History – The Railroad
In 1827 the state legislature issued a charter to the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company.
This charter authorized the company to build a railroad from Charleston to Hamburg, a small South Carolina town across the Savannah River from Augusta.
Most landowners along the planned route were more than happy to sell or donate land for such an enterprise. However, there was one landowner Col. Barny H. Brown in the town of Barnwell who refused to sell. For that reason the railroad tracks were laid about ten miles from the proposed route. The town of Williston became an important station stop along this new route.
There were a number of reasons for hesitancy on the part of the property owners in regard to relinquishing rights-of-way. Some feared the trains might run over and kill their children, livestock or other ‘Property’. Others simply did not want the peace and quiet of the countryside destroyed by the noise of the steam engine.
Mr. John Ashley of Williston expressed the desire that, should the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company choose to build through his land, that the railroad be located just as close to his home as possible. He, along with hundreds of others, relinquished rights-of-way for this purpose and furnished timber for the company’s use.
A typical example of a deed to the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company is as follows:
Recorded 21st March 1833
We the Owners of land through which the Rail Road may pass, hereby agree that should the Rail Road pass through our lands, in consideration of which benefit so received, and without any other compensation we cheerfully cede to the So. Car. C. & Rail Road Company land sufficient for said purpose and the timber and wood necessary to construct the same through our Land in the first instance: — It is understood that all the wood and timber which may thenceforward be required to repair or rebuild shall be paid for, and no more wood or timber yields than through our own Lands Ð Witness our hands 5th day of March 1831 — (Signatures of grantors)
Many tons of iron were brought from England for this railroad. Timber was cut along the route for the cross ties.
The locomotive, ‘Best Friend’, was built in New York and shipped by boat to Charleston.
On Christmas Day 1830, the “Best Friend” made its inaugural run in Charleston. At that time only 6 miles of track had been completed, but it was enough to launch South Carolina into a new era.
In a reprint from Miller’s Almanac of 1835 an artist’s sketch graphically illustrates this locomotive, puffing black smoke and pulling two railroad cars. Under the sketch it reads:
‘SOUTH-CAROLINA RAIL-ROAD, between Charleston and Hamburg, S. C. opposite Augusta. (Geo) distance 136 miles, performed in daylight, from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M.’
Within five months of the “Best Friend’s” debut, a second locomotive, the “West Point,” arrived in Charleston. One month later, the rail line reached Woodstock, a point between Charleston and Summerville. Then, tragedy struck. A careless fireman unwittingly caused an explosion by closing a safety valve in an effort to stop the hissing noise caused by escaping steam. It killed him, scalded the engineer and destroyed the “Best Friend.” The accident proved only a minor set back to the railway transportation system. Within three years, the rail road boasted of six locomotives, including the “Phoenix,” an engine constructed from the “Best Friend’s” remains.
Finally, the resurrected Best Friend/’Phoenix’ made its initial trip through Williston on its way to Hamburg. At that time it was the longest railroad in the world.
In 1928, the Southern Railway built a replica of the “Best Friend” from the original 1830 blueprints. This “Best Friend” replica passed through Williston in 1930 for the 100th anniversary of Southern Railway and its predecessor company, The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company. On this occasion schools were dismissed and the tracks were lined with people who came to honor a train that had its beginnings in this section of South Carolina. Today the “Best Friend” replica, which made several visits to Williston, is on display at the Norfolk Southern Offices in Atlanta, GA awaiting a permanent home place in Charleston.