This railroad represented the most ambitious dreams of the antebellum Charleston business community: a transportation connection to the markets of the Midwest that would return their city to national prominence.
This railroad represented the most ambitious dreams of the antebellum Charleston business community: a transportation connection to the markets of the Midwest that would return their city to national prominence. Agitation for such a route began early; an 1832 proposal to survey a route from Columbia to Knoxville failed when North Carolina and Tennessee refused to put forth any money. In 1835 a committee of citizens headed by Robert Y. Hayne proposed surveying a route to Cincinnati, Ohio; that same year the group convinced the South Carolina General Assembly to spend $10,000 to cover the surveys. The company was chartered on December 19, 1835, to connect Charleston and Cincinnati. Louisville was added two months later to appease a Kentucky legislature reluctant to support any project that would benefit only Cincinnati. In 1837 the company purchased stock in the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company in an effort to secure a source of revenue. That same year the company began constructing a sixty-mile line from Branchville to Columbia–the only track it ever built. Its charter was later amended by the General Assembly to grant banking privileges in an effort to finance the project. The company in turn organized the South Western Rail Road Bank, but efforts to secure a charter for the bank in the other states along the route proved fruitless.
Despite initial fanfare, the Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Rail Road soon foundered because of the inability of the various states to agree on the level of necessary financial commitment, the difficult economic climate following the Panic of 1837, competition from neighboring projects, and the death in 1839 of Hayne, the project’s most vigorous supporter. Consolidation with the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road was considered as early as 1840, and in 1843 the two companies were joined to form the South Carolina Rail Road Company. While Charlestonians would still dream of western trade, the search for a single route connecting their city and the Ohio Valley was effectively over.
Derrick, Samuel M. Centennial History of South Carolina Railroad. 1930. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1975.
Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell. History of Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt to 1860. 1908. Reprint, New York: Octagon, 1968.