The “Valdosta Special” opened Georgia & Florida Railroad, October 1, 1908

Georgia & Florida Railroad

The Section Foreman in Ray City was Cauley May.

EXCURSION TO OPEN RAILROAD - The "Valdosta Special" came through Ray City October 1, 1908 to open the main line of the Georgia & Florida Railroad. The picture was made in Nashville, GA, showing passengers to first ride the new line.

EXCURSION TO OPEN RAILROAD – The “Valdosta Special” came through Ray City October 1, 1908 to open the main line of the Georgia & Florida Railroad. The picture was made in Nashville, GA, showing passengers to first ride the new line.

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Georgia & Florida Railroad No. 100 passenger car

Georgia & Florida Railroad No. 100 passenger car

Georgia and Florida Railroad, January, 1955. Wendell and Necie Rogers with Engine 507 at the Nashville, GA depot. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Georgia and Florida Railroad, January, 1955. Wendell and Necie Rogers with Engine 507 at the Nashville, GA depot. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

 

T.J. Sutton and Ed Benton with Georgia and Florida Railroad Engine No. 507 at the depot in Nashville, GA, March 24, 1955. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

T.J. Sutton and Ed Benton with Georgia and Florida Railroad Engine No. 507 at the depot in Nashville, GA, March 24, 1955. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

Nashville Herald
Thursday, February 16, 1956

Main Line of Ga. & Fla. Railroad Opened in 1908.

          The Georgia & Florida Railroad (now Railway) is a part of the rich history of this section of Georgia, and in a large measure has contributed to the growth and expansion of Berrien County, and the counties adjacent.
      This railroad furnished a more stable means of transportation than was available in the early days, despite the multiplicity of small log lines.

Organized in 1906
         The Georgia & Florida was organized by Mr. John Skelton Williams in 1906 and at that time consisted of the following roads:
         The Augusta and Florida Railroad, 49 miles in length from Keysville to Swainsboro.
         The Millen & Southwestern Railroad of 42 miles between Millen and Vidalia.
         The Douglas, Augusta & Gulf Railroad, 76 miles between Hazlehurst and Nashville, via Broxton.
         The Nashville & Sparks Railroad twelve miles from Nashville to Sparks, GA.
         The Sparks Western twenty miles of log road between Sparks and Kingwood.

No Shops

         None of the roads had any shops except the Millen & Southwestern, other than a pair of heavy jacks and such hand tools as were needed in doing the general repair work in the operation of trains.
         The rolling stock was an odd assortment of all sorts of engines, a few log cars, a few box cars and two to four passengers cars.
         Out of this hodge podge assortment of rail lines and equipment the work of creating a going railroad business was started.
         Financial conditions of the railway became critical in 1913 and on March 27, 1915, receivers were appointed, which receivership continued until January 1, 1927 when the Georgia & Florida Railway was sold and deeded to The Georgia & Florida Railroad. Due to disastrous floods and heavy costs the Railroad again was ordered into receivership by the District Court of the United States.
         Despite it’s financial troubles the receivers have done a good job of increasing the rolling stock, installing Diesel engines, etc. and the road now ships the largest percentage of tobacco, turpentine and watermelons than any other road of it’s size.

Nashville Proud of G. & F.

         The Georgia & Florida Railroad continues to be well thought of in Berrien county and Nashville. For Nashville it is the only surviving rail link to the outside world, though passenger and mail service have long since been discontinued.
        The road serves as the principal freight hauler of merchandise and manufactured goods. Since the coming of the Tobacco Market it has to be especially valuable, and goes all out to give service to it’s patrons.
        It’s contributions to the growth of the section through which it traverses have been great, and though at times the railroad itself was in financial jam, there has been no movement that would develop this part of Georgia but the Georgia & Florida railroad could be depended upon to do it’s part.
         The first tobacco market in Georgia was on the Georgia & Florida railroad in 1917, when the farmers as well as railroads were asking for a market. A meeting of business men was held at Douglas and in just one hour the capital was subscribed. When the season opened in the late summer, the Red Warehouse with a floor space of 90×140 was doing business on the Georgia & Florida. The first tobacco was sold for 20 cents per pound, but today tobacco is gold in Georgia.

Georgia and Florida Railroad

Georgia and Florida Railroad

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The Georgia and Florida Construction Company

If any one man can be credited for the creation of the Georgia and Florida Railroad, it  was John Skelton Williams.  From inception it was intended that the G & F would run from Augusta, GA to Madison, FL, with plans to extend the line all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. But when Williams organized the railroad in 1906 it was far from clear to the citizens of Rays Mill, GA (now Ray City) that they would ever get a connection.

John Skelton Williams, organizer of the Georgia and Florida Railroad, was the first president of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, and later became U. S. Comptroller of the Currency.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

John Skelton Williams, organizer of the Georgia and Florida Railroad, was the first president of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, and later became U. S. Comptroller of the Currency. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1906, John Skelton Williams was already a great power among the railroad men.  He was a leading ‘southern financier’ and the ex-president of the Seaboard Air Line railway.

