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Southern Antebellum Railroads

Prior to the coming of the railroad, Georgia experienced a romance with steamboats which proved to be a vast improvement over stage and other wagon transport. Despite some hazards and shortcomings, the steamboat contributed to Georgia's growth, but like the coach, it became a casualty to steampowered locomotives and their trains.

Georgia began its railroad history in 1833 with the issuance of a charter to the Georgia Railroad Company for a line from Athens to Augusta which connected to the Charleston & Hamburg Railroad, at the time the longest track in the world. With a further extension of rails Atlanta became the railroad capital of the south.

Travel accounts of both American and foreign passengers are filled with stories concerning all aspects of the railroad. Foreigners, who were accustomed to European coaches with compartments that served a class system, frequently commented on the American coach and its unique long center aisle which "most certainly was a social leveler born from the egalitarian spirit that existed during the Jackson Period in the United States" American railroads did not reserve carsfor the affluent, but did provide special facilities for the protectionand comfort of women. Gentlemen were admonished "not to sit at the dinner table until after the ladies had arrived. " Many female passengers nonetheless found rail travel extremely uncomfortable, as sparks burned holes in their dresses and tobacco chewers offended their sensibililies. (Some rail cars posted signs reading "GENTLEMEN ARE REQUESED NOT TO SPIT ON THE STOVE.") Drunks and rowdy childen added to the passengers' discomfort.

Accidents were frequent on the antebellum trains due to weak bridges, cable breakage, weather, and the single track system. Depots were not entirely safe; although some cites had impressive and spacious facilitiies, rural depots were generally constructed of wood and frequently subject to fires. Travel might be slowed not only by malfunctions but by track wash-outs or livestock on the rails. The design of the "cow-catcher," originally a lance like device which made removal or the impaled animal difficult, was quickly changed to the shape of a scoop.

Georgia was railroad minded and, for the most part, abandoned the stagecoach and the riverboat for the faster train. That move was not necessarily unique, but one may speculate that, based on certain travel accounts, Georgia and her railroads had an auspicious future had the Civil War not occurred.

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