the line to the south in place to use as a detour route north from Savannah (the lift bridge on the route had by this time been repaired from an earlier incident, more details below). This portion was re-designated as the Coosaw Subdivision; the CTC remained in service as well. SCL soon lengthened several sidings on the route at Boyed and Levy, SC to 150 cars. (They had been 90 cars long prior.) Also included was a temporary CTC installation from Coosaw on the C&WC route to Yemassee to connect back to the former ACL route. This was done to help the flow of trains that would shortly be coming to the route as a result of the detour — a move that would allow SCL to rebuild the Savannah River trestle south of Hardeeville on the former ACL route. Suddenly the lower portion of the EC was loaded with trains! The EC from Savannah north to Coosaw served as the temporary mainline while an ACL bridge received repairs. 20-30 trains daily used the single track route and this was one of the reasons SCL extended the sidings previously mentioned. Soon however work was completed on the former ACL bridge and all traffic returned to the correct mainline. This left nothing much to run on the EC, but SCL left it in service and routed some trains this way when there was congestion on the mainline.

One of the more troublesome spots along the line was the SAL lift brige over the Savannah River. Hit numerous times by maritime traffic along the river, it caused the closure of the line many times (for up to a year in once instance). However, it was repaired each time and service along the line was restored. Originally a bascule bridge, it was hit by a ship in 1951. The SAL rebuilt the bridge into a modern "lift bridge" and re-opened it in 1952. It is interesting to note that when the new Talmadge Bridge opened in 1954, it had the same vertical clearance as the SAL lift bridge, so it seemed that the new bridge was indeed the most modern on the entire SAL system! Then on October 31, 1966, a ship ran into the south tower of the bridge, which subsequently toppled into the river. It took nearly a year to repair the bridge during which time the SCL merger took place. When it re-opened in 1967, it was now part of the new SCL Railroad. Another hit on the bridge in 1968, and then another in 1969, were both minor; in both cases the bridge was quickly repaired and did not disrupt operations along the line.

However, on April 21, 1971, a ship, unable to see the bridge because of foggy conditions, struck the north tower of the bridge, once again sending the bridge into the river. The damage, much more severe than previous incidents, spelled the end for the EC as a through route. A newspaper reportedly described the bridge as the "most unlucky bridge anywhere", as it was struck 5 times during its 20-year existence. To address the problems with the bridge, Thomas Rice came to Savannah to meet with city officials. It was decided that the bridge would not be rebuilt. The EC now had no connection to the south and its fate was pretty much sealed due to the loss of the lift bridge. However, the line was not abandoned just yet: across the Savannah River from the destroyed SAL lift bridge was Hutchingson Island. SCL had a flat yard here and much business on the island to serve. SCL had no choice but to run a local train to serve this business south from Coosaw. Because the route was now ended at the Savannah River, the CTC was removed as well as the pole lines on either side of the right-of-way. Soon however, SCL built a new connection south of Hardeeville off the former ACL mainline to connect with the EC just south of Levy. This new line was completed late in 1977 and placed in service. The portion of the now unused EC from Coosaw south to Pritchard was torn up in 1978, thus spelling the end for this segment. From the junction point of the new connection north to Pritchard was left for car storage.

SCL Timetable, September 1, 1967 SCL Timetable, December 15, 2967
This map is from the first timetable for the Savannah Division to be issued by the SCL on September 1, 1967. Notice it shows the entire EC still intact. Even so, all through traffic had already been routed to the A Line as preperations were underway to abandon the EC from Lobeco to Charleston. Only the local was still operating on the EC at this time. A map from the second timetable issued on December 15, 1967 shows the gap in the EC from Lobeco up to Charleston. A short segment was saved at Stono to serve a customer located there.

The last business, a carload of Tennis Court material was unloaded at Levy in 1980. The track sat unused for the next 2 years until SCL pulled the rails up in 1982. This last segment had been left in place for possible future growth in Southern Beaufort County but as nothing happened the railroad decided they didn't want to pay the taxes on this short stretch and it could not be saved. By the end of 1982 only the 5 miles coming north off Hutchingson Island to the junction with the new connection remained in use. This was re-designated the Hutchingson Island Subdivision and survived into CSX. Eventually, all of the business dried up on the island and in 1996 CSX sold most of the land they owned including the flat yard; today the land is now golf courses and race tracks and hotels. CSX did leave the track in place from South Hardeeville to Hutchingson Island though and plans for a new container port and industrial complex at Hardeeville along the out of service route may soon bring new life to the track, which is overgrown today. North of this area the old roadbed has been converted into a hiking trail called the New River Trail.

