South Carolina Picture Project
 

Hamburg Depot — North Augusta, South Carolina


SC Picture Project  |  Aiken County  |  Hamburg Depot


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Hamburg Depot

Larry Gleason, who provided the photos on this page, was given special access to photograph the depot for the South Carolina Picture Project in recognition of the importance of documenting South Carolina’s historic sites. For that reason, SCIWAY is honoring the property owner’s request not to provide the depot’s current specific location.

What does a vacant shack from a forgotten South Carolina town have in common with the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam? All three have been designated National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks – a coveted award shared by just 262 structures in the world.

Hamburg Train Station

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The plaque emblazoned on the historic Hamburg Depot honors the Charleston-Hamburg Railroad. When the line was completed in 1833, it stretched further than any other track in the world – by far – coming in at a whopping 136 miles! For its time, this was an unheard of engineering feat.

Hamburg Railroad Marker

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The dilapidated depot once greeted rail travelers in the now-extinct settlement of Hamburg. Hamburg was founded by businessman Henry Shultz in 1821 to serve as an inland port that could compete against Augusta – located just across the Savannah River. The settlement flourished as cotton and tobacco merchants shipped their wares downriver to Savannah and Charleston. Indeed, trade there became so successful that the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company soon made Hamburg its western terminus.

Charleston To Hamburg Railroad

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company had been incorporated in 1827 by wealthy Charleston merchants who desired a commercial alternative to Charleston’s port, which was geographically isolated from other major American cities and often bypassed. The investors saw opportunity in establishing a reliable trade route to South Carolina’s interior, and they searched for a form of transportation that would not depend on driving primitive dirt roads or crossing dangerous rivers and swamps. (Though the shareholders originally considered constructing a canal, they eventually abandoned that idea.)

Hamburg Train Depot

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Cotton merchant William Aiken was named the company’s first president. Towns such as Aiken – founded in 1835 and named for the rail company’s leader – were laid out as stops along the tracks from Charleston to Hamburg. Older communities, like Branchville, also functioned as important stations.

Plat of Hamburg South Carolina

The train provided South Carolina’s first commercially-viable link between the Lowcountry and the Midlands and Upstate – where, especially at that time, our state’s agricultural commodities were richest. Both cotton and tobacco were lucrative crops, and the port in Charleston needed to compete with ports in Augusta and Savannah. Bypassing the Savannah River would create a more efficient shipping system and appeal to merchants. Importantly, it would also make Charleston’s port accessible to the more remote regions of our state.

Hamburg Railroad

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The rail line was designed by civil engineer Horatio Allen of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Railroad, who studied the Stockton and Darlington Railway in England – the world’s first railway to offer regularly-scheduled passenger service – as a model for the Charleston-to-Hamburg line. As a result of Allen’s time in England, the Charleston-to-Hamburg line became the first railway in the United States to carry passengers on a regular schedule via a steam locomotive, with the original route running from Charleston to Summerville and earning a handsome profit. The railroad was also the first in the country to deliver mail by contract, and its tracks carried the country’s first domestically-built steam locomotive, the Best Friend of Charleston.

Charleston Hamburg Depot

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The first six miles of the rail line were completed in 1830, and on Christmas day of that year, the Best Friend carried 140 passengers as described in the December 29, 1830, edition of the Charleston Courier:

“The one hundred and forty-one persons flew on the wings of wind at the speed of fifteen to twenty-five miles per hour, annihilating time and space … leaving all the world behind. On the return we reached Sans-Souci in quick and double quick time, stopped to take up a recruiting party – darted forth like a live rocket, scattering sparks and flames on either side – passed over three salt creeks hop, step and jump, and landed us all safe at the Lines before any of us had time to determine whether or not it was prudent to be scared.”

Sadly, on July 17, 1831, the Best Friend exploded and killed a fireman who had closed the locomotive’s steam valve to block its sound. Parts of the Best Friend were salvaged to build the Phoenix, which replaced the ill-fated engine.

Hamburg Depot

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

By 1842 the rail company had opened a line from Branchville to Columbia, making Branchville home to the world’s first junction created by splitting a single line of track. (At least one earlier junction, in England, had been created by crossing two separate lines of track, each belonging to a different company.) Shortly afterwards, in 1843, South Carolina Canal and Rail Road merged with the Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad Company and dropped Canal from its name. From this point, the railroad expanded across the state to include a terminal at Camden in 1848. The line even stretched across the Savannah River into Georgia when the Hamburg-to-Augusta rail bridge was built in 1853, connecting the two states.

Hamburg Depot Building

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Unfortunately, this bridge effectively rendered the town of Hamburg obsolete as an inland port. The lack of commerce – combined with the Civil War and a tragic event known as the Hamburg Massacre – led to the town’s demise. A series of floods in the early twentieth century wiped out the community completely. Today Hamburg’s former borders have been usurped by North Augusta, a neighboring town established in the early nineteenth century.

