Railroad demolition is chugging along

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 10, 2012 

A crew uses a barge-mounted crane Tuesday to remove the center pedestal and bulwarks of the old Port Royal Railroad bridge in Whale Branch. The project is part of Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority's demolition of the railroad, which began in 2010. The authority purchased the railroad in 2009 for use as a utility corridor.

JAY KARR/THE BEAUFORT

A majestic magnolia still stands guard near the end of the Port Royal Railroad tracks in Port Royal.

Today, it is passed only by town residents and visitors who drive the length of Paris Avenue, usually on their way to The Sands beach. But for more than 100 years, that tree stood at the foot of a railroad that connected Port Royal, Beaufort and local communities to people and products from across the nation.

That magnolia is one of the many planted at one-mile markers along the railroad and represents the line's history to local railroad buff Tommy Logan

"Everything that is Southern is live oaks and magnolias, to me it has some connection historically," he said. "Beaufort is 300 years old and people come to Beaufort because of the history. It is unique to the area."

The final pieces of that Magnolia Route are coming down this month as Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority demolishes the line, which it bought as a utility corridor. Plans are under way to convert the right-of-way that runs from Whale Branch River to Port Royal into a path for foot and bike traffic.

Logan is campaigning to have the trail, currently called the Spanish Moss Rail-Trail, named the Magnolia Trail or something similar in honor of the railroad's history.

Started in 1871 as a 4-mile track between Port Royal and the Beaufort Depot, it was expanded to Augusta by 1873. The Black and Dusty, as the steam engine was known, even inspired a children's game, according to an article from the 2004 South Carolina Historical Magazine.

"Black an' Dusty, Goin' to Agusty," children would sing, faster and faster, as they pretended to be trains.

Mail, Marine recruits headed to Parris Island and goods ranging from produce from farms along the tracks to phosphate to cotton to sugar cane to rice -- and children hitching a ride for fun -- were the Black and Dusty's main cargo.

It was advertised as "the shortest and cheapest route for either freight or passenger between Charleston and Augusta and all points south or west."

In those days, people and freight moved mostly by water, Logan said. That changed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"It was much easier, of course, when the railroad was put together to put it directly on the railroad at the Beaufort Depot or Seabrook or Burton or wherever and ship it direct," Logan said.

Produce shipped to New England could more easily be unloaded from a rail car than from a ship.

However, the local railroad didn't transport many goods between the natural deep-water port in Port Royal and the nation's interior, according the article from South Carolina Historical Magazine.

Over the years, demand for train transportation to Port Royal tapered, and the train scheduled changed accordingly. By 1905, regular service was down to one train a day. The train continued to run for a century, the schedule becoming less frequent.

On Nov. 26, 2006, the final train ran down the Magnolia Line. The line was left to quietly decay as weeds and rust overtook the rails, leaving occasional concrete mile markers and stately magnolias to mark where the trains once rumbled by.

Related content:

Cox Foundation grant spurs progress on rail-trail in Beaufort, April 16, 2012

Backtracking: Port Royal passenger train recalled, Nov. 6, 2005

Historical railroad eyed for several uses, Dec. 28, 2004

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