- a book review by Marshall McCart
* originally appeared in The Covington News, July, 2017
If, like me, you have long been fascinated by and have had a long, deep-rooted interest, perhaps since you were a young child, of trains, railroads, and things of the like, then I think I may have just the book for you. Published by The History Press and authored by Robert C. Jones, “A History of Georgia Railroads” had its first edition published earlier this year in 2017.
Truly a fine book, Mr. Jones has a fun and interesting writing style in which his passion for all things trains and railroads is quite obvious. He also doesn’t mind interjecting his own thoughts and experiences in this work, like when he recounts the times he’s ridden the Southern Crescent - the well-known, long-time passenger train which can actually take you all the way from New York to New Orleans with a couple of Georgia stops in between.
Jones begins the book with a rundown and biographic information of some of the key players of the early history of the Peach State’s railways. Folks like John Inman, Porter Alexander, Gov. Joseph Brown, and, naturally, J.P. Morgan. He follows this up with a brief chapter about the history of the railroads of Georgia prior to the War Between the States and also what happened during that war. As many of us already know, the primary railways of the time took a beating at the hands of a fella named Sherman.
After the Civil War is when the real boom of Georgia railroads began. From 1833 to 1865, there were approx. ten railroad companies and maybe several hundred miles of track. By the early 20th century there were many more companies and the length of overall track in the home state had grown into thousands of miles.
Pretty much for the entire history of railroads in Georgia, things were, and still are, very much fluid. You’d see companies declare bankruptcy fairly often; railways would often go into receivership; another company would buy out and existing one, and so on and so forth. The big, key early lines were the following: the Central Railroad (later Central of Georgia) laying the Savannah and Macon line; The Western & Atlantic running the line from Chattanooga to Terminus (Atlanta); the Georgia Railroad which ran from Atlanta to Augusta (that one comes right through the heart of Newton); and the Macon & Western which ran from Macon to Atlanta. There were other key railroads as well.
There are several interesting stories about some of the people involved with these trains and railroads as well. One such story is about Mrs. Rowena Clarke, a little old lady who brought down an entire, major railroad endeavor when she filed suit against the Richmond Terminal Co. as it related to her fifty shares of stock of the Central Railroad when it was attempted to be bought out by the RT. She contended that it violated the Georgia Constitution, and a judge agreed and ruled in her favor.
The book really picks up steam as it chronologically moves ahead into the early and mid 20th century as the railroads really began to explode. Lots of interesting bits of information; lots of moving parts. He then covers the era of consolidation of the last several decades, which many of us probably know as it relates to the home county - Norfolk Southern had taken over the remnants of the C of G (Central of Georgia), while CSX became the company of the big east-west, Atlanta to Augusta line.
As a quick aside, there really isn’t any mentions of Covington and Newton Co., per se, except just briefly once or twice in passing. There’s only so much space, but I’m sure Mr. Jones could have gone into the things more specifically if he had more print space. Maybe I might do a future write-up about the history of the C of G in our neck of the woods. Maybe talk about the Great Walton Railroad? Maybe…
But again, this is really a great book! I was very much impressed - a good read. Also, it has lots of old pictures and some very good exhibits and addenda. This book retails for $21.99 and can be found wherever books are sold. You can visit www.historypress.net for more information, and you can look up Robert C. Jones online. This fella has written a ton of history books, apparently. I’m going to try to find a few more of his to thumb through.