Branchville Railroad Shrine and Museum – Orangeburg County, South Carolina

South Carolina  |  SC Picture Project  |  Orangeburg County Photos  |  Branchville Railroad Shrine and Museum

The Branchville Railroad Shrine and Museum stands at the site of the world’s first railroad junction that was created by splitting a rail. By 1833, Branchville was part of the world’s longest railroad, which ran 136 miles from Charleston to Hamburg. (Hamburg was located in Aiken County but no longer exists).

Branchville Station SC

—  Branchville Station © Lamar Nix of Seabrook  —

The railroad was the product of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, which incorporated in 1827. Cotton merchant William Aiken was the company’s first president, and Aiken – founded in 1835 as a stop along the Charleston-to-Hamburg line – was named for the railroad executive. In 1838 the rail company built a spur off the main rail line and established a route between Branchville and Columbia, making Branchville a junction. The line to Columbia was in operation by 1842, and soon afterwards other branches were added in towns such as Camden.

Branchville Railroad Museum

— Branchville Railroad Museum © Larry Gleason of Aiken

The train depot was heavily damaged by a fire in 1995, but it has since been restored as a museum. The Branchville Museum houses a replica of “The Best Friend of Charleston,” a steam locomotive which carried passengers en route from Charleston to Hamburg, passing through Branchville. It made its first trip on December 25, 1830, and was received with much excitement. Its service was short-lived, ending with a deadly explosion when an engineer closed the steam valve to extinguish its sound. Pieces of the locomotive were salvaged, and the Phoenix was built to replace the doomed engine. Though its own course was ill-fated, the Best Friend marked the start of a transportation transformation in the United States.

Branchville Depot Best Friend Train Replica

—  Branchville Train Museum Best Friend Replica © SCIWAY  —

Standing at this ticket window, you can almost imagine yourself as an early rail passenger, come to purchase a train ticket. The view through the window shows the second of the museum’s three rooms, where the train operator station is housed.

Old Ticket Window of Branchville Train Station

—  Train Ticket Window © SCIWAY  —

Hand-powered velocipedes such as this one were invented in the late 1800’s and were commonly used for railroad inspection and maintenance. This one is built for one person, with attachments so that tools could be brought along.

Velocipede at Branchville Museum

—  Antique Velocipede © SCIWAY  —

Old lanterns and telephones sit atop this desk, which still holds train tickets, maps, and railroad memorabilia.

Train Museum Memorabilia

—  Train Museum Memorabilia © SCIWAY  —

Railroad stations served an important role in communication in the early 1900’s. This picture shows telegraph machinery and old documents. The museum also houses a switchboard machine where calls could be patched.

Telegraph Machines

—  Telegraph Machines © SCIWAY  —

Johnny Norris (left) is the president of the Branchville Railroad Shrine and Museum. He spent almost half a century working for the railroad and is happy to share the wealth of knowledge he accumulated. Standing to his right is vice-president Luther Folk. You can read more about both of these men and the Branchville Museum in Sandlapper Magazine’s Autumn 2004 article, Branchville: Junction of the Past and Future.

Museum president Johnny Norris and Luther Folk

—  Johnny Norris & Luther Folk © SCIWAY  —

To schedule a tour, call Branchville’s Town Hall at 803-274-8820.

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10 Comments about Branchville Railroad Shrine and Museum

SCIWAYNo Gravatar says:
September 19th, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hi, Karen! Thank you for commenting. While the superlative was challenged years ago regarding the English junction of which you speak, Branchville officially was declared the first created by splitting a rail. Also, the first sentence of this page does state that the museum stands at the “site of the first railroad junction.” Thanks to your comment, we are amending the page to include this explanation of the title.

Karen HerschellNo Gravatar says:
September 18th, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I really do hate to burst your bubble, but I was just looking at Wikipedia which says that the first railway junction was constructed in 1831 in England, at Newtown Junction (now Earlestown Station) near Newtown-le-Williows. It is claimed also that Branchville’s junction is the “oldest” but the tracks no longer converge, so it is no longer actually a junction. Therefore I don’t see how it could be the oldest. Perhaps it should be called the site of the first railroad junction in the Western Hemisphere. Which is still impressive for a very little town in rural South Carolina! I just don’t like inaccurate statements.

Dennis HarrisNo Gravatar says:
May 13th, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I would very much like to be able to visit the rich history of Branchville, when can I go thru the museum. I live in Gaston.

Dennis HarrisNo Gravatar says:
May 1st, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I just moved to Gaston last Aug from Mich. I am searching for the rich railroad history of SC. When could I go thru the museum ????????????????

Shannon PritchardNo Gravatar says:
November 24th, 2012 at 10:48 am

It would be helpful if you had a rail map of the service area.

Scott JohnsonNo Gravatar says:
November 8th, 2012 at 10:16 am

Hello, My grandfather, Scott Johnson Sr. would travel from Johnston to deer hunt there during the middle of the week. Always remember his stories of having such a great time, fellowship, and even getting a ‘doe’ on doe day. If you have any stories to share I’d be more than interested to hear them. Thanks. Scott Johnson, III

ErnieNo Gravatar says:
October 10th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I must say Branchville is a place that holds many, many memories for me. My dad used to deer hunt at the old Rose Hill hunting club. He started taking me when I was 3 years old and at one time he was the president of the club. Even though I’ve never had the pleasure of going inside the rail station I have seen it many times. My dad passed away in 1998 and I have missed this town so much. My uncle and myself came down to visit on 10/6/2012 and we ate lunch at the Churn which has the best food in this state even after 27 years!!! While we were eating I swear I could hear my daddy laughing. I will be back to the best little town very soon. I would like to thank the town of Branchville and my daddy for memories that I will hold for the rest of my life. Thank you for all of your hospitality.

Harold JessenNo Gravatar says:
January 25th, 2011 at 7:36 pm

My father started to work for the Southern in 1946. He started out at Branchville. In the summer, my mother and her three children would come and stay in the old house on the corner of 78 and Main St.

SCIWAYNo Gravatar says:
August 17th, 2010 at 7:48 am

Hi Harry,

There are a few resources on SCIWAY’s Orangeburg County Genealogy page that may help you – Good Luck!

harry c metts jrNo Gravatar says:
August 16th, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Was hoping someone might know of the early settlers in the Branchville area. In particular Christopher Metz from the Netherlands. I am from SC and have many descendants from the Branchville area. Please comment if you have any information.


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