Without a doubt the single most important factor in Dublin's growth during this period was caused by the confluence of five railroads in Dublin. At the peak of the railroads there was over ninety miles of rail in Laurens County alone. Dublin was only a few hours from the coast and from the state capital. During the 1830's the Central of Georgia Railroad was being laid out from to Savannah. The engineers planned a route along the Ogeechee River through Washington and Wilkinson counties and on into Macon. A new engineer began studying a southern route that would pass through Emanuel and Laurens counties crossing the Oconee near the mouth of Turkey Creek. This southern route ran along a direct line between the two cities. With the flat lands of this area providing an ideal grade, the southern route was estimated to be thirty miles shorter and half a million dollars cheaper than the northern route. The river swamps around Oconee where the northern
route crossed the Oconee River were not conducive to the development as a river port town. Dublin with its navigable river, relatively flat lands, and enormous agricultural resources was a better site for the crossing.
The Central's directors decided to go with the northern route. Their choice was affirmed by the doubts by some Laurens countians. The fear of what the railroads might bring caused opposition from Laurens County. Former Governor George M. Troup, whose plantation would have been near the railroad, led the fight against the construction of the railroad through Laurens County. The railroad's directors prevailed and the railroad was completed to McCall's Mill in Macon in 1844. Had the southern route backers prevailed, Dublin would have been right in the path of the right wing of Gen. Sherman's army in his "March to the Sea" in the fall of 1864.
With the end of the war rail traffic flourished in central Georgia. Merchants and farmers were forced to depend on the less efficient animal drawn and river transportation. Goods were hauled north by wagon or boat to Raoul Station at Oconee where they were loaded on the Central Railroad or they were taken down river to Doctortown on the Altamaha and shipped to Savannah by rail. After the financial panic of 1873 entrepenuers began planning railroads all over Georgia even as river transportation was making a comeback.
Dublin was falling behind other communities. The road was its only hope. The completion of the Macon and Brunswick Railroad in the early 1870's saw the emergence of Cochran, Eastman, McRae, and Mt. Vernon as commerce centers in south central Georgia. Suddenly Dublin was in the middle of nowhere - no bank, no railroads, no newspapers and with virtually no ties to the outside world. The mercantile trade was dominated by Savannah merchants. River transportation lived and died with the depth of the river.
Capital was not easy to come by and subscriptions from local citizens were necessary to fund the railroads. There was still some sentiment against the railroad and even stronger opposition to any sort of river bridge at Dublin. Finally more businessmen saw that the area around Dublin was filled with vast untapped resources. There was an estimated one billion board feet of pine timber in Laurens County in 1880 or enough lumber to make a four inch board which would reach to the moon and back. Cotton farmers were looking for new land to replace their depleted fields in the main cotton belt. Laurens County is the third largest county in Georgia and the vast lands had the potential of raising record crops.
THE WRIGHTSVILLE AND TENNILLE RAILROAD
The Tennille and Wrightsville Railroad was incorporated by an act of the Georgia Legislature on September 19, 1881. W.C. Matthews, B.D. Smith, G.L. Mason, G.B. Harrison, H.N. Holifield, G.W. Peacock, Z. Peacock of Washington County; A.I. Haines of Laurens County; and W.B. Bales, W.A. Tompkins, W.L. Johnson, J.A. McAfee, T.W. Kent, and W.W. Mixon of Johnson County incorporated the short line road to run from Tennille to Wrightsville. The law provided any disgruntled property owner would have the right to have five free holder citizens decide what damages were due for the condemnation of the right of way limited to no more than one hundred feet. The venture failed and others sought to establish the railroad.
On November 7, 1883 the Wrightsville and Sun Hill Railroad Company was organized. Six weeks later the Secretary of State incorporated the new company authorizing a seventeen-mile railroad line from Wrightsville to the Sun Hill community east of Tennille. The road would give the citizens of Johnson County direct access to the markets of Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The organizers sought out and acquired sufficient ubscriptions. Tennille's businessmen were quick to purchase subscriptions and move the terminus of the railroad to Tennille. The Central of Georgia provided most of the financing of the project and controlled the railroad from the beginning. The engines and the rolling stock were well used and could easily be spared by the Central Railroad. A charter amendment was needed to reflect the new terminus of the road and on December 28, 1883 the name was changed to the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad Company. The board elected its first officers with S.M. Perkins as the president and W.B. Thomas as Vice President and Secretary of the Board. Workers began immediately the task of grading and laying rails from Tennille to Wrightsville. The road was completed to Wrightsville with a minimal indebtedness of $15,000.00. S.M. Perkins resigned in July of 1885 and Capt. W.B. Thomas was elected as the new president.