He became a partner with his father in the banking and brokerage business and later engaged actively in the material development of the South. He organized and consolidated the Seaboard Air Line and was elected the first president of this company in 1900. He also served as president of other railroad companies of less mileage and was president of the Bank of Richmond and of the Southern Investment Company. He was director of several other trust companies, banks and other corporations, and was recognized as one of the leading financiers of the South. – Biography-Of-John-Skelton-Williams

One of the “other railroad companies of less mileage” Williams organized was the Georgia and Florida Railroad.  In the spring of 1906, The Valdosta Times reported with cautious optimism on Williams’ interest in Valdosta for his new line.  At the time,  Williams was occupied with consolidating a precursor to the G & F, referred to in the article as the Augusta & Gulf.

March 10, 1906 The Valdosta Times reports on the organization of the Georgia and Florida Construction Company by John Skelton Williams.

March 10, 1906 The Valdosta Times reports on the organization of the Georgia and Florida Construction Company by John Skelton Williams.

DETAILS OF RAILROAD DEALS.

Official Statement in Regard to the Augusta & Gulf Railroad.

Messrs. Williams and Middendorf Give Out a Statement of Their Recent Deals and Also Give Some Intimation of Their Plans – Valdosta’s Name is Frequently Used in the Deal, But That is All.

(From Tuesday’s Daily.)

    The following official announcement from the Manufacturers’ Record relative to the proposed Augusta and Gulf railroad which will be one of the biggest trunk lines in the south, will prove of great interest locally as shown in the scope and certainty of this project.
    The Georgia and Florida Construction Company, incorporated has been organized at Richmond, Va., for the purpose of uniting and forming a trunk line out of the several Georgia railroads purchased by the syndicate organized by John Skelton Williams of Richmond, J. William Middendorff of Baltimore and their associates.  Information from Richmond received by the Manufacturers’ Record says that the Construction Company, with an authorized capital of 50,000 to $90,000, has the following directors Douglas H. Gordon of Baltimore, president, and representing the International Trust Company of Baltimore, which is a member of the syndicate:  E. L. Bemiss, vice president, and F. E. Nolting, treasurer, both of Richmond; A. H. Rutherford, of Baltimore, secretary; Albert H. Carroll, of Baltimore, Lewis C. Williams and L. M. Williams, both of Richmond.

Buys Six Roads.

The syndicate has thus far purchased six railroads in Georgia with a total length of 227 miles.  They are the Augusta and Florida 30 miles long, from Keysville to Midville; the Midville, Swainsboro and Red Bluff railway, 20 miles long from Midville to Swainsboro; the Millen and Southwestern railroad, 53 miles line, from Millen via Stillmore to Vidalia; the Ocilla and Valdosta railroad, 55 miles long, from Hazelhurst via Broxton and Ocilla to Irwinville; the Douglas Augusta and Gulf railway, 57 miles long, from Barrows Bluff via Broxton, Douglas and Pinebloom to Nashville, and the Nashville and Sparks railroad, 12 miles long, from Nashville to Sparks.  The Millen and Southwestern has a small branch of four miles from Durdenville to Monte. It will be necessary to use only part of some of these roads to form the proposed trunk line.

The Connecting Links.

To connect these various properties and make the proposed continuous railroad from Augusta to Valdosta it will be necessary to build links as follows:  Augusta to Keysville, about 20 miles, connection between the Midville, Swainsboro and Red Bluff railway and the Millen and Southwestern railroad, about 10 miles; Vidalia to Hazelhurst about 25 miles: total, 80 or 90 miles of new construction.
The proposed extension from Valdosta southeward is not yet definitely decided upon.  The object is to reach the Gulf of Mexico, and this may be done by building to Tallahassee to connect with the Georgia, Florida, and Alabama railway, which would take it to the port of Carabelle or a direct line south might be chosen.  From 50 to 60 miles of new line might be required.

Come summertime, Williams had his railroad chartered and  funded with a million dollars in capital. By this time it was clear that Nashville, Berrien County and the Wiregrass stood to benefit from the new railroad.

July 13, 1906, The Americus Times-Recorder reports that John Skelton Williams has received a charter for the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

July 13, 1906, The Americus Times-Recorder reports that John Skelton Williams has received a charter for the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

By September, 1906 surveying was underway to determine the route  the Georgia & Florida would follow from Augusta, GA to Madison, FL.  But it appeared that the main trunk line of the G & F might pass east of Berrien County.

The Valdosta Times, September 15, 1906 reports Georgia and Florida Railroad has surveyors in the field.

The Valdosta Times, September 15, 1906 reports Georgia and Florida Railroad has surveyors in the field.

But by the following summer, July 1907 it began to look like the trunk line of the Georgia & Florida would include construction of a connecting line from Nashville to Valdosta.  No doubt the residents of Rays Mill began to contemplate the possibilities. Next up, Rays Mill Wins Route for the Georgia & Florida Railroad.

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