Head em off at the pass?! I hate that cliche! Hedley Lamar
The upper part of the Charleston peninsula was not incorporated into the city until 1849. Outside the city limits, were wide farmlands, large churches and tidal ponds that encroached on both sides of the area above Calhoun street, commonly referred to as ‘ the Neck’. For this reason it was a great place to construct railroad depots, repair stations and stations. The power and the influence of the railroads is a great example of how the Upper King Street area is of key importance to Charleston. The neighborhoods above Calhoun street are a fascinating, dynamic and important part of the growth and development of Charleston. Visitors to Charleston would do well to discover the many historical treasures located above Calhoun street. An interesting an often overlooked treasure of the Best Friend of Charleston Museum located near the Charleston Visitor’s Bureau.
During the Age of Sail, the port of Charleston prospered due to its excellent harbor and the advantages of the trade winds. The agricultural wealth of indigo, rice and cotton flowed in a massive transatlantic circle. The Southern trade winds brought manufactured goods, slaves and emigrants from English traders, into the Caribbean. Loaded with Caribbean rum and spices they headed up the eastern coast to sell goods and pick up the Lowcountry’s agricultural wealth. Then sailed north to catch the Northern trade winds and start again. The planters and elite of Charleston became immensely wealthy and everyone prospered in the richest city in 18th century America.
And then the future happened. The completion of the Erie Canal, the rise of the ports of New Orleans and Savannah. The fluctuations of hard coin and currency with the political fractures leading into the banking and economic and banking crisis of 1819. Charleston lost its premiere status and started to suffer. Enterprising leaders of the Charleston business community confronted the crisis of the troubled economic time of the early 19th Century.One of their main ventures was the organization of a railroad and the building of the Best Friend of Charleston.
The wife and I , forced to evacuate Charleston during Hurricane Matthew in early October were able to make a stop in Aiken, SC on the way back to Charleston after the all clear was sounded. Here are some pictures of the RR in Aiken.
While we only had a short time to stay in Aiken, it was very cool to see the connections between the places and the real locations that I had only viewed on this 1833 map from the Library of Congress. This map gives great view of the SC&RR from Charleston to Aiken, South Carolina and shows how Charleston was trying to capture agricultural product and goods coming down the Savannah River, especially from the plantations and farms from Upcountry. This website has some great photographs and personal histories and focuses on the railroad connection between Branchville and Aiken, South Carolina. From Wikipedia:
1829: The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company was chartered December 19, 1827 and was also known as the Charleston & Hamburg Road. An experimental track was installed in February, 1829 to haul bales of cotton in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. On April 1, 1830 a double tracked 3,800-foot (1,200 m) long railroad was in full operation. By 1833, this railroad had been completed to Hamburg, South Carolina for a total length of 137 miles (220 km). At that time, it was the longest railroad in the world. This was the first railroad to use steam locomotives regularly. It later became part of the Southern Railway, now part of Norfolk Southern.
Here are some pictures of the Aiken Visitor’s Center and Train Depot. It was closed on Mondays 🙁 , which was disappointing. We will certainly return to Aiken to experience this Charleston connection, as well as the lovely town of Aiken. Much of the central part of upper part of Charleston has transformed the railroad depot area in to the central hub for tourist information, so this area was one of the first I experienced when I arrived here. The Best Friend of Charleston Museum was built 2013. It has a new display building for the 1928 replica of the Best Friend of Charleston was built at 32 Ann St. in downtown Charleston.
Here are some pictures of the Best Friend of Charleston inside the museum at 32 Ann Street.
Sadly, the Best Friend of Charleston suffered a boiler explosion in the summer of 1831, yet another Charleston first. This was certainly a financial set back for the company. While the SC&RR certainly captured some trade and commerce from the upper parts of South Carolina and other states it was of limited success. Better and more connected railroads in the northern part of the country and the rise of other seaports like New Orleans and New York City were hard for Charleston to compete against. Other railroads and increase use of steamships would help Charleston gain a stronger economic presence moving into the 1850’s. But by then, sectional conflicts, the abolitionist movement, issues with tarrifs and westward expansion were driving the southern states forward toward conflict.
The efforts made by the business leaders in Charleston in development of one of the first long railroads and steam engines is a unique part of the history of Charleston and South Carolina. Experiencing the connections up close in locations that serve to protect and exemplify the history was amazing and highly recommended.