A note about the name "East Carolina Subdivision": This line was never officially named the "East Carolina" Subdivision by the SAL. It was part of the Carolina Division of the SAL and earned the nickname "EC" by the people who worked it and maintained it, due to its alignment on the east side of South Carolina. After the SCL merger, for a brief time (2 months), it was renamed the "Charleston Subdivision", and ultimately became part of the New Savannah Division. After the Lobeco-to-Charleston abandonment, the line south of Coosaw was renamed the Coosaw Subdivision.

Lots of evidence remains of the former SAL freight route. Several concrete signal bases are located near Pritchard and a few poles still stand in the swamp along the roadbed. The long trestle at the Broad River still stands although heavily damaged by fire. Several bridges to the north have been converted into fishing piers, the most recent one at Lobeco. Other traces remain here and there of the once proud freight route of the Seaboard Air Line. The EC may be gone, but it is not forgotten.

Thanks to Eugene Cain for contributing information about this route.

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The EC mainline looking north at milepost 473.3. The Okeetee pass track is just up ahead. The Seaboard Air Line owned the line, but merger talks have already started. The track was removed from this area in 1978. Today, this right-of-way serves as an access road for a waste company. Photo by Jerry Coole, 1961. Submitted by Eugene Cain.

Great article!

Very informative, great pictures.

I had been researching the Chas-Sav EC myself & have some material and photos to contribute.

SAL's strategy was: northbound freights used the EC line with its much better ruling grade, southbound freights & named passenger trains used the S line passing thru Columbia.

The EC from Charleston to Savannah also served extensive produce farming on the sea islands; the area was once called "The Cabbage Capital of the World."

A beloved local passenger train usually pulled by a "doodlebug" & dubbed the "Boll Weevil" also served the communities along the EC, including Hampton Park just north of the Citadel campus.

Where is Okeetee? Is that near Pritchardville?

I suspected some of the old EC in Beaufort/Jasper Co.s might figure in rail service to the new container port, but just where is "South Hardeeville" and this new connector from the A Line to the remaining EC line?

One nitpick re the map as of today: the statement that in West Ashley the EC crossed "another SAL line" near US 17 at DuPont is incorrect. The EC crossed the ACL Croghans branch there, which was a remnant of the mainline of the original antebellum Charleston & Savannah Railroad that was acquired by the Plant system, then the ACL.

Mitch Bailey
Lexington County, SC
9/20/2009

[Thanks Mitch, the map has been corrected!  —Greg Harrison]

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We are working on correcting the map...I am sending a detailed map to Abandoned Rails and it will show the locations of the photos...yes it was the ACL that crossed the SAL at Dupont and Crougan...we are correcting that as well. South Hardeeville is where the new connection broke off the mainline to connect over to the remnant of the EC. This is all still in place except for the actual switch which CSX removed. It is also called Sand Island on CSX. This trackage is slated for new life with the coming of the Container Port and Industrial Complex to be built here. I am excited that a small portion of the old EC will return to mainline status!!!

Sorry I failed to mention the farmland south of Charleston and the little local passenger train but in all my research I never saw where SAL routed thru freight of any consequence over the inland passenger route...other than locals. Lots of farmland in the Fairfax-Estill, SC area as well.

Eugene Cain
Hardeeville, SC
9/21/2009

[Thanks for all your help, Eugene!  —Greg Harrison]

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What a great and informative Article!...So, what is the status of the land that the tracks were on? was it reverted back to the land owners? Is it Rail Banked? PLease e-mail me, I am quite interested in the History of this great route! The route is quite interesting with lots of places that are still very evident that there was a RR here!

B.Scott
Beaufort, SC
9/30/2009

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Much of the right of way has been reclaimed. A trail was created on about 3 miles of roadbed...see story, near Pritchard, SC...the New River Trail. A small section was used to bury water and sewer lines north of the former Okeetee Pass Track. The section north of Coosaw ran mostly through the LowCountry marshes and is overgrown today. A small section remains from Dale to the fishing Pier at Wimbee Creek converted from a trestle. I have video footage of all this available.

Eugene Cain
Hardeeville, SC
11/12/2009

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What a great article!

I used to live in Charleston from 1974-1998 before moving back home. The last place I lived was in a condo which was right on the Ashley River next to the ACL Draw Bridge. I loved to watch the "Juice Train" and all the others heading North and South. I was interested in the history of the various railroads both past and present in Charleston.

