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From rails to fish: Lowcountry pier was once one of the most important S.C. railroads

This Jasper County fishing pier is a Lowcountry favorite — and it has Civil War roots

The Knowles Island Public Fishing Pier is now a popular spot for anglers in Jasper County, South Carolina. But it used to be part of the Charleston and Savannah Railway — and a key part of Jasper Co.'s role in the Civil War.
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The Knowles Island Public Fishing Pier is now a popular spot for anglers in Jasper County, South Carolina. But it used to be part of the Charleston and Savannah Railway — and a key part of Jasper Co.'s role in the Civil War.

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When you visit the Knowles Island Fishing Pier today, you’ll see an aluminum rail and a few folks dropping their lines off the pier.

But over 100 years ago, the pier used to transport goods from Charleston to Savannah along what was officially named, after a few name changes over the years, the Charleston and Savannah Railway.

The pier was built on the foundation of the original railway trestle pylons, according to a 2013 news release by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

It was designed to help folks who don’t have a boat fish in Jasper County by standing on the causeway, according to one YouTube video by the Jasper County Council.

The video showed locals appreciated the project both for its accessibility and preservation of S.C. history. Jasper County officials said they wanted to commemorate a piece of the state’s history.

Jasper County built the pier with a grant the Saltwater Recreational License, according to the 2013 news release.

As for the history of the Charleston and Savannah Railway, it was one of the most anticipated improvements in transporting agricultural produce in the Lowcountry.

Connecting Two Cities

Before the Charleston and Savannah Railroad (C.S.R.R.) was built, the only way you could travel between the two was a daily steamboat, according to Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina.

H. David Stone wrote about the railroad’s lengthy history in Vital Rails, focusing on Sea-Island cotton planter Charles Jones Colcock, who0 saw opportunity in the need for new transportation and proposed building the railroad at a private dinner party on June 25, 1853.

Thanks to Jones and other locals such as future C.S.R.R. president Thomas Fenwick Drayton, construction began in 1854, costing around $2.128 million, according to Vital Rails.

Up until the Civil War, the railroad was prosperous.

However, those good, prosperous times came to an end when the war began.

Divided, destroyed by war

The railway suffered heavy damages from Union forces, who continuously attacking the line from 1863 to 1864 in an effort to gain the upper hand against the Confederacy. This time period would be known by many names, but the two most common are The Siege of Charleston Harbor and The Second Battle of Charleston.

Union forces knew that breaking the railroad was key to gaining ground in the South.

The Battle of Pocotaligo was the first, failed attempt by the Union to break the Charleston and Savannah Railway. It would made it easier for Union forces to move overland and take Charleston and Savannah.

But Union would fail to do much more than cause a little damage.

The federals made another attempt at the Battle of Honey Hill in Ridgeland on Nov. 30, 1864.

A key historical fact about the battle was that a majority African-American troop fought the first, large-scale battle, according to the Town of Ridgeland.

While the railroad survived the war, it faced uncertaainty in the years that followed.

New name, changes

Though most of the C.S.R.R.’s structure remained intact after the war, the company still faced financial adversity over the years.

There were a series of bankruptcies until a new owner Joseph H. Taylor bought the railroad for $30,000 in October of 1866. The name was flipped to the Savannah & Charleston Railroad and the line was rebuilt for $2.238 million. It reopened in 1869.

Thanks to The Financial Panic of 1873, final ownership would go to entrepreneur Henry B. Plant. The line then became part of the Plant Railroad system.

But the Jasper County portion of the line was not included, though, and it would be long abandoned for decades.

Today that section may not transport agricultural goods and be the prize fought over by two warring armies.

But it does give Lowcountry fishermen the perfect place to wet their lines.

For more railroad history:

While Jasper County’s Knowles Island Fishing Pier commemorates the Lowcountry;s Charleston and Savannah Railway, there are also other places in the state you can visit to learn more about S.C.’s railroads:

Have any other questions about the Palmetto State? E-mail bsaunders@islandpacket.com.

Briana Saunders answers questions about culture, food, and the environment as the Curious S.C. Reporter for McClatchy’s newspapers. She moved to the Lowcountry after studying Journalism at the University of Missouri, where she led a team reporting the arts and culture of Columbia, Mo. at VOX Magazine.
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