General Levi J. Knight ~ Railroad Tycoon

Following his retirement from the Georgia Militia, General Levi J. Knight invested in the construction of Georgia railroads.  He became one of the principals in the Brunswick & Florida Railroad. The B&F Railroad had been originally chartered in 1835 with a proposed route “between Brunswick, Georgia and the Territory of Florida.” A U.S. Congressional Act of 1837 granted that, “the Brunswick and Florida Rail-road Company, incorporated by an act of the Legislature of Georgia, be, and they are hereby, authorized to extend their rail-road from the Georgia line to the city of Tallahassee, and thence to the river Apalachicola, or St. George’s sound.” But the Panic of 1837 derailed the enterprise, and “nothing more was done until the fifties, when funds were raised and preparations were made to build the road.”

By the 1850’s southwest Georgia had undergone substantial industrial and commercial growth; and  a rail connection to ports on the eastern seaboard  was desirable, with Brunswick holding the best hope. “The prospects for traffic on such a road, in the event of its construction, were very good. The project was now revived under the Brunswick and Florida Railroad charter, which had been kept passively in existence; and shortly before 1855 funds were secured with which construction might be undertaken, and preparations were made accordingly.”

In December, 1853 in the Georgia State House at Milledgeville, GA, Representative Levi J. Knight introduced a bill to extend State credit to railroad companies “to assist them in the purchase of iron.”  At the introduction the House seemed to have great enthusiasm for the bill, but the following day, they voted to table it.

In 1854 General Knight attended meetings of the stockholders of the Brunswick and Florida Railroad.

On May 31, 1854 General Knight was at the stockholders meeting in  the Oglethorpe Hotel  in Macon, GA:

The Macon Georgia Telegraph
June 13, 1854

Meeting of the Stockholders of the Brunswick and Florida Railroad

According to agreement, by public advertisement, a portion of the stockholders of this road assembled at the Oglethorpe Hotel on the 31st ult. The names of the delegates as far as we can learn, are as follows:

      Messrs, Davis, Hodges, and Peabody, of New York; Maj. E.E. Young, Col. Young, Boston and Northfield, of Thomas; T.A.A. Bryan and Gen. Levi J. Knight of Lowndes, besides several others whose names we have not by us. There were also several present from this county, but as the meeting adjourned somewhat prematurely, and without any definite action, we are unable to furnish a full report.

      The meeting assembled at 10 o’clock A.M., and proceeded to business. The minutes of the last annual meeting were read, as also were several reports adopted by the Board of Directors in New York, one of which we published today.  The other reports, for some reason unknown to us, we were unable to obtain, the substance of which, however, we are in possession of.  The principle report to which we allude was in regard to the financial condition of the company.  This report states that $102,000 had been paid on some 11,000 shares by the Northern stockholders, and that this amount, with the exception of $9,65 had been paid out for iron and work done on the road.

    After the adoption of the several reports, Major E.E. Young, of Thomas, took the floor and made few vigorous and substantial remarks, the substance of which was…

 

The meeting adjourned with the agreement to meet again on the 15th of July, 1854 at Thomasville, GA.

The following year at the May stockholders meeting of the Brunswick & Florida Railroad, General Knight was elected to continue as the only southern representative on the board of  directors. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 15, 1855 — page 2 reported:

“On motion of Mr. Knight, the meeting then went into the election of Directors for the ensuing year. The tellers having performed their duty, it appeared that 9,124 votes were represented, and were cast unanimously in favor of the following ticket:

Levi J. Knight, of Georgia.
Henry Spalding Welles, of New York.
Chancy Vibbard, Albany.
Charles B. Stuart, New York.
Paris G. Clark, New York.
S.W. Goodrich, New york.
George E. Gray, Albany.

The Chairman announced that the above had been unanimously chosen Directors of the Brunswick & Florida Railroad Company, for the ensuing year.”

In this endeavor, Levi J. Knight was associated with some of the greatest and most powerful railroad men of the age:

Henry Spalding Welles “identified himself in 1847 with the rapid spread of railroads, and his first operation was the construction of some twenty-seven miles of the Great Western Railroad in Canada. He constructed in 1853, under the firm name of H.S. Welles & Co., the then great work of over one hundred miles of the New York and Erie Railroad, together with sixteen miles of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.  The firm also built forty miles of the Buffalo and State Line Railroad (now a part of the Lake Shore Railroad;) some forty miles of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, a very heavy mechanical work. the whole of the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg Railroad; the Warren Railroad of New Jersey, forty miles long.  At the breaking out of the [Civil] war the firm had nearly finished the Brunswik and Albany Railroad, 350 miles, across the State of Georgia. Probably the greatest work of Welles & Co. was the waterworks of the City of Brooklyn, the contract price being about $5,000,000. Mr. Welles was one of the projectors of the Portage Lake and Lake Superior Ship Canal Company in Michigan.  After the civil war he contracted with the United States Government to clear Savannah Harbor of its sunken obstructions. He was identified with many private enterprises and was a man of great personal magnetism, energy, and commanding presence.”

