Rays Mill Wins Route for the Georgia & Florida Railroad

In 1907 when things began to firm up for the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railway line that would connect Nashville, GA and Valdosta, GA, railroad engineer J. W. Webster  came through the area to lay out the route and to secure the right-of-way for the tracks.  Webster was assisted by Dr. W. B. Goodman, who was the husband of Texas Ray Goodman and son-in-law of Ray City founder Thomas M. Ray. (see Thomas M Ray Founded Ray’s Mill in 1863)

September 6, 1907 Engineers Secure Rights-of-Way for Georgia and Florida Railroad

The Atlanta Georgian and News, September 6, 1907 Engineers Secure Rights-of-Way for Georgia and Florida Railroad

The Atlanta Georgian and News
September 6, 1907

ENGINEERS SECURE ROAD RIGHTS-OF-WAY

Special to The Georgian.

    Valdosta, Ga., Sept. 6. – Assistant Engineer J. W. Webster, of the Georgia and Florida railroad, and Dr. W. B. Goodman, of Nashville, Ga., were in the city yesterday arranging for the right of way for the railroad into this city. They drove through the country, following the proposed line, and closed up options for a considerable portion of the right of way.  The road will likely enter the city on the eastern border, with a sharp curve to the south, where a junction will be effected with the Valdosta Southern to Madison, Fla.
    Engineer Webster states that work on the gap from this city to Nashville will begin in a short while, but owning to the fact that nearly all the railway contractors in the country have about all the work they can handle now with their present equipment, and a disposition not to invest money in increased facilities, it is impossible to state exactly when active work will begin.

The call for proposals to build the Georgia and Florida line drew the attention of some of the largest railroad contractors in the country (see previous post Whangdoodled on Panama Canal Contract, Billy Oliver put in a Bid to Construct G & F Railroad Through Ray City).  With railroad construction underway all over the country in 1907, the original bids had  come in too high for G & F’s liking.  But by late August of 1907 it was settled that Schofield & Sons, of Philadelphia would do the grading as soon as their equipment was available to do the work.

In the final consideration, there were two possible routes for the G & F line from Nashville to Valdosta, one by way of Cat Creek and the other to run past Rays Mill.

The Valdosta Times, January 29, 1908 reported that two routes were surveyed for the Georgia and Florida line from Nashville, GA to Valdosta, GA. One route would pass through Rays Mill, the other by way of Cat Creek.

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, January 25, 1908, page 10
,

Two Routes Surveyed for Road

The work of making the surveys on the road from here to Nashville will probably be completed this week, or within a very few days. Two routes have been surveyed. One of them comes in by way of Cat Creek and the other by Rays Mill. The route by Cat Creek also comes within a short distance of Mr. W.T. Staten’s place on the east, he having been assisting in securing rights of way through that section.

(missing line(s) of print)

routes will be accepted, as the costs of the road is to be considered and then some consideration will probably be taken of the concessions that are given by people along the route. It has not been announced when the work on the road will be undertaken again, but it will probably be when the present warfare on railroads and corporations generally is stopped.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker.

William Tomlinson Staten (1866-1920), who was assisting the railroad in securing rights-of-way was well known as the  Lowndes County tax collector, president of the Lowndes County Farmers’ Club,  and committee member on the state finance committee of the Southern Cotton Association.  He owned  much property including town lots and plantations.  It was Staten who sold lots to the government for the construction of the federal courthouse and post office in Valdosta, GA.  He owned a big plantation called  “Alue” near Valdosta.   He was a big produce shipper so securing a rail route by his Cat Creek plantation  would have been  in his interest.

But despite the influence of Staten, the support of local citizens of Rays Mill were able to secure the route for the new railroad:

At that time Mr. J.S. Swindle owned much of the land around the present site of the town. It is said that he bargained with the railroad company to give them the right of way if they would give him a station. This agreement was made and thus started the town [of Ray City].

W. T. Staten would later be among those seriously injured in the 1910 wreck of the G & F  train in Valdosta, GA.

Whangdoodled on Panama Canal Contract, Billy Oliver put in a Bid to Construct G & F Railroad Through Ray City

The  contract to build the railroad line connecting Nashville, GA by way of Rays Mill (now Ray City) to Valdosta, GA,  might  not seem like a project that would attract one of the largest construction companies in America,  but the 1907 call for bids for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad did just that. To be fair, the total contract concerned not just the 30 mile stretch of railroad from Berrien to Lowndes county, but about 70 additional miles of track to connect the various shortlines that comprised the Georgia and Florida railroad.

