Obscure Railroad Hub
An Obscure Railroad Hubby Conrad Cheatham
As the 20th Century winds down the town of Stillmore, Ga., is a quiet town without benefit of railroad service. In 1996 its population was estimated at 654. This was up from 527 in 1980 and 615 in 1990, but a drastic change from the past.
Things were different as this century began. In those days this town in southeast Emanuel County was a busy railroad town with 3 railroads entering its borders. These three railroads would fit under the designation "shortline", but they were enough to create a lively community with busy hotels and stores. In those days Stillmore was in the heart of the timber business that led to the existence of these roads.
The Stillmore Air Line was incorporated in 1890 as the Brunswick, Athens & Northwestern Railroad by George Brinson. Brinson's plans were to build a railroad from Collins in Tattnall County, through Stillmore, Swainsboro, Wadley, and on to Athens. The name was changed to Stillmore Air Line in 1892.
George Brinson was born in Emanuel County in 1861. His family was in the timber business with logging operations as well as saw mill operations. George's saw mill was built in 1889, the same year that the town of Stillmore was incorporated. Brinson saw the need for a railroad as a better way to get the logs to his sawmill and as a way to get the wood on to market.
The first section of the S.A.L. was constructed between Stillmore and Collins in 1893. In Collins connections were made the Savannah & Western. This gave the S.A.L. a tie to the port of Savannah. Construction continued north to Swainsboro and thence to Wadley in 1901.
Brinson made Stillmore his railroad headquarters. The railroad's shops were located there. These shops were presided over by John L. Clary and Dennis Brinson. About 1900 the S.A.L. built an attractive passenger depot to serve the booming town. (The population had reached 2,000.)
A big change occurred in 1906 when George Brinson sold his railroad to the Central of Georgia for about $500,000. The S.A.L. was consolidated with the just purchased Wadley & Mount Vernon Railroad to form the Wadley Southern. Brinson took his money and eventually was involved in starting a number of other railroads, including one out of Savannah that bore his name for a while.
The Bruton & Pineora ran from Bruton (near Dublin on the W&T) to Statesboro. It began as the Macon & Atlantic. It was sold under foreclosure in 1892 and was reorganized as the Atlantic Short Line Railway. It reached Stillmore in 1898 as the Bruton & Pineora that was organized in 1897. It was completed to Statesboro in 1901. The Central of Georgia gained control of the B&P in 1901 and it became a Central branch line. The B&P crossed the Wadley & Mount Vernon at Adrain in southwest Emanuel County.
The third Stillsore railroad was a forerunner of the Georgia & Florida. This line was organized in 1889 as the Rogers & Summitt Rail Road. Its purpose was to build a railroad from Rogers on the Central Railroad of Georgia main line to Stillmore, 32 miles. The R&S was reorganized in 1890 as the Millen & Southern Railway. The northern terminus was moved from Rogers to Millen. Another foreclosure and sale brought about another reorganization as the Millen & Southwestern. This new company built the 21 miles south of Stillmore to Vidalia. In 1907 the Georgia & Florida took over the M.& S.W. (The 9 miles from Vidalia to Pendleton became a Dart of the G&F main line.) The section through Stillmore was known as the Millen Branch.
These three railroads made Stillmore a booming community for a few years at the beginning of the century. According to one old report 12 passenger trains and 6 freight trains called on Stillmore each day. These helped to make Stillmore a healthy town of about 2,100 people with 3 banks, 2-3 hotels, a sawmill, and a planning mill. Stillmore Military College offered education to both sexes. It soon boasted one of the first electrical systems in the county as well as the first movie theater.
But things changed for the worse. The consolidated Wadley Southern established its shops at Wadley. The timber industry was hit hard. The invasion of the boll weevil wrecked the cotton industry. The Depression hurt everything including the railroads that started abandoning track. The Stillmore leg of the W.S. was cut back to Swainsboro. Stillmore's population declined to around 300 before recovering slowly. Unfortunately the railroads are long gone.
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