As I understand it.... the tracks which run alongside North Rhett outside the NWS used to be the SAL from Hamlett to Charleston...is that correct?

I also wondered where did the SAL crossed the Ashley River?

Thanks again for the great info!

Stu Warren
Marianna, FL
12/8/2009

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At the overpass picture how many pilings are under the overpass

Dequante Bazemore
Chesapeake, VA
2/11/2010

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Great artical Eugene lots of great information on this route. My father and mother both had family who worked for the SAL on the EC. Its a shame that hardly nobody around knows that the EC even exsisted around here anymore.I love your pics and if you have anymore of the EC or the Evertt Sub. I sure would like to see them. My son and I have road all along were the EC ran and took pictures along the way. The part I wish I could find more of is in the hollywood, megget, and Johns Iland ares. If you have some or more history about what buisness and siding were along the route or on the stono secture please let me know.

Willis B Ford Jr
Johns Iland, SC
5/24/2010

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As a child, we had homes in both Savannah and Hilton Head, and traveled between them often. I always had my eyes glued on the EC line! Great memories of SAL action there. Sorry I didn't start shooting slides sooner... the rails had just been pulled as I was getting serious with my camera.

Where exactly was the old depot at Pritchardville? I recall a short siding just south of the Highway 46 overpass, but don't remember a structure. I do remember the telltales mounted on either side of the 46 bridge...in my childhood ignorance, I thought those were put there for the circus trains to warn the giraffes to duck!!!

Also, how were the swing-span bridges operated, especially over Broad River? Did they have 24-hour bridge tenders during the busy years? I know the vertical lift bridge over the Savannah River had a full-time bridge tender... I recall his testimony and narrow escape on the Halloween crash. My dad worked at Union Camp, and I spent many afternoons at the base of that awesome structure waiting on him to get off work... his parking lot straddled the SAL on the bank of the river. I was never in a rush for him to come out! I have tons of great railroad memories in Savannah, but the EC line was always a favorite!

Tom Alderman
Kennesaw, GA
9/6/2010

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Sorry guys I haven't answered your posts until now.

Let's begin with Stu Warren..Yes, the tracks are those of the SAL. It ran right by there coming into Charleston. The SAL crossed the Ashley River East of the ACL/CSX crossing of today. It crossed the Ashley River, then proceeded by Hampton Park, running in the middle of Grove Street.

Dequante Bazemore, please tell me what overpass you are referring to and I will try to answer your question.

Tom Alderman, the Pritchard Station was located just south of the SC 46 overpass bridge on the left side of the ROW, near where the house track siding was located. All the swing bridges were hand-cranked as far as I know except the Ashley River Swing Bridge. Of course the Savannah River had a vertical "Lift" bridge that was the most unlucky bridge in the world -- it was hit 4 times total!!!!

Eugene Cain
Hardeeville, SC
9/7/2010

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Some info for all and Tom. I dont know about the other bridges south of Johns Iland but the 2 bridges crossing Johns Iland were manned at all times.Stono 1 bridge was tended by David T Gatch that lived beside the bridge. Stono 2 was tended by Guy Leonard Buckner Sr. The Stono 2 bridge was removed after the line was closed in 1966. Stono 1 stayed longer because of the packing houses on Johns Iland had be serviced. The tracks were removed around 1974 all the way back to Dupont crossing in West Ashley. The bridge was taken out not long after the tracks were removed.

Willis Ford JR
Charleston SC, SC
9/14/2010

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Willis, you are correct. The Stono River Bridges were manned as well as the Ashley River and Savannah River.

The EC was not abandoned in 1966. It was in service up to the Merger with the ACL on July 1, 1967. All through Traffic was then routed to the A line. Sometime after September 1967, the EC was abandoned from Charleston to Lobeco, except for the small segment at Stone, which continued for some time to be serviced by the SCL. E. Cain

Eugene cain
Hardeeville, SC
9/15/2010

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We have a photo of the Grove Street Station in our museum. We would like to invite your contacts to visit us to see our artifacts and we would love to have more local photos, etc, to display in the museum.

http://www.bestfriendofcharleston.org/BFMUSEUM.html

Mary Lehr
Charleston, SC
3/9/2011

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Mary Lehr, I would be very happy to share what I have with you and the Museum. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this further. I also have several Pictures of the Grove Street Station. Is the Museum in Charleston??? You can contact me at 843-784-6991. Give the credit to Greg for making all this possible. Thanks greg!!! Eugene Cain

Eugene Cain
Hardeeville, SC
5/12/2011

[And I thank YOU, Eugene!  —Greg Harrison]

