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The 100th anniversary of the first Brinson Railway train to Springfield

POSTED: June 14, 2007 5:02 a.m.

On Feb. 21, 1906, George Matthew Brinson and nine other people applied for a charter for a railroad to be named the “Brinson Railway.” This railroad line was to be a single track, standard gauge railroad to run from Savannah to Athens. On May 16, 1906, his railroad charter was approved. Mr. Brinson joined with New York investment banking firm, William Morris Imbrie and Company, to finance his project.

He built his railroad and reached Springfield in 1907. Savannah to Springfield was 24 miles of railroad track. His first passenger train arrived in Springfield on May 27, 1907. He advertised a book of 52 single trips for one month, to any point on the Brinson Railway from Savannah to Springfield, for $6.50. This was just over 12 1/2 cents per trip. If you did not buy the book of tickets, he charged 3 cents per mile for a straight one-way trip or 2 1/2 cents per mile for a single round trip. His first freight train arrived in Springfield on August 3, 1907.

Springfield was laid out as the county seat of Effingham County in 1799, because its location was in the center of the county. From 1799 to the time Mr. Brinson arrived, Springfield had not grown very much. Mr. Brinson bought the land around the town of Springfield and laid out more town lots which tripled the size of the town. To promote his new venture, he planned a big auction of his new town lots and brought a trainload of people from Savannah to Springfield on June 27, 1907. During his auction he sold 96 town lots in  Springfield in one day.

In 1907, Mr. Brinson set up a sawmill south of the town called the “Springfield Manufacturing Company” and on August 17, 1907, he purchased sawmill machinery and stream engines from Georgia Iron Works for $8,421. In September 1907, he purchased a complete creosoting plant from the Hoffman-Ahlers Company for $25,000. This creosoting plant was set up at his sawmill in the south end of Springfield. The creosoting plant allowed him to not only saw lumber at his sawmill but now he could treat that lumber to make railroad cross ties, bridge timbers and lumber for his railroad depots, water tanks and railroad buildings.

He located the headquarters of his railroad to Springfield in 1907, and built a store called the “Brinson Store” on Laurel Street (this store today is the City Hall of Springfield).

In the April 1907 term of the Superior Court, George M. Brinson applied for incorporation of the “Brinson Store.” This business had a capital stock of $25,000 and was to be a mercantile business. It was to sell general merchandise, millinery, furniture, carpets, hardware supplies and such drugs and medicines as could be dispensed by a licensed druggist. Later, he set up a railroad repair shop, south of Springfield at his sawmill. He built an electric power plant to provide electricity to Springfield and drilled two artesian wells for water for the town.

On Sept. 14, 1908, he purchased cotton gin machinery from Continental Gin Company and built the cotton gin on the north end of Springfield which was called “The Springfield Ginning and Milling Company” (this site today would be where Sheppard Brothers Gas Company is located on Laurel Street). In March 1909, Mr. Brinson completed his telephone line from Savannah to the Brinson Freight Depot and provided Springfield with its first telephone.

When his railroad reached Springfield, he ran into a special problem. The old Methodist Church Camp Ground in Springfield, which had been built in 1868, was in his way. This old Methodist Camp Ground was located at the edge of town at that time (today this site would be in the dead center of the town by the Springfield United Methodist Church down to the railroad tracks). To solve this problem and allow his railroad to continue north, in 1907, he built the Methodists a new Methodist Camp Ground Tabernacle at the edge of town and traded them 16 acres of land for the 10 acres that the old Camp Ground Tabernacle occupied in Springfield. He was then able to tear down some of the buildings and build his track through the town.

When Mr. Brinson started his railroad in 1906, he had to use about four miles of track that were owned by the Central of Georgia Railroad. His first problem was that the Seaboard Airline Railroad would not allow him to cross their track near Central Junction. He had to sue them to force them to allow his railroad track to cross theirs.

