South & North Alabama Railroad

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The South & North Alabama Railroad (S & N), also called the Alabama Central Railroad, was a railroad line, first charted in the 1850s, but not completed until the 1880s, which connected Montgomery to Decatur, through Jones Valley, where it crossed the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad. The location of the crossing, as set by chief engineer John T. Milner, became the site of the Elyton Land Company's planned industrial metropolis of Birmingham.

The original charter was granted by the Alabama State Legislature on February 17, 1854 to a group of investors made up of Frank M. Gilmer Jr, J. W. Pryot, N. E. Benson, L. Owen, C. Crommelin, J. E. Belser, S. P. Storrs, B. Trimble, L. P. Butler, D. C. Neal, L. P. Saxon, N. S. Graham, J. H. Bradford, W. Garrett and other shareholders. The company was capitalized at $3 million. Gilmer served as president.

Work on the actual railroad line was begun by September 1859, on a section connecting the Cahaba River to the Alabama & Tennessee River Railroad at Calera (Lime Kiln Station). Grading of the 15-mile extension to Elyton was underway when the Civil War began. During the war the project was deemed important to the Confederate war effort, but promised resources in funding, material and slave labor, were inconsistently furnished. Competition for iron was fierce, with competition from agricultural blacksmiths and the Confederate Naval Works in Selma. Slaves were engaged in the maintenance and extension of the railroad between Elyton and Montevallo. They were supervised by W. B. Hyde on Milner's behalf and housed at Hyde's Camp. Owners were paid for the labor of their slaves. The rate paid for road grading was $8 per 100 slaves per day. Those who sent 50 or more hands were allowed to send their own overseer to coordinate their labor.

Sections of the completed line saw heavy use with locomotives saved from the disruption of the Pensacola & Mobile Railroad. Notably the railroad supplied coal to the Shelby Iron Works and, from the Cahaba, by barge to Selma. Compromises in the quality of the construction, such as using chairs instead of angle plates to hold the rails to the crossties, were a source of frequent disruption.

Work was resumed on repairing, upgrading and completing the railroad in 1869, with Sam Tate as general contractor. His crews completed work on the 63-mile run from Calera to Montgomery by the end of 1870, the next 33 miles north from Calera to Birmingham proved much slower-going, with the connection northward to Decatur still only lines on paper.

At the time that William Barker prepared his Plat of Birmingham, the railroad had not yet crossed Shades Mountain into Jones Valley, which it would soon do through Brock's Gap. Barker planned for the crossing with the existing Alabama & Chattanooga in downtown Birmingham to take the form of an extended parallel corridor, which was set aside as a Railroad Reservation.

In April 1871, however, the company was required to make more than $2 million of interest payments on its bonds, threatening default. It was by the efforts of James Sloss, serving as president of the Nashville & Decatur Railroad, that the owners of the Louisville & Nashville were persuaded to take over the contract of the unfinished line in 1871, making infant city's critical connection to Midwestern markets possible. As incentive, Sloss offered L & N a 30-year lease on his trackage, which served as the link between the cities on their midwestern rail network with the Birmingham District and ultimately to the Port of Mobile. The agreement was signed in May 1871, and gave the L & N's investors an additional incentive to furnish capital for the development of the mineral region, which was accomplished for their part with the construction of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad.

The first train to pull into Birmingham on the South & North Alabama Railroad arrived on November 6, 1871. The first complete train trip from Montgomery to Louisville, a 22-hour trip with a change of trains in Decatur, was completed on September 28, 1872. Eventually all three lines were consolidated into the L & N system.


  • Jones, Frank M. & Marvin Y. Whiting (January 1978) "On Keeping Track of Our History". Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society. Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 22–31

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