Chauncy Vibbard, a U.S. Congressional “Representative from New York; born in Galway, Saratoga County, N.Y., November 11, 1811; attended the common schools and was graduated from Mott’s Academy for Boys, Albany, N.Y.; clerk in a wholesale grocery store in Albany, N.Y.; moved to New York City, and in 1834 went to Montgomery, Ala.; returned to New York and settled in Schenectady; was appointed chief clerk of the Utica & Schenectady Railroad Co. in 1836; became a railroad freight and ticket agent in 1848; consolidated the many little railroads of western New York into the New York Central Railroad Co., serving as its first general superintendent 1853-1865; elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1861-March 3, 1863); declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1862; during the Civil War served as director and superintendent of military railroads in 1862; first president of the Family Fund Insurance Co. 1864-1867; moved to New York City in 1865 and became involved in the business of steamship lines and elevated railroads; interested in the development of southern railroads and South and Central American enterprises at the time of his retirement in 1889; died in Macon, Ga., June 5, 1891; interment in Riverside Cemetery.”

Charles Beebe Stuart (June 4, 1814 – January 4, 1881) was an American engineer, United States Navy and Union Army officer and politician. “After being graduated from Union College, he was engaged in the construction of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, one of the first lines built in this country.  He subsequently constructed the Brooklyn dry docks.  His skill won for him the position of Engineer-in-Chief of the United States Navy. He was the author of an elaborate work on naval architecture, and one on the construction of dry docks, which attracted the attention of the Duke of Wellington, the Emperor of Russia, the Sultan of Turkey, and others.  While State Engineer of New York he conceived the idea of building the suspension bridge across Niagara River.  Though not the engineer in charge of its construction, he had much to do with it, and his wife was the first person to cross it, she being drawn over in a basket on a wire. Upon the breaking out of the late war, Gen. Stewart raised two regiments of engineers, of which he was given command with the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. His service was entirely in the Army of the Potomac, constructing forts, fortifications, and bridges. He was recently engaged in the construction of the Conotton Valley Railroad, now being built from the coal fields in Carroll County to this city by Boston capitalists, and, as in all his previous efforts, he showed marked ability.”  –obituary of General Charles B. Stuart

George Edward Gray “studied civil engineering under Pelatiah Rawson, a United States pioneer in the profession. He was employed as resident engineer of the Black River Canal, New York, at two different periods, and once on the Erie Canal.  He also worked as assistant engineer on the New York and Harlem Railroad, was appointed chief engineer of the Utica and Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley Railroads in 1852, and in 1853 was made chief engineer, when those two roads were consolidated into the New York Central System. In that capacity he built the first wrought-iron bridge, and from 1860 to 1865, acted as chief engineer of the Hudson River Bridge at Albany.”  – Bio of George Edward Gray

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, 1856 Levi J. Knight was present at the state Capitol in Milledgeville, GA where he sat as a member at the first meeting of the Board of Commissioners of the newly chartered Atlantic and Gulf Railroad Company.  The major action of the sitting members of the Board was to organize the first meeting of the full Board to be held at the Capitol in Milledgeville, GA on the 31st of March, 1856.  General Knight was not present at the second meeting of the Board, where the major business was the establishment of a chair and business committee, and to arrange for the public subscription to the capital stock of the company.

By 1857, 36 miles of track had been completed and there were grand designs that the B&F line would extend all the way to Pensacola, Florida. With service through connecting lines the B&F would provide passenger and freight service from the interior as far west as Vicksburg,MS all the way to the east coast shipping port at Brunswick, GA. The state of Georgia invested half a million dollars in the railroad company’s stock. The advantage of  the B&F, it was said. was that it could move men and materials from ports on the Gulf of Mexico to the Brunswick port on the Atlantic in 24 hours “in case of war between this country and a foreign nation.”

Levi J. Knight was present when the annual Convention of the Stockholders of the Brunswick and Florida Railroad Company was held at Brunswick, GA on Wednesday, May 13, 1857.  The good news was that construction of the road was progressing,  but there was no report on the financial condition of the company. General Knight was among those who advocated for the company to negotiate an agreement with the Main Trunk railroad that would secure funding for the construction of a railroad line across southern Georgia.

According to Wikipedia, “By 1859, the railroad stretched from Brunswick to Glenmore, Georgia, where it connected with the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad.

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