Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

THE TRAIN TO NOWHERE


The Story of the Savannah, Dublin and Western Shortline


It was going to be the railroad which connected Savannah to the rest of the world. There were already several railroads leading in and out of the port city which laid claim to that boast. Money poured in. Money poured out. And, when it's day was done, the greatest railroad which would never pass through Laurens County faded into a bad dream. It disappeared into the nighttime and never even made it more than one hundred fifty miles. It was gone, just another in a long line of highly hyped rail lines which never made the grade.

Many attempts were made and just as many failed to build another railroad from the port city of Savannah to Central Alabama and beyond. In the spring of 1882, capitalists from New York conceived the Savannah and Pacific Short Line Railway Company, a railroad from Savannah to Columbus, running through the Wiregrass area, crossing the Oconee River five miles above Mount Vernon, but missing Dublin by seventeen miles. When Dubliners found out that they were slightly off the main line, H.M. Burch and John S. Drew were appointed to lead a committee to convince the railroad's directors to bend the route just enough to bring it closer to Dublin.

With the abandonment of the Savannah and Pacific plan, as well as others, an application was made for the Savannah, Dublin, and Western Shortline Railway Co. in the fall of 1885 along the same basic route from Savannah through Dublin and thence to Americus through Hawkinsville.

By the beginning of December, Engineer Arthur Pou and his crew were camped at Fuller's Mill across the river from Dublin as they were making preliminary surveys of the route. On the Savannah end of the proposed route, engineers, delayed by bitterly cold weather, began their survey at the junction of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad and the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway, some crow fly miles from Savannah. The sight of railroad engineers surveying created much excitement along their path. Railroads meant money, and a lot of it.

A mere sixteen miles of railroad had been graded from Dublin toward Savannah by the Dog Days of August, 1886. Meanwhile the tracks of the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad were finally completed to the eastern banks of the Oconee River opposite Dublin.

That's when the crews of Ferguson & Company, the railroad's main contractor, left their jobs. In near perfect unison with the massive earthquake which struck Charleston, South Carolina on August 31, 1886, the Savannah, Dublin and Western venture was officially deemed a failure. Ferguson sued the railroad. A receiver was appointed. Work ground to a disappointing halt.

Once again from the brink of disaster, the resilient railroad was revived. Col. John M. Stubbs, a Dublin attorney, led the negotiations to bring his dream of a major rail line running through his native Macon and his hometown of Dublin. A contract was signed to build the 157-mile line from Savannah in eight months and by the middle of 1887. With no doubt of the company's success, the directors planned to be able to ride a train driven by a Baldwin locomotive from Savannah to Birmingham by the end of 1887. And to prove their point, newspaper accounts indicated that the 307-mile route was going to be possible through the infusion of a million dollars by investors from England.

It was on the first of April 1, 1887, that the backers of the S.D. & W Railroad announced new and bigger plans for their rail line. The directors elected Douglas Green, of New York, and T.P. Branch, of Augusta, to begin the effort to extend the line from Savannah through Dublin and then to Macon, LaGrange and Birmingham with the ultimate goal of reaching the northwestern United States, drawing the eyes of prominent capitalists in Richmond, Virginia.

The newly proposed line would operate in direct competition with he long established, highly traveled, Central of Georgia railroad, which had been operating between Macon and Savannah for more than four decades. Initially, Central officials expressed no desire to invest in the venture.

But when it appeared there was money to be made, the officers and directors of the powerful Central of Georgia began the financial maneuvering to take over the operation of the Savannah, Dublin and Western.

Meanwhile, more prospective railroads through Laurens County were being planned. A petition for incorporation of the Augusta, Thomasville, and Gulf Railroad Company was filed to build a railroad from Augusta to Thomasville through Richmond, Burke, Jefferson, Emanuel, Johnson, Laurens, Dodge, Wilcox, Irwin and Berrien counties,

Then the law suits started. As the aspiring entrepreneurs fought over the rights to the line like a wake of buzzards plucking a deer carcass clean, any hopes of building the coast to coast railroad quickly faded away.

Despite the obstacles along the way, local backers, John M. Stubbs and Joshua Walker of Laurens County, joined with Daniel G. Hughes and Dudley Hughes of Twiggs County and set their sights on building a railroad from Macon to Dublin with an eventual extension on to Savannah.

In July 1891, the first leg of their dream was completed when the first train from Macon to Dublin rolled into the city of Dublin.

Ten years later in 1901, the dream of the Savannah, Dublin and Western Shortline was partially achieved. With the extension of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah railroad to Vidalia, passage to the port city from the Central City of Macon along a more southern route was finally accomplished.

But, it was a century and a quarter ago that west bound odyssey of the train they called the Savannah, Dublin and Western Shortline was gone forever when the day was done.

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