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Descendants visit Blandford
0701 echoes-1
Above is David Blandford Jones at Blandford Crossing beside Blandford Road at the railroad from Savannah to Springfield first built by the Brinson Railway Co., with Maj. Richard A. Blandford as chief engineer. - photo by Photo provided

The Blandford Railroad Crossing, Blandford Road, the community of Blandford, the historic Blandford Depot, Blandford Elementary School, and the old Blandford post office all have something in common in addition to being located in Effingham County. Their name comes from the chief engineer of the Brinson Railway, Major R. A. Blandford (Richard Abner Blandford, 1845-1916) who engineered the construction of the railroad from Savannah to Springfield in 1906-07.

On Saturday, April 18, three descendants of Maj. Blandford were treated to a whirlwind tour of these sites (minus the PO, which closed in January 1911) by Blandford historian, Professor Emeritus Jim Sickel of Savannah. Betty Renfro from the Historic Effingham Society provided a guided tour of the museum in Springfield, and Dr. Sickel presented the museum with a framed copy of Blandford’s 1907 map of Springfield. Guests for the museum tour and who have provided information regarding the history of R.A. Blandford, in addition to the Blandford family, included Farris Cadle, David Anderson, and Missy and George Elder.

The Blandford descendants who visited Savannah and Springfield are David Blandford Jones, a great-great-grandson, his mother Janet, a great-granddaughter, both from Massachusetts, and their cousin Quita McMath, a great-granddaughter from Texas. David’s wife Allison Ryder accompanied them.

Leaving the museum, the family returned to Savannah to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where they sat in pew number 44, the pew Maj. Blandford rented while he was a communicant at the cathedral. Maj. Blandford had served as supervising engineer for remodeling the exterior of the cathedral.

When he died in 1916, having attended the cathedral for most of his 32 years in Savannah, a requiem mass was celebrated by Rev. Kane with interment at the Cathedral Cemetery, apparently in free ground and without a marker. The pallbearers were William Kehoe, James Leonard, Thomas F. Walsh Jr., James B. Copps, Victor G. Schreck and Frank X. Beytagh.

From the cathedral, the family drove to the location of the original St. Joseph’s Infirmary and hospital at the northwest corner of Taylor and Habersham streets. Maj. Blandford “boarded” at the hospital for 18 of the final 21 years of his life, and there died from tuberculosis at the age of 71. Next they drove along the Truman Parkway to observe the Casey Canal for which Blandford had engineered a major design change while he was county engineer. From 1888-91, Maj. Blandford was Chatham County’s chief topographic engineer in charge of conducting the first topographic survey of the county. The topographic information was used to improve the county drainage system. Exiting the Truman Parkway, they drove south on Meridian Road (now Sallie Mood Drive) which Maj. Blandford built while county engineer and which he located on his zero meridian of the topographic map.

The family ended the tour at Wormsloe State Historic Site, where they saw one of Maj. Blandford’s geodetic survey markers set by his survey crew. This granite marker was discovered by Dr. Sickel in December 2012, the first of 10 now discovered on undisturbed land around the county. Before leaving Wormsloe, the entourage walked on perhaps the only remaining unaltered remnant of the Great Savannah Auto Race roadway for which Maj. Blandford was a consulting engineer: a section of the old Skidaway Road with the banked curve at the junction of Parkersburg Road in Wormsloe at Isle of Hope. Blandford served on the first committee taht designed the raceway.

On Sunday the family visited the county courthouse where Maj. Blandford had worked until he resigned his county position in 1895. There they were shown one of his topographic maps. At 3 p.m. they attended a Confederate memorial service at the Catholic Cemetery sponsored by Savannah Chapter 2 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Blandford had joined the 8th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, CSA, commanded by Col. Roy S. Cluke, in September 1862 at 17. In 1863, Sgt. Blandford participated in the infamous raid commanded by Gen. John Hunt Morgan through Indiana and Ohio, which ended with his capture following the July 19 battle at Buffington Island. He escaped from prison at Camp Douglas in Chicago in October by tunneling from the dungeon and returned to cavalry service under Gen. Hylan B. Lyon, as a captain of scouts.

He was captured scouting at Mt. Washington, Ky., on Christmas Day 1864. When paroled on June 13, 1865, he went to Mexico and worked for the engineer corps of the Imperial Mexican Railway until the downfall of Maximilian. He then wandered into Texas, joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, helped build the IOOF University in Bryan and was its principal and professor of mathematics, married and started a family, began a business and finance career, and was elected as Grand Master of the Texas IOOF in 1876. Financial problems resulted in his return in 1881 to Mexico, where he again worked on the railroad.

Richard Blandford devoted the last 32 years of his life to civil engineering work in Georgia, mostly in Savannah and Chatham County. He died Oct. 24, 1916, at 71. Having suffered from tuberculosis and with no family in Savannah, he was once again destitute, just as when he first arrived in 1884. Few people today know anything about Richard A. Blandford, and because he was buried in an unmarked grave his name never appeared in the cemetery records. Thanks to Elizabeth Piechocinski, Savannah Chapter 2 president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, he was remembered at the conclusion of a military service awards ceremony at the Catholic Cemetery on April 19, with Dr. Sickel presenting a brief history followed by the unveiling of a granite memorial stone and a 21-gun salute. Dr. Sickel is seeking a home for a Blandford museum display.

This was the Blandford descendants’ first trip to Savannah. It appeared that they found the Southern Charm and beauty of our fair city and region far exceeded their expectations.

This was written by James B. Sickel, Ph.D., emeritus professor of biology at Murray State University and a Savannah resident.