His second problem was that he had no depot in Savannah so in May of 1907; he signed a contract with the Central of Georgia Railroad to use their passenger terminals, including their railroad track from Central Junction and their passenger station.

From 1906 to 1914, the “Brinson Railway” purchased a total of 11 steam powered locomotive engines and about 400 train cars. These were boxcars, flat cars, passenger cars and two cabooses. In December 1907, he recorded in his tax returns that the company had seven locomotives: three were freight and four were passenger locomotives. He had 119 freight cars: 20 live stock cars, 55 flat cars, 42 box cars and two cabooses. He also recorded having four passenger cars and three combination/ passenger cars.

In December 1911, he recorded in his tax returns that the company had 11 locomotives: five freight, three passenger, one yard, and two used as work train locomotives. He had 194 freight cars: 20 live stock cars, 65 flat cars, 107 box cars and two cabooses. He also recorded having seven passenger cars and six combination/passenger cars. On both reports he recorded having one steam shovel, one ballast unloader and one rapid unloader. Nine of the 11 steam powered locomotives were built by Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

During 1909, Mr. Brinson expanded his railroad from Springfield to the Screven County Line. This gave him 19 more miles of rail line.

Mr. Brinson bought the “Savannah Valley Railroad” in 1909 that ran from the Screven County line to Millhaven in the northern part of Screven County. This gave him a total of 43.3 miles of track. This railroad had been a logging railroad built from Foy’s Sawmill at Egypt to the Screven County line and then up through Millhaven.

Also in 1909, Mr. Brinson bought land in Chatham County to build his own railroad line from Central Junction in Savannah to a site located on west Boundary Street. At this site he built his Savannah “Brinson Railway Depot” (today this old building stands near the Chatham Steel Company).

The “Brinson Railway” became the “Brinson Railway Company” on June 29, 1910.

By January 1911, he extended the line from Millhaven in Screven County to Sardis, in Burke County. He now had 89.5 miles of rail line. By August 1911, his railroad reached Waynesboro. This gave him 108.8 miles of line.

In 1913, he extended the line to St. Clair. He now had a total of 120.8 miles of track, which he extended to Camak, where he connected with the “Georgia & Florida Railroad.” This railroad operated north to Augusta. This final link of track gave a total of 142.37 miles of track.

In 1914, Mr. Brinson borrowed more money to build a second railroad from Savannah to run through Effingham County to Statesboro in Bulloch County. This railroad was called the “Midland Railroad” and by 1917, this railroad reached Statesboro. On March 9, 1922, it went into receivership and on Nov. 22, 1923, it ceased operation.

By 1914, Mr. Brinson had borrowed so much money that the Brinson Railway Company was almost bankrupt. On March 25, 1914, this railroad was taken over by Mr. James Imbrie, a New York banker, and it became the “Savannah and Northwestern Railway.”

The railroad shop was moved from Springfield to Savannah in 1916. On July 16, 1917, this railroad was renamed the “Savannah & Atlanta Railroad.”

In Springfield’s first 108 years (1799 to 1907), the town was a small community and had very little growth. In 1907, Mr. Brinson arrived in Springfield and built a large sawmill, a creosoting plant to treat lumber, a railroad locomotive repair shop, a cotton gin, a general merchandise store, relocated the Methodist Camp Meeting Grounds and built them a new tabernacle, drilled two artesian wells, brought the telephone to Springfield and built a small electrical power plant to produce electricity. He tripled the size of the town and had an auction and sold a large part of the expanded town. Several things happened during those years that were the after effects of this progress. The Exchange Bank of Springfield was built in 1908, the county built a new courthouse in Springfield in 1909, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Springfield was constructed in 1910 and the Effingham Academy (a three-story brick school in Springfield) was constructed in 1912. Springfield owes Mr. George M. Brinson a great deal of gratitude for all the things he did to promote the town in his time.

This article was written by Norman V. Turner. If you have photographs, comments or information to share with Historic Effingham Society, call Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email:


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