Telling stories

The Loneliness of the Forgotten Rail Stop

Posted by southwrite on July 8, 2014

Train oldWhenever I hear a distant train whistle, I stop and listen and think for a moment of where it’s going and where it might have been. I’m not the only one. Trains are still popular these days. Trainwatching or railfanning, as it’s sometimes called, is a passion for a growing subculture of enthusiasts. Yet, for most of us, they’ve become a novelty and don’t have the same impact on our lives  they once did. We look at trains apart from the role they play in commerce, and transportation because they are no longer a part of our everyday life.

Not so long ago it wasn’t that way. Trains were a vital and essential part of everyday life — even in tiny rural communities.

The images of train schedules you see here are from the collection of Eastman, Ga.-resident Bob Braswell, who says they are most likely from the 1890s. I was really struck by the long string of stops at tiny communities throughout the Middle Georgia area – some I had heard of and some not.

Uplands Hotel AdScanning through the schedules, I see stops at Garretta, Mayberry, Rentz, Batson, and Leon on the way to Eastman. These are names likely to draw a blank stare from all but the oldest and most historically minded residents of the county. I look at them and try to imagine what the stops might have looked like. I wonder how many people rode the trains and what become of them and their lives?

The rail line to Eastman ran by the house in which I grew up although  the rails and cross ties had been removed long before I was born. One of the stops on the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad Co. is named Sutherland (a common misspelling of our family name).  I’m not sure where the stop had been, but no doubt passengers disembarked somewhere near my family home.

In the 19th and well into the 20th century, these little communities were thriving and busy enough to warrant passenger train service. It was a time when train travel was the primary way of getting from one place to another. Braswell also provided this early ad for the Uplands Hotel in Eastman. It  indicates a busy stop on the line from Cincinnati, Ohio, which many well-to-do travelers rode to Florida in the 1800s.  They stopped in towns along the way giving rise to a thriving hotel business. Some of these hotels are still standing. Most are empty shells or have been converted to other uses. The Uplands burned to the ground long before I was born and a  bank now sits on the site.

Railway schedule 2Another former rail stop called Plainfield is a few miles from  my parent’s old home and it’s still hanging on. Today, little remains of this once thriving community, which was declining even when I was growing up. Most people have moved away and the main shopping area off the main highway is now mostly gone.

Ben Horne’s, a classic tin roofed country store at the intersection of Ga. 117 and Plainfield Road closed some years ago. Now it sits at the main intersection with  its gas pumps long removed and its walls crumbling. In better days my parents sometimes bought groceries there and I was usually able to spend some time with the out of date comic books in a rack near the wooden front counter. Like hundreds of other country  stores, it served the needs of the surrounding community. Also like them it couldn’t survive.

Decades before, Plainfield and the others were all vibrant communities supported to a significant degree by regular train service. When the trains stopped and the rail disappeared much of the reason for their existence was also gone. Like so much of rural life and culture its vanishing leaves us to wonder and dream of what was and might have been..



Railway schedule

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