After much persuasion from Charleston merchants, the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was chartered and investigated the feasability of a rail road system connecting Charleston to the inland markets. The "Best Friend of Charleston” made its premier trip on Christmas Day 1830, becoming the first steam locomotive in the United States with a regular passenger service. This first trip was described by the “Charleston Courier” on December 29:
“The one hundred and forty-one persons flew on the wings of wind at the speed of fifteen to twenty-five miles per hour, annihilating time and space…leaving all the world behind."
Within a few months, a deadly explosion ended the run of the Best Friend. Her remains were quickly salvaged to build the Phoenix, which ran up until the Civil War. The original railroad towns that stretched from Charleston to Hamburg (modern day North Augusta) are now a hidden road map to the very roots of South Carolina culture.
CHASING THE RAILROAD
Here there's a whole district of interesting structures that trace back to Williams Aiken, the founder of the South Carolina Canal & Railroad Company. You can also stop by a couple of the original depots that have now been converted to the Charleston Music Hall and the Charleston Visitors Center.
Take in Summerville's downtown, which is one of the oldest communities in the United States that was planned specifically with the railroad in mind. Just beyond the tracks you can check out the museum for a local history lesson.
This town started as George's Station, named after James George. He was one of its original settlers and leased the land for the railroad to pass through. Drive by James George's original house that he built in 1850 (built with a railroad view of course) and stop by the Klauber Building for some history and visitor information about all of the attractions in the area!
This town really comes to life during the annual Raylrode Daze festival every September. The museum at the depot is one of the most visited railroad sites in South Carolina. It even has a restaurant on site!
Originally called Graham's Turnout, Denmark was about midway between Charleston and Hamburg at the time of the first railroad action here. Today you can check out the downtown area that is known for it's antiques and art!
This town, like many of the others, were built around the railroad. Blackville in particular was a popular overnight stop and bustling with agriculture. Visit the original depot, which was moved not far from its original location and turned into the local library and still has many original features. You can eat in downtown or venture slightly off path to check out Healing Springs for a cool drink of water.
Named after the founder of the SC Canal & Railroad Company, Aiken's roots are pure railroad. To make it even more interesting, it all may have all started with a love story. Get the scoop about Aiken's intriguing railroad history at the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum, including lots of visitors information along with interactive dioramas about the railroad! From here it's an easy walk to Aiken's famous historic downtown full of eateries, unique shops, and their expansive museum.
Once called Hamburg, this was the railroad's last inland stop before it eventually expanded across the Savannah River into Georgia (if you look closely you can still see the remnants of the railroad bridge when you cross over). Learn the ins and outs of the railroad through the interactive exhibits at the North Augusta Arts & Heritage Center.