Perhaps the most prominent bidder  for constructing the connecting lines of the G & F was William J. Oliver, the Tennessee contractor who earlier that year had submitted the lowest bid for the immensely huge task of constructing the Panama Canal.  Oliver expected that the South Georgia cotton shipped over the Georgia and Florida Railroad would eventually find its way through the Panama Canal to  meet the demand in Asian markets. When completed, the G & F line would certainly open the way for economic development in Berrien County, GA and fuel the growth of firms such as the Luckie Lumber Company at Ray City, GA.

William Jesse Oliver (1867-1925) was a prominent bidder for the contract to construct the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

William Jesse Oliver (1867-1925) was a prominent bidder for the contract to construct the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

In 1907, the early accounts indicated Oliver had a lock on the canal contract.

January 28, 1907, William J. Oliver to build the Panama Canal.

January 28, 1907, William J. Oliver to build the Panama Canal.

The first week of  February, 1907, Harper’s Weekly Magazine gave a short sketch on  William J. Oliver and his bid for the Panama Canal.

William J. Oliver, Harper's Weekly, Feb 2, 1907

William J. Oliver, Harper’s Weekly, Feb 2, 1907

Harpers Weekly
Feb 2, 1907

THE MAN WHO BID LOWEST FOR THE PANAMA CANAL CONTRACT

      William J. Oliver, in association with Anson J. Bangs, has made a proposition to build the Panama Canal for 6.75 percent, of total cost, and this bid, at the time of writing, is under favorable consideration by the government.  In the combination which made this bid, Mr. Oliver has the dominant interest.  Other bids were for 7.19, 12.50, and 28 per cent.
      Mr. Oliver is thirty nine years of age.  He was born in Mishawauka, a suburb of South Bend, Indiana.  When he was sisteen years of age he started out on the Cotton Belt railroad with s fifteen team outfit as a railroad contractor.  He has gradually progressed from one branch of railroad contracting to another, and owns one of the largest manufacturing plants in the United States for the building of contractors’ machinery.
       Mr. Oliver has also made a specialty of what contractors call “concrete work,” and has built a number of concrete buildings, viaducts, and river bridges for railroads.  He has over $30,000,000 of contracts now under way including the tunnelling of Lookout Mountain for the Southern Railway company, concrete buildings in Louisville and Nashville, a concrete dam at Chattanooga, sixty five feet high,in which there will be 50,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete work.  He is also laying double tracks and building extensions for various railroads.
      In view of the announcement that Mr. Oliver purposes to use negroes from the West Indies as laborers on the canal, under the superintendence of white men from the South, it is interesting to recall the report that Governor Swettenham of Jamaica is opposed to the use of negroes from that island as foreign laborers, and has imposed a prohibitive emigration head tax to prevent the natives from leaving the island for America or Panama.
      In the case of an award, Mr.Oliver will go to the isthmus to superintend personally the work of construction; he will take over the entire plant owned by the government, and will at once proceed to ship additional materials to the Zone.

Ultimately, the contract for construction of the Panama Canal went to the Army Corps of Engineers.  Oliver said he had been “whangdoodled” by President Teddy Roosevelt, but his manufacturing company did end up supplying some of the construction equipment.  The completed canal is still regarded as one of the greatest engineering achievements of the modern world.

May of 1907 found Oliver not in the Canal Zone but in Augusta, GA to bid on the G & F construction project. In the May 20, 1907 edition of The Atlanta Georgian and News,  he was still protesting the politicized award of the Panama Canal contract,  but the paper also reported his comments on the global impact of the opening of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. “When this line is completed,”he said, “it will largely solve the problem involved in the big suits now before the interstate commerce commission in the matter of rates from the South to Oriental ports.  All the cotton goods and other freight that must cross the Pacific will go over this line and through the Panama Canal when it is finished,” he said.

The Atlanta Georgian and News reports William J. Oliver will bid on the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

The Atlanta Georgian and News reports William J. Oliver will bid on the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

Within a few weeks, The Atlanta Georgian and News reported that The Georgia and Florida Railroad  was ready to select a contractor.

By June of 1907, the selection of a contractor for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad was imminent.

By June of 1907, the selection of a contractor for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad was imminent.

But the bids came in too high and on June 22,1907 the railroad announced it would hold off on awarding a contract.

June 22, 1907 The Atlanta Georgian and News announcemed that the Georgia and Florida Railroad would not be letting a constrruction contract for some time.

June 22, 1907 The Atlanta Georgian and News announced that the Georgia and Florida Railroad would not be letting a construction contract for some time.

On August 24 the contract was finally awarded, but went to Schofield & Sons of Philadelphia.

August 24, 1907, the Georgia and Florida Railroad contracts for construction of new line.

August 24, 1907, the Georgia and Florida Railroad contracts for construction of new line.

-So in the end, the man who famously did not get the Panama Canal contract, also did not get the Georgia & Florida railroad contract.

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