In 1873 a Special
Act of the South Carolina General Assembly granted a charter to the Cheraw
and Chester Railway Company and provided: That the said company is hereby
authorized to construct a railroad from Cheraw, in Chesterfield County,
to Chesterville, in Chester County, by such route as shall be found most
suitable and advantageous. Thus began the long and colorful history of
the present day Lancaster and Chester Railway Company.
as a way to link distant regions of the country, the railroad was to be
part of a larger system that would allow for the tranporting of products
to and from the South. The early intention was to build a 55-mile railroad
that would connect the towns of Cheraw, Lancaster and Chester. After the
investors had supplied enough money to build 30 miles of track from Chester
to Lancaster, their resources were exhausted. The remaining track to Cheraw
was never completed. The financial picture for these early investors did
not improve. By June 1896, the Cheraw and Chester was under foreclosure,
and by Court Order was sold at auction. Colonel Leroy Springs, founder
of Springs Industries, purchased the railroad for $25,000.00 on the Chester
County Courthouse steps.
Leroy Springs changed the name of the railroad to Lancaster and Chester,
also know as The Springmaid Line, and began what would be a troublesome
journey towards success. While Colonel Springs was starting a traffic
base of cotton and related materials for the mills, several calamities
were also forming on the horizon. In April, 1899, the wooden trestle over
the Catawba River burned. Within a month the depot at Lancaster was destroyed
by fire. The depot was replaced the same year with the trestle being rebuilt
in 1900. However, Springs had a much larger issue to overcome than the
depot and trestle. The initial investors chose to construct the Railroad
as a narrow gauge. By the beginning of the 20th Century, most railroads
had converted to standard gauge track. Narrow gauge railroads such as
the Lancaster and Chester could not interchange cars and locomotives with
those of standard gauge track. This created a laborious and costly task
of unloading and reloading cargo. This difference in track also created
a problem economically for operating the railroad. Wood had to be burned
for fuel rather than coal because the coal mines were located on standard
gauge railroads and the coal would also be subject to the expense of unloading
economic message became clear to narrow gauge railroad owners. The L&C
changed to standard gauge in 1902. By 1913, capital stock was increased
from $50,000 to $500,000 or 5,000 shares at $100 each. However, 1913 was
to be a remarkably fateful year. The worst wreck in the railroads history
occurred on June 30, 1913 as the train was carrying fans to a large play-off
basebal game in Chester. The L&C, with 79 passengers onboard, derailed.
A freight car jumped the track, causing three passenger cars to plunge
to the bottom of the creek. Hooper's Creek Trestle collapsed from the
wreckage. Five people lost their lives in the wreck. Some two years later,
Colonel Springs managed to settle the claims with the courts. However,
after narrowly escaping bankruptcy, there was no money left to replace
passenger car rolling stock and passenger service ceased.
While atttempting to recover from the wreck, yet another tragedy awaited
the L&C, this time dealt by Mother Nature. The flood of 1916 carried
away the bridge over the Catawba River. Even though Colonel Springs had
succeeded in borrowing enough capital to get the railroad back in operation
from the wreck, it was doubtful this calamity would be overcome. Some
of the officers talked of giving up and selling out. However, Colonel
Springs was not going to give up the Railroad. Detours over the Southern
and Seaboard Railroads were used for weeks. Later, a ferry was built to
take the place of the bridge. In the meantime, Colonel Springs had heard
of a railroad bridge that was to be abandoned. The double span bridge
was jointly used by vehicles, and jointly owned by the county. Springs
was able to purchase the bridge and sell the portion used by vehicles
back to the county for the full cost of the bridge. The second half of
the bridge was brought to the Catawba River crossing using the same stone
piles from the previous bridge construction.
Almost unbelievably, this was not the last in the line of tragedies. The
railroad was brought yet more fame as a picture of an overturned car,
resulting from a tornado, was carried by the nation's newspapers. According
to several accounts, the first boxcar behind the engine was lifted off
the track and deposited, bottom side up, clear of the tracks. The engineer
proceeded on, seemingly unaware of the event, as the rear cars coasted
forward and coupled themselves to the engine.
eventful era of the L&C came to an end with the death of Colonel Leroy
Springs on April 7, 1931. The Colonel's son and successor, Elliott White
Springs would take charge and bring the railroad through the hard times
of the Great Depression with consistent profits and consistant notoriety.
Railway cars were added and new warehouses were constructed. Twenty-nine
Vice-Presidents were named to the Board of Directors, one for each of
the Railroad's twenty-nine miles. This bold move was noted by The New
York Times, partly due to the fact that the famed stripper, Gypsy Rose
Lee, had been named Vice President of Unveiling.
These events were followed by a very creative advertising
campaign carried out by Elliott Springs. Drawing on his past history
of writing fiction, he generated a contrived timetable for six nonexisting
trains including the Blue Blazes, the Shrinking Violet and the Purple
Cow. The trains came with fabricated menus offering items such as Golden
Goose Eggs, Back Bay Trollops with Harvard Accent and Split Dixiecrats
with Frozen Assets.
Springs at the helm, the railroad continued to flourish financially as
well as publicly. Through the 50's, property and equipment were purchased.
The L&C converted to diesel power. Gypsy Rose Lee made several appearances
in Lancaster, dedicating both the new depot and the purchase of fourteen
new covered hopper freight cars.
The death of Elliott White Springs, in October of 1959, brought to end
yet another era in the history of the L&C. Springs left behind a legacy
of contributions, one of which continues to touch the lives of people
who live in this region, The Springs Foundation, which provides financial
contributions to enhance education, health, and recreation programs in
Chester, Lancaster and York Counties.
the death of Elliott Springs, Bill Close became President of the Railway.
From 1959-1990 the Railway built a new Engine Shop, purchased new locomotives,
bought new boxcars, and built the Carolina Distribution Park in Richburg,
later renamed the L&C Railway Distribution Park. In 1989, Guardian
Industries started operation as the newest and largest rail shipper in
the Distribution Park.
In 1990 the L&C began an intensive diversification program to attract
new industry to the line. Under the leadership of S. M. Gedney, who became
President in 1990, the Railway has brought eleven (11) new customers into
the area which when combined with existing industry expansion represent
over $250,000,000 of new investment to the region. In addition, the Railway
has invested over $9,000,000 in heavy rail , bridge rehabilitation, new
freight cars and locomotives to handle 286,000 lb. loads and increased
unit train movements.
new millennium has ushered in new opportunities for the L&C to expand
its service area. In March of 2001, the L&C signed a lease purchase
agreement with Norfolk Southern Corporation to operate 30.8 additional
miles of track from Catawba Junction to Kershaw, SC. This line segment
connects with the L&C's 29 miles of original main line at Lancaster.
With a 100%+ increase in traffic volume and with its route miles and service
area expanded by over 100%, the L&C Railway has positioned itself
to continue growing at a steady, reliable rate. This strategy adds emphasis
to President Gedney's quote in the book 1896-1996 Lancaster & Chester
Railway, The First Hundred Years: Our commitment is strong and our
future is bright.
© 2002 Lancaster
and Chester Railway Company
Post Office Box 1450
Lancaster, South Carolina 29721-1450
Fax • 803-286-4158