W.B. Thomas helped to organize Dublin and Laurens County citizens who saw the benefits of the railroad. The initial meeting was held in mid November of 1884. A new railroad was born. The Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad Company was organized for the express purpose of connecting Dublin with the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad in Wrightsville. The men chose L.C. Beacham, M.L. Jones, W.B. Thomas, B.B. Linder, and W.J. Hightower to sit on the board of directors. W.B. Thomas the newly elected president estimated that the road would cost $36,000 over half of which had already been raised.
The remaining officers chosen were J.E. Hicks, Secretary; M.L. Jones, Treasurer; and B.B. Linder, Collector. Other organizing members included W.W. Robinson, H.B. Donaldson, T.M. Hightower, R.H. Hightower, R.T. Beacham, and L.B. Perry. As the road approached Dublin new communities sprang up. Lovett was established in 1884 and incorporated as a town in 1889. Brewton and Condor soon followed and by November of 1886 the road was completed to the eastern banks of the Oconee River opposite Dublin. Most of the surveying work was done under the supervision of Arthur Pew, who also surveyed the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad, the Empire and Dublin Railroad, and the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad. Even as the road was being surveyed, Hawkinsville businessmen were envisioning an extension of the road to their place. The Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad secured from the Central Railroad an investment of half the total cost of $70,000.00 of the Dublin to Wrightsville Railroad. James M. Smith's convict crew of 140 was added to speed up the work. T.L. Griner, replacing the deceased, J.E. Hicks, and W.W. Robinson were elected as Secretary and Associate Collector, respectively. By October of 1885 daily trains were running to Lovett. By the end of the month the workers had pushed ahead to Brewton.
David S. Blackshear, future mayor of Dublin, was hired as warehouse and ticket agent in Wrightsville. T.M. Hightower and W.B. Jones of Dublin were added to the board of directors in December, 1885. Col. W.S. Ramsay was named secretary of the railroad. Passenger traffic on both roads was now averaging over 130 per day. The "Dublin Post" advertised an excursion from Dublin to Savannah to attend the celebration of the Chatam Artillery's Centennial in April of 1886.
As construction of the road neared Dublin, engineers were brought in to study plans for a bridge. The railroad was approaching the banks in the summer of 1886. The engineers figured over one hundred thousand feet of lumber would be necessary to build a bridge. Finally on September 8, 1886 the first passenger train of the Dublin and Wrightsville arrived at the depot on the Oconee River. The railroad soon announced an agreement with the Oconee Steamboat Company that called for the unloading of its freight at Dublin instead of Raoul Station on the Central. In November the stockholders of The
Wrightsville and Tennille and the Dublin and Wrightsville voted to merge the two railroads. The new railroad retained the name of the older railroad, the Wrightsville and Tennille. W.B. Thomas was elected president and superintendent of the company that had an authorized capital stock of $140,000.00 and a debt of only $35,000.00. W.C. Matthews was elected secretary and treasurer. W.F. Edwards was chosen as auditor. The stockholders elected C.R. Pringle and R.L. Worthen of Sandersville; W.C. Matthews of Tennille; W.S. Ramsay of Dublin; William Rogers of Savannah; L.C. Beacham of Condor; G.B.Harrison of Harrison; and A.F. Daley of Wrightsville as the board of directors. After a short stint with the Central Railroad, L.A. Matthews returned to the road as route agent. Within the year the directors voted to extend the line to Hawkinsville. Due to financial complications the project would not be completed for over a decade.
At the end of the 36-mile railroad the company established a depot and shops. The expansion of the right of way got a little out of hand. The surrounding property owners successfully recovered damages from the railroad for the wrongful taking of their land and timber. For five years freight was unloaded at the depot and then placed on the ferry and carried across the river and then moved by wagon on into Dublin.
With the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad approaching Dublin from the west the long awaited bridge was completed in 1891. That year was remarkable in that both the railroad and passenger bridges were completed over the river and that both railroads were completed into Dublin. Earlier that year the railroad reorganized. J.S. Wood was elected president and G.W. Perkins was named superintendent. The railroads did not have an immediate impact on the growth of Dublin. For the next five years the growth of Dublin gradually increased with the greatest impact being on the agricultural community in Laurens.
After the railroad was completed into Dublin the traffic department of the road moved here. Frank H. Roberson was appointed as the General Freight and Passenger Agent. He would soon be followed by E.K. Bryan, Jr., M.V. Mahoney, and W.J. Kessler. David S. Blackshear was the first agent of the road here. He was followed by J.M. Wright, A.L. Spicer, J.C. Wyche, and A.J. Toole. The used trains of the past were soon replaced by new Baldwin Locomotives.
