Friday, September 13, 2013

The Business of the Railroad

For many today, the railroad running through Douglasville might seem a little outdated and an inconvenience. The blast of the train's horn interrupt our conversations as we walk through O'Neal Plaza or while we have diner or lunch along Broad Street. The train no longer carries us to Atlanta or west into Alabama. It merely blocks traffic as folks attempt to head home to Hiram or Dallas. However, there was a time when the railroad was premier in our thoughts and had it not run through Douglasville our past, and therefore our future would have been very different.

By 1850, Atlanta already had several rail lines, but there was yet to be a line heading west, until the Georgia Western Railroad was chartered in 1854. The concern was incorporated by Richard Peters, Lemuel Grant, and other Atlanta businessmen.

Some sources state prior to the Civil War grading occurred from Atlanta to a point two miles west of Skint Chestnut/Douglasville, but I'm now a little skeptical of that since early railroad maps show the line passing through the southern portion of the county. There are stories that the right-of-way was used by farmers to move cattle from Birmingham to Atlanta for market. I haven't found any proof of this yet, but at any rate the Civil War interrupted the plans.

What I do know is that even after the war the western route for the railroad was still very much a point of discussion. Notice the map I have here courtesy of the University of Alabama Map Library.

You can clearly see a much different route out of Atlanta where the railroad would go through Carrollton and not Douglasville. Douglasville was not legally established until February of 1875 due to some legal entanglements, and an election that had to be held twice, but the town fathers continued to set up the town, so it's no surprise to me that Douglasville was on the 1873 map. Not only did the town fathers have to convince the folks of Douglas County that Douglasville should be the county seat, they also had to convince the railroad to lay tracks through town as well.

On July 12, 1873 a railroad meeting was held at Chapel Hill to discuss proposed routes and issues surrounding stock subscriptions. Three days later a larger group met in Douglasville to consider the prospect of the Georgia Western Railroad passing through the county with W.P. Strickland as the chair and A.S. Gorman as secretary.

A committee was set up to create resolutions for those at the meeting to consider. John F. Glover, Dr. Poole, Ezekiel Polk, Captain Whitley and G.W. McLarty were appointed to the committee. They went into another room to devise the resolutions, and while they did so John M. Edge entertained the crowd with what is described as his "fluent and impressive style describing the benefits to have the railroad pass through the county."

The committee came up with three resolutions which were read to the crowd and adopted. They were:

"Resolved - that the people of Douglas County want the Georgia Western Railroad; that the  right-of-way be given through the county; the road be the same width as allowed to other roads in this state.

Resolved -that we recommend the company to cross the Chattahoochee River below the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, thence coming out by the great water power known as the old Sweetwater Factory site and the Merchant Mills on that stream.

Resolved - that we are willing to subscribe stock under the form adopted at the railroad meeting at Chapel Hill on the 12th.

Railroad construction finally began eight years later in 1881. By that time the Georgia Western Railroad had become the Georgia Pacific, and fortunately, the final route included Douglasville.

The Weekly Star, Douglasville's paper at the time, advised on August 23, 1881, "On Tuesday, one hundred and twenty-five hands arrived here for the purpose of beginning work on the Georgia Pacific. Yesterday morning, they began preparing the graded portion of the railroad for the reception of crossties and iron. The men are from Virginia...This looks like business."

Business most certainly was the correct word!

This post first appeared in the Douglas County Sentinel, May 19, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. I have often thought that Douglasville would have been a much more attractive town if the founders had taken the opportunity in the beginning to build a courthouse square a couple of blocks back from the railroad, with stores facing the square and warehouses docks on the side toward the tracks. That is a lesson in the long-term effects of town planning decisions that can never easily be undone.


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