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 © 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.
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 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.
— 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.
— Antique Velocipede © SCIWAY —
Old lanterns and telephones sit atop this desk, which still holds train tickets, maps, and railroad 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 © 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.
— Johnny Norris & Luther Folk © SCIWAY —
To schedule a tour, call Branchville’s Town Hall at 803-274-8820.
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