While the railroad was unproven, Charleston business leaders felt they had no choice but to attempt the project, and quite a project it was. By the summer of 1830 the SCC&RR had six miles of track in service west of its terminal and yard in Charleston, the Camden Depot (now a National Historic Landmark). The railroad's chief engineer, Horatio Allen, had been to England to test steam locomotives, as well as operate the Stourbridge Lion design being tested on the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company in 1829 (officially, the first such locomotive ever operated in the U.S. but was built in England). Allen had left the D&H due to its unwillingness to embrace steam power which the young engineer felt was the future of transportation. SCC&RR, as well as Charleston officials, bought into his beliefs and the railroad received its first locomotive in October, 1830 built by the West Point Foundry of Cold Spring, New York (near the NYC).
It was christened as the Best Friend of Charleston due to the area it served and was first operated by Allen on Christmas Day, 1830 becoming the first steam locomotive to pull a regularly scheduled passenger train in the United States. Soon after the SCCRR first six miles were opened work quickly commenced on rest of the route. By October, 1833 the entire 136-mile route between Charleston and Hamburg (directly across the Savannah River from Augusta) was open. It required the work of more than 1,300 contractors and a price tag of $950,000. The route was constructed mostly using strap-iron tracks (literally iron straps bolted to a wooden timbers) that were placed above a wooden sills.
However, this proved impractical after the first decade or so and lead to the SCC&RR spending another $463,000 in the 1840s to build earthen embankments, still the standard method to construct new railroad right-of-way today, and replace the strap-iron with modern "T"-rail. When the Charleston & Hamburg was opened it was easily not only the longest railroad in the United States but also the world. All other lines in use at the time were no more than a few dozen miles in length, as the B&O for instance was only operating about 13 miles of railroad at that point in time. Two years after opening its entire main line the SCC&RR owned 23 locomotives by 1835. Unfortunately, the line expanded little after completing its initial route save for a branch it built to the capital of Columbia.
While it was profitable it never moved the hundreds of thousands of cotton bushels and other agriculture its builders had intended. Additionally, it ran into stiff competition with steam boats operating on the Savannah River and Augusta as upset that the railroad never reached across the waterway to directly serve the city (due to this the city chartered several of its own railroads and it became a major hub of rail commerce). Ironically, Hamburg never even truly embraced the SCCRR. In early 1844 the system merged with the Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston to form the South Carolina Railroad Company which was reorganized as the South Carolina Railroad in 1881 after it could not recover from the devastation suffered during the Civil War.
Under its latest name the railroad expanded through the Carolinas but again fell into receivership in 1894, emerging as the South Carolina & Georgia Railroad. By 1899 the SC&G was acquired by the Southern Railway and became part of its Piedmont Division. Today, little of the original SC&RR right-of-way remains in use although the roadbed can still be easily seen in several locations, even through towns that sprang up along the line if one knows were to look. Also, the city of Charleston has many markers showcasing where the original tracks were located (and where the Best Friend was operated) as well as the aforementioned Camden Depot.
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The South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company