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Greg, I have learned much additional information since doing this Article. I want to make one correction. The route was known as the EC but SAL referred to the route as the Charleston Subdivision from Andrews to Savannah. It was never actually called the East Carolina Sub. Also, following the lift bridge hit of October 31, 1966 in Savannah, ALL freight was rerouted to the Passenger mainline and it stayed there through the SCL merger which occured on July 1, 1967. This means that through freights never returned to full operation on the EC following the reopening of the lift bridge in August of 1967. Since it was a month after the merger, ALL through freight was rerouted to the former ACL mainline. So, one can say the EC lost it's status as a through route north of Coosaw on October 31, 1966 and although the lift bridge was repaired, the line was retired north of Coosaw soon after the bridge was repaired. (Savannah to Coosaw was still a through route until the bridge was hit again in 1971)

Eugene Cain
Hardeeville, SC
11/17/2011

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As per the information I sent, the title shoud be changed to the "Charleston Subdivision" of the SAL's Carolina Division because SAL never referred to this line as the "EC." I just want people to know that and while the name was cahnged to the Coosaw Sub after the merger, it was still never called the "EC." (But employees referred to it as the EC anyway) It remains a mystery how it got that designation. Today's CSX Charleston Sub, the former ACL mainline, was known as the Southover Sub but was renamed the Charleston Sub after the merger. SAL's Carolina Division extended from Hamlet to Jacksonville and also included the "Everett" Sub...formerly the Jacksonville Sub. I want to update the story here as I have learned much more about the route, mainly in the installation of the CTC that began in 1949. Eugene Cain

Eugene Cain
Hardeeville, SC
1/9/2012

[Thanks Eugene, I've updated the name of the article to reflect.  —Greg Harrison]

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Great article and info. The SAL depot at Pritchardville was moved away from the former ROW years ago and is not visable from the trail/utility easement. It is set back off of Hwy 46/170 on private property which is posted as no trespassing. When I last saw it a few years back it was in very poor condition.

Bob Venditti
Weston, FL
6/3/2012

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JUST HAPPENED TO GO BACK TO YOUR SITE AND SEE THAT YOU RESPONDED TO MY COMMENT. I AM CURATOR OF THE BEST FRIEND OF CHARLESTON RAILWAY MUSEUM AT THE CITADEL MALL AT 2070 SAM RITTENBERG DRIVE, CHARLESTON...HOURS 5-9 T/T AND S/S 1-5.

MARY LEHR
CHARLESTON SC, SC
10/9/2012

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Very informative article. This is a long shot, but I am looking for some early Savannah tram line history. The unusual section of rail (image code below) is said to have come from an early GA horse drawn tram line. Have you ever seen this rail design before? Thanks.

http://i681.photobucket.com/albums/vv177/Derail2009/GeorgiaRail.jpg

Derail
Iowa City, IA
11/23/2012

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Interesting find, Derail.

It sort of looks like some variation of flanged rail, and was intended to be fastened to some sort of support, like the very early rails consisting of strap iron on top of wood rails, and sunken into the pavement.

The profile of the rail top looks rather modern; antebellum iron rail tended to have a rounded profile. I don't suppose it's been determined whether the metal is steel or iron? Light street rail is a specialized study tho.

Any possibility it could have come from Augusta, GA? There was once an antebellum horsedrawn street line there, the Augusta & Summerville,that morphed into a switching road for the various RR's serving Augusta (incl Southern, ACL-affiliate Charleston & Western Carolina, the ACL/L&N controlled Georgia RR, and Southern affiliates Central of Ga and Georgia & Florida).

The A&S still exists today as a switching road jointly owned by CSX and Norfolk-Southern.

Mitch Bailey
Lexington Cty, SC
11/23/2012

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Thanks Mitch. Augusta is where I'll start looking for clues. I'm fairly certain this rail is iron, by the weight of it and the sound when struck. It had to have been on a street type surface for the full support as it hasn't the structural integrity to avoid snapping if on cross-ties. I don't know how the horizontal flange worked though - if it kept an open wheel flangeway on streets, had holes for spikes, or even if this rail flange was the inside or outside of the rail. Anyway, thanks again for your input.

Derail
Iowa City, IA
11/24/2012

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So I've been curious and started trying to find out which train use to travel the West Ashley Green Way Trail. We did the train start and where did it go. What company ran the line and where were there any stops. Pictures would be great too. I love on the trail now and wanted to to display information to users of the trail.

Charles
Charleston, SC
3/29/2014

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