In the 1880s, railroad magnate John Williams consolidated a number of small coastal North Carolina railroad lines into the Seaboard Railroad system. The Seaboard rapidly expanded southward.
Williams soon bought the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery Railway (SAM) in Georgia. The Seaboard's purchase of the SAM gave them a their own railroad line all the way from Alabama into Savannah, essentially breaking the stranglehold of the Central Of Georgia Railroad on all of Savannah's rail traffic.
It turns out the Central had signed a trackage exchange with the SAM, swapping rights to travel on the Central’s Lyons to Savannah route in exchange passage on SAM’s Americus to Birmingham route. Thusly, the Seaboard now had two routes that passed through (or near) Bulloch County.
In the 1880s, there were small family-run logging businesses all throughout Bulloch County. The lumber harvesters used “trams,” essentially large flatbed vehicles, to transport the fallen logs out the woods. At first pulled by horses, mules, and even teams of oxen, these trams soon were pulled by small engines on their own railroad tracks.
The first of these lines was the railroad started by the Foy family: John E., John F., and Edward E. Foy. The Foy brothers had two separate such lines. The first tram line ran from their sawmill in Egypt, where it intersected with the Central of Georgia Railway (Central) main line, to the pine barrens of the Bay Gall area.
The second tram line ran from the Lanier mill in Portal across the Ogeechee River to Rocky Ford, where the main line of the SAM passed by. Their lumber was shipped from here up to Savannah and then up the east coast of the United States. The main investors in this venture were the Brinsons, Calhouns, Olliffs and Shearhouse families.
The actual operation of the Foy tram railroads was done by the Cowart Brothers of Bulloch County. Never interested in the passenger business, once the supply of timber had been exhausted, the Foy's tram lines were picked up and moved at the same time that their saw mills were disassembled and moved to other locations.
The second tram railroad in Bulloch County was started by W.C. Perkins around 1890. It ran from his Hagan mill to Glennville, and was later extended all the way to Register. In 1902 the Perkins family rechartered their railroad so as to start an actual passenger and freight business which became known as the Register and Glennville Railroad (R&G).
On November 29, 1901, workers extending the R&G line ran into some opposition from “a crowd of negroes armed with shotguns.” Apparently, the citizens were unhappy that the railroad was passing through their community, which was known as “Little Excelsior”.
Work boss D.G Swing reported the problem to his superiors, who then sent a larger railroad gang along with an armed security force which had instructions to make sure the gang finished the job and prevent any further similar disruptions.
Two men, T.J. and E.N. Lanier, were identified in court as the group's ringleaders. The judge, however, dismissed all charges against the two men after they explained that they felt they were simply protecting their land.
By 1905, R&G had extended its line from the Seaboard Air Line Railway depot in Claxton, to the Bruton and Pineora Railroad (B&P) depot in Register. The B&P (discussed in another article) later became part of the Oconee Branch (or Dublin to Dover Branch), of the Central of Georgia Railroad.
Due to a lawsuit, the R&G entered receivership and was sold for $225,000. The new owners rechartered the line as the short-lived East Georgia Railway in 1915, but were forced to close their railroad in 1916. According to documents, there was talk of extending this line to the Darien Short Line Railroad on Georgia's coast, but that never happened.
As soon as these smaller railroad lines stretched outward from Statesboro to several of the junctions with the Seaboard, passengers could go from Statesboro to the Seaboard's Union Station in Savannah without making any changes, and could travel northward on the Seaboard all the way to their depot in Chattanooga.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at email@example.com.