Hamburg Depot Diorama

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Much of the railroad was heavily damaged during the Civil War but was rebuilt – though under great financial duress – in the 1870s and 1880s. Subsequent financial difficulties meant that the railroad changed hands in the 1880s – briefly becoming the South Carolina Railway Company – and was sold to Southern Railway in 1899. At this point the railroad became part of a national rail system, and the 1853 bridge to Augusta was dismantled in 1908. It was replaced with the currently-operating Sixth Street bridge in 1912. Southern Railway is now operated by Norfolk Southern. Today a piece of the original Charleston-to-Hamburg rail line can be seen in Charleston. The dioramas above and below from the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum depict the Hamburg Depot in 1916.

Hamburg Diorama

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark plaque was bestowed on the Hamburg Depot by the American Society of Civil Engineers in honor of the entire Charleston-to-Hamburg line. The program “recognizes historically significant local, national, and international civil engineering projects, structures, and sites,” and including such marvels as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Washington Monument, and the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Hamburg Railroad Marker

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

No other South Carolina structure has received the National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and yet this depot – which represents our state’s most distinguished engineering accomplishment, an accomplishment which informed rail travel across the globe at the dawn of the industrial era – sits abandoned on private property where it is inaccessible to the public. This is a sad irony for a structure built to welcome people, and a great misfortune for those who believe it merits preservation.

Hamburg Depot Info


Address: Jefferson Davis Highway, North Augusta, SC 29841
GPS Coordinates: 33.481713,-81.950674

Hamburg Depot Map

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13 Comments about Hamburg Depot

SCIWAY says:
July 15th, 2017 at 3:01 pm

That was a fascinating read but this is not the same place. This is in Hamburg, South Carolina.

Judith Kyle says:
July 14th, 2017 at 1:58 pm

My 5x great grandfather, Allen Fox, names the mountain where he lived near Weaverville, NC, Hamburg. He was a cooper and the story goes that he took his barrels to Hamburg, GA so he named his mountain Hamburg too.

Here is a document I found online:

Some Early History of Rims Creek Valley By Blanche R. Robertson

A speech delivered by Pamela Ballard for the D.A.R. meeting held at the Asheville Country Club, Asheville, North Carolina, January 13, 1999.

“In 1791, the year Buncombe County was organized, the Rims Creek Presbyterian Church was built by Robert Williamson on his property with logs sawed by his mill. The church stood opposite where my husband Jim and I live. Above the church, the slave graveyard was established. The church was attended by the majority of the permanent residents of the valley. To name a few: the John Weaver family; the Vance family; and George Penland (born in Delaware), his wife Ann Alexander, who lived at the head of the valley in present Beech Community, Allen Fox and his wife Jensey Penland, who lived at the foot of the mountain now called Hamburg with one side overlooking Weaverville (he was a cooper by trade who would take his barrels and staves by ox cart to Hamburg, Georgia, and he began to be called the Humburg man. The church was also attended by the Hughey families. Joseph Hughey was the first sheriff of Buncombe County and his home was on property where my husband Jim and I live. He moved to Indiana.”

Could this be the place?

SCIWAY says:
May 18th, 2017 at 11:36 am

Hello Cassandra, thanks so much for the kind words. We do want to eventually include every landmark in the state of South Carolina. It will be a long road but it is worth it to get everything documented! You are welcome to use us as a resource. The photo is not our to give but if you send an e-mail inquiry to the photographer, Larry Gleason, I bet he will be glad to assist! His e-mail is larryesm@live.com. Thank you!

Cassandra Bayer says:
May 16th, 2017 at 4:47 pm

This information is great. I’m updating the kiosks at the Arts & Heritage Center of North Augusta and I hope you don’t mind me using the information and photo in the update. We do not have Hamburg Depot listed in the current kiosks so this would be a great addition. We do have Hamburg panels in our permanent exhibit. You will be credited. I also noticed you’ve done a lot of photos of historical places in SC.

James Jenkins says:
July 21st, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Larry, that is a great contribution to SCIWAY. Wanted you to know that I appreciate your efforts in getting permission to take and post the photos. Continued success to you as you work with the our friends who make SCIWAY possible.

Larry Gleason says:
July 21st, 2016 at 9:51 am

James, thank you for your kind words. Photography coupled with hidden historical locations is a true adventure!

Jean says:
February 8th, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Are there no eminent domain laws which would allow this property to be taken if an individual or group were able to provide money for its purchase and restoration? Just a northerner with South Carolina ancestors taking a virtual ‘tour’ of my grandparents’ homeland and wondering why, if there is interest, there is no way to protect this small structure which wouldn’t cost that much to restore.

SCIWAY says:
November 20th, 2014 at 9:30 am

No, as it is privately owned.

Tess Allen says:
November 20th, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Is there any efforts underway to preserve the depot?

Hugh Hilliard says:
November 20th, 2014 at 1:38 pm

So interesting. Never knew of this.

Mary Ann Britt says:
November 20th, 2014 at 9:56 am

Thanks for posting the pictures and history of the Hamburg Depot and Railway.

Larry Gleason says:
October 3rd, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Ann, there is no one for the public to contact. My access was based on long time position with a North Augusta association and to photo document this historic site for the SC Picture Project.

Ann Helms says:
October 1st, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Wonderful pictures Mr. Gleason. I have have been hoping to make a trip to North Augusta to see the former railroad sites. I read that you were given permission to access the property. Who would I contact to get that permission? Thank you.




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