No sooner than the M.D. and S. and W. & T. Railroads had joined in Dublin other roads were being planned into Dublin. The Empire Lumber Company built a railroad from Empire to Dublin and from Empire to Hawkinsville. This railroad mainly concentrated on freight traffic and on February 1, 1899 it was purchased by the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad Company. G.W. Perkins resigned as president and was replaced by Wrightsville attorney, Col. A.F. Daley, who had been the general counsel for the railroad. R.C. Henry, J.E. Smith, Jr. J.M. Finn and Charles Hicks represented Dublin on the Board of Directors during the railroad's peak years. Col. Daley served as president until his death in 1915. H.D. Pollard held the post of president and general manager until he took a position with the Central of Georgia in 1918. He was succeeded by Charles Molony who served until his death in 1930. Bunyan Henry Lord, Sr. was then promoted to General Manager and served until his promotion to president in 1942.
A second profitable shortline out of Dublin sprang up in 1904. The Dublin and Southwestern Railroad ran from Dublin through Rentz, Cadwell, and Plainfield on to Eastman. The railroad was immediately eyed by the W & T 's directors for a connection to Eastman and cities to the south. On July 1, 1906, the Dublin and Southwestern was purchased by the Wrightsville and Tennille after being in operation for slightly over a year.
The first permanent depot was at the southeastern corner of the railroad and South Franklin Street. By the end of the decade the depot was at the southeastern corner of the railroad and South Jefferson Street. As the volume of rail traffic grew, the one story brick structure soon was overwhelmed. The building was enlarged in 1906 by adding on the southern portion of the building and building more room for freight on the rear. Within five years it became necessary to expand again. The contractors utilized the existing structure but made major additions to the building including a second story in the passenger section. The white waiting room space was doubled and another addition was made to the freight warehouse. Exterior improvements were made with the paving the walks around the building with hexangal pavers made at the Georgia Hydraulic Stone Company in East Dublin.
The peak of cotton production coincided with the peak in the railroad traffic. There were four daily passenger trains. A popular route was the short excursion trip to Idlewild, the railroad's recreation area on the Ohoopee River just southwest of Wrightsville. Church groups numbering in the hundreds would board the train for a day of swimming, games, and fellowship. Sen. Tom Watson and other politicians were popular speakers at Idlewild.
There were two scheduled freight trains with extra trains running during harvest time. As the twenties approached rail traffic declined. Many laughed a decade before when L.W. Miller's Cadillac would win every race with the train from Tennille to Dublin. It was a sign of the times to come - the death of the passenger train.
Dublin through an unfortunate turn of fate became the center of the railroad in 1925. A fire had destroyed most of the Tennille shops and 1923. Most of the repair work for area railroads was done in the shops built in Dublin in the years after the fire. The offices of the President and the General Manager were moved to the main depot on South Jefferson Street. All of the Central of Georgia's affiliate lines were now combined with the headquarters in Dublin, making the railroad the largest industry in Laurens County.
The "Crash of '29" signaled the beginning of the end of the W. and T. Railroad. The speedier passenger trains were now carrying freight and were limited to speeds of thirty miles per hour. Automobiles and trucks were becoming a faster and more economical form of transportation. Round trips were limited to one per day. The railroads even hauled much of the road building materials that led to its doom. At the end of the 1930's the railroad began to consider closing its lines running west from Dublin. The initial plan was to close the Eastman line and maintain the Hawkinsville line. An application to close the Eastman line in 1940 was granted by the Interstate Commerce Commission granted mainly due to the lack of support by the citizens of Cadwell and Eastman.
In the mid morning of February 28, 1941 the last train to Eastman pulled out of Dublin with John C. Hamilton conducting, Frank Dukes engineering, and Grafton McDaniel working the flags. Engine No. 40 was polished and outfitted with American flags. There were empty freight cars that would later hold the rails and cross ties when the road was taken up. Mail was exchanged at Rentz and Cadwell and passengers jumped aboard for one last ride. Plainfield citizens who suffered the most from the closure sadly waived good bye as the train came over Petway Hill. The train pulled into Eastman just after lunch. The return passengers unboarded as the train picked up new freight cars and turned around for the journey back to Dublin. Conductor Hamilton and his crew pulled out on the last train ride of the W & T, affectionately known as the "Wiggle and Twist."
Shortly after the Eastman line closed the Hawkinsville line closed neither with any inclination of their need in support in the impending war. By the 1950's passenger service was relegated to a single coach hitched to a freight train. The Public Service Commission allowed the termination of passenger service on August 15, 1958. Concerned citizens began a drive to restore the depot during the 1980's and just when we needed it most, that terrible Sunday afternoon came, and it was gone. Since the March 1989 fire the railroad has continued his operations - limited to a few freight trains per day.