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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter's train lines helped county grow

By SAMMY WAY
Archivist and historian
Posted 2/1/20

Reflections remembers when Sumter was considered to be a major railroad center in the South. Trains brought people and commercial trade to this emerging community. In order to house the influx of "drummers" and those arriving seeking economic …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter's train lines helped county grow

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Reflections remembers when Sumter was considered to be a major railroad center in the South. Trains brought people and commercial trade to this emerging community. In order to house the influx of "drummers" and those arriving seeking economic opportunity, Sumter experienced a boom in the construction of warehouses and hotels near the train depot. This is the second part of a two-part article; the first was published in the Jan. 25-26 weekend edition. Photos used were taken from The Sumter Item archives.

The Atlantic Coast Line, and Northwestern lines operated by the Atlantic Coast Line passenger and freight facilities at Sumter, maintained 28 regular freight trains out of Sumter daily. These seven lines also operated 22 regular passenger trains in and out of Sumter each day. The Southern Railway operated four combination freight and passenger trains daily, and the Seaboard Air Line operated two combination freight and passenger trains each day. Sumter was in close and direct connection with the important sea ports and markets of the country.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. decided to enlarge its car repair shops in Sumter and also add greatly to the already large transfer business at this point by building as rapidly as possible more miles of side tracks for freight handling. The company also increased its force of car repairers from 30 to 91 and expected in a short time to have less than 150 mechanics working in the Sumter shops. Authoritative information noted that the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. intended to make the necessary additions in car track area and shop facilities to make Sumter one of the largest freight transfer yards on its entire system, and Sumter shortly had a large car repair shop of this company with several hundred mechanics. The present monthly payroll of the Sumter Atlantic Coast Line car shops amounted to $13,000, while the average monthly payroll of the 135 shop yard, depot and the 240 train service men amounted to about $31,000.

The Atlantic Coast Line freight yards in Sumter handled between 25,000 and 30,000 cars every month. This did not include the thousands of through cars on through freight trains. This company also did an immense passenger business in Sumter. The official statistics were not unavailable at the writing of this article.

The Atlantic Coast Line paid $24,000 annual taxes to the city and county of Sumter and had more than $1 million, in actual values, invested in its many miles of passenger and freight tracks, depots, platforms, warehouses, shops and many acres of land it owned in the city limits of Sumter and other necessary equipment of various kinds. The Sumter yards of this company ran from one end of Sumter, on the east, clear through the city to the west and extended for nearly a mile in a southerly direction, beyond the city limits. Yet this company added as rapidly as possible to its track mileage in every direction and increased its shop forces and yard forces every month.

The headquarters and shop of the Northwestern Railway were located in Sumter. The Southern and Seaboard Air Line Railway Cos. did a big business in incoming and outgoing freight; also, their passenger business did not amount to a great deal, when compared with the Atlantic Coast Line passenger business. It was said that the Atlantic Coast Line did more passenger and freight business at Sumter than at any other point on its system between Richmond and Columbia and exceeded the Columbia office in both freight and passenger business.

Sumter's attitude has remained friendly between organized labor and capital in railway transportation circles, and this city has had very little labor troubles compared to other railway circles. Sumter has always welcomed and encouraged both the railroads and railway employees.

Sumter is fortunate in the class of railway employees it has had as citizens. Men of high character and industry, public spirited and patriotic citizens in every respect, law abiding and church supporters. Sumter's railway employees of every branch of the service have proved loyal to their employers and to their city, state and country.

Sumter never experienced and frowned on the unpleasant features and strife between railway employees and railroads that were often witnessed in other places.