Since the beginning of trains in America, Augusta has had a part. In 1833, the first train ran from Charleston to Hamburg, South Carolina. Hamburg was just across the river from Augusta. Henry Schultz had named Hamburg for his home in Germany. Augusta wouldn’t let them build a railroad bridge across the Savannah River. They changed their minds in 1837 when they were told that Augusta would be by passed. Augusta quickly agreed to a bridge. The railroad bridge was built and the tracks leading to Athens were connected.
Oh, there’s an interesting story about the railroad bridge, by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The dam up at Clarks Hill wasn’t built until 1954. Before that we had flooding problems in Augusta. That’s what happened in 1929. The river was swollen and carried uprooted trees and things. In fact, they recorded the river was flowing 36 times its normal rate. You could hear the trees crashing into the columns holding up the bridge. They just knew they were going to lose it. Then someone came up with the idea. Take the train, load up the cars with dirt and the rain would create mud. They did it, and pulled the train onto the bridge, it worked! It made the train heavy, the weight of the train made the bridge heavy, so the trees crashing into the columns didn’t hurt anything. The bridge was saved.
Emily Tubman, the great entrepreneur, owned stock in several railroad companies. During the Civil War, Mrs. Tubman told the Confederate Soldiers they could ride the train, free. There were over 100,000 soldiers that took advantage of it. However, if you were a Yankee you had to pay. The railroad was one of the reasons; so many wounded soldiers were brought to Augusta. All of the churches on Telfair Street were used as hospitals.
If you lived in Augusta before 1973 you remember Union Station. It was located where the Post Office building is today. It was a big building. The only thing left, from the old station, sits in front of the Richmond Academy Building, onTelfair Street. It’s the top of the tower, it looks like a gazebo. The last train pulled out of Union Station in the early 1970s. In 1973 the building was torn down and the new Post Office was built. I’m sure the Post Office didn’t mind leaving the federal building, and moving into more spacious accommodations.
Union Station was busy. Five railroad companies used Union Station. That’s where the train station got its name, Union Station. It was a busy place with cargo being shipped here and there. People catching the train, going to see loved ones, to school or business. There was always something happening. In fact President Woodrow Wilson remembered the trains coming in, and bringing Yankee prisoners, and so many wounded soldiers, some went into his dad’s church, First Presbyterian.
And talking about trains in Augusta, you need to visit the Augusta History Museum. They have an old steam engine there. It was built in Ohio, back in 1915 for the Georgia Railroad Co. That very locomotive made the run between Augusta and Atlanta. The locomotive needed coal and water, lots of it. It held 15 tons of coal and 10,800 gallons of water. There were four stops between here and Atlanta. I hope you weren’t in a hurry, it took 10 hours to get their.
Written by Mark Woodard
- The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
- Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
- Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
- The Brightest Arm of the Savannah, the Augusta Canal. Cashin, Edward J. (2002)