The first passenger railroad began operation in England in 1825. Word of this new kind of transportation quickly spread across the Atlantic. Charleston businessmen, suffering through a severe recession in the 1820s, were eager to explore this cheaper, faster, and safer way to move people and goods. In 1827, after six years of debate, the City of Charleston decided to build a railroad.
The South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company was incorporated on December 19, 1828. Its investors hoped to divert commercial traffic from Savannah to the Port of Charleston and provide a link to plantations and farms in the upstate. In 1829, William Howard, U.S. Civil Engineer, presented a report to the company detailing the best route for a line from Charleston to Hamburg (near Augusta). Howard felt that the ridge along the Edisto River from near Givhan's Ferry was a favorable location.
Howard recommended the tracks be made from wood, which he noted was available in abundance and in good quality along the route.The rails were to be made of yellow pine and placed 4 feet 6inches apart. They would be supported by sills made of live oak. The cost of building the railroad was estimated at $4,582.00 per mile. A total of 3,501 shares were sold in Charleston by March 17, 1828.
Construction of the railroad began on January 9, 1830. The entire 136 miles of track was completed by October, 1833. When the railroad opened, it was the longest line in the country and the first to carry the U.S. mail. The South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company was the predecessor line of the Southern Railway, now the Norfolk Southern Railway Company.
"In fact the general direction of this route, appeared to us to be so strongly marked in its superiority over any other, as to leave no doubt as to the propriety of its selection."
* William Howard, 1829 *