Swamp Fox Passage (Palmetto Trail) History

South Carolina

At a Glance

Name: Swamp Fox Passage (Palmetto Trail)
Length: 42 Miles
Trail activities: Fishing, Mountain Biking, Walking
Counties: Berkeley, Charleston
Surfaces: Dirt, Grass
State: South Carolina

A Brief History

While perhaps somewhat surprising given the state’s location in the Southeast, and situated along the Atlantic Coast, South Carolina was once home to a wide range of logging railroads. Today’s Swamp Fox Passage/Palmetto Trail follows a segment of one such line near Awendaw. Nearly all of the state’s operations were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was the case with the right-of-way that is the trail. It was once part of an expansive network of trackage located north and east of Charleston and built between the early 1900s through the 1920s; the lines near Awendaw were laid down during the latter period. After the regional timber tracts played out, rail operations were suspended in the late 1930s.

According to Thomas Fetters’ extensive book on the subject, “Logging Railroads of South Carolina,” the state was once home to some 200 such operations scattered from the eastern coastal plains to the western mountains. What is today part of the Palmetto Trail uses a former right-of-way owned by the A.C. Tuxbury Lumber Company, which owned an expansive private system near Charleston. Its operations were located in the counties of Berkeley and Charleston where it worked to extract the fine virgin timber of the coastal swamps near the port city. The rails provided an easy outlet for lumber and other goods. The company was established in 1905 by Charles Hill and Fred Davies, who constructed a large sawmill at Shipyard Creek near Charleston’s old naval yard. To ship out finished products, Tuxbury had connections with all of the major railroads serving the area, including the Southern Railway, Seaboard Air Line, and the Atlantic Coast Line.

Over the years, the Tuxbury operation cut timber at various locations, beginning along the Ashley River where it simply floated the logs to its mill. Later, it shifted to areas situated near the Cooper River north of town using tramways and light locomotives to carry logs to the river, which were then sent to the mill. In 1910, more extensive rail operations, all standard-gauge (4 feet, 8 ½ inches) were in service northeast of Charleston in what is today the Francis Marion National Forest running between Bethera, where a logging camp was located, and Cainhoy along the Wando River. By 1917, A.C. Tuxbury had 38 miles of trackage in service, and extensions had reached Jamestown and Bonneau, located along Lake Moultrie.

It is unknown whether Tuxbury ever provided local passenger service, although in general most timber operations did not because the railroad was privately owned and under no obligation do so as. If the rail had been a common-carrier, some of which were operated and owned by timber companies, it would have had passenger service. Those that did provide service were often basic in nature, sometimes with nothing more than a simple bench in a boxcar. Tuxbury also did not use geared steam locomotives, commonly found in timber operations and revered for their ability to provide substantial traction, scale stiff grades (not an issue along the coast), and operate over rickety or poorly maintained tracks. The most common of these designs were the Shays (built by the Lima Locomotive Works), Heislers, and Climax.

The former right-of-way upon which the Swamp Fox Passage runs was first constructed during the mid-1920s, when Tuxbury shifted operations again after purchasing acreage near Awendaw and McClellanville in 1924. He bought the new land after most of the valuable timber had been cut in other areas; the rails were transferred south near the coast. The new logging camp set up shop at Awendaw, while Cainhoy continued to serve as the river landing. According to Mr. Fetters’ book, the new main line was 30 miles long and several logging spurs extended into the forests near Awendaw. This area was the final location served by Tuxbury before all logging operations were discontinued. It was also the most expansive, featuring six locomotives in regular operation during peak service and a wide range of other equipment in use. Operations here also wound down during the 1930s after the remaining timber tracts were gone. All logging operations were suspended in August 1938, and A.C. Tuxbury shut down completely in June 1939. As was the case with most privately-operated logging railroads, the tracks were removed between Cainhoy and Awendaw, leaving few traces of what once had transpired there. After more than 30 years of service, the company had cut some 715 million board feet of lumber, making it one of the most extensive such operations along the East Coast.

Railroad attractions include the South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro and the Museum & Railroad Historical Center in Greenwood.

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