The feasibility of constructing a railroad to span such distances was being proven as the longest route in the world at this moment was about to be completed in South Carolina by Horatio Allen. On October 3, 1833, the South Carolina Canal & Railroad made its first run along its 136-mile-long route between Charleston and Hamburg, on the Savannah River. By then, the company’s management had already begun exploring the possibilities of extending their route to the Ohio River to extend Charleston’s inland market in an attempt to make Charleston the major Atlantic port. These events in Charleston did not go unnoticed in the West’s largest city, Cincinnati. By this time the State of Ohio had embarked on an aggressive canal building campaign ignited by the success of the Erie Canal. In 1832 it had completed the Ohio & Erie Canal that linked Cleveland on Lake Erie to the Ohio River at Portsmouth, OH, a 308-mille route that was nearly as long as the Erie Canal’s. In 1829, construction had started on the second phase of the state’s canal system, the Miami & Erie Canal, eventually completed in 1845 along a route that would link Cincinnati on the Ohio River with Lake Erie at Toledo. For Cincinnati, already enjoying the commercial trade along the Ohio River as well as from inland Kentucky communities along the Licking River that emptied into the Ohio across from it, the new canal promised more trade from inland Ohio as well as from Lake Erie that would only enhance the city’s premiere position in the West in its competition with neighboring Louisville (in 1830, the populations of these cities were as follows: Cincinnati-24,831, Louisville-10,341, Galena-10,000+, St. Louis-5,882, Chicago-40).
But the railroad was “in the air” and Ebenezer Thomas, the editor of the Cincinnati Daily Evening Post, had been promoting the idea of a railroad from Cincinnati to Charleston to open up new markets in the southeast as well as to give the city a direct outlet to the Atlantic. Thomas had moved to Cincinnati in 1829 from Charleston, where he had first been exposed to Stephen Elliott’s proposal to build a line to the Mississippi. Thomas’ proposal was adopted by one of Cincinnati’s patricians, Dr. Daniel Drake, responsible for the founding in 1819 of Medical College of Ohio, the first medical School west of the Appalachians, among his many other accomplishments. At a meeting in Cincinnati on August 10, 1835, Drake proposed the idea of building a railroad from the Kentucky bank of the Ohio River, across from Cincinnati to connect with the SCC&RR as the final link to Charleston. Drake clearly stated the economic and political advantages of joining the NorthWest to the South that were isolated from each other by the Appalachian Mountains to the south of the Ohio River by breaking through at the Cumberland Gap: “The north and the south would, in fact, shake hands with each other, yield up their social and political hostility, pledge themselves to common national interests, and part as friends and brethren.” The Cincinnati group followed up with the appointment of a Standing Committee of Correspondence, charged with eliciting support for the proposal throughout the effected region. For publicity reasons, the Committee was headed by the NorthWest’s war hero, William Henry Harrison, who had led American troops in the defeat of the British and their Native allies at the 1813 Battle of Moraviantown, and thereby, secured the NorthWest from any further British incursions during the War of 1812, but the workhorse of the group was, of course, Drake.
Drake’s equivalent in Charleston was former U.S. Senator Robert Young Hayne, one of Charleston’s ablest politicians who at this time was the city’s mayor. The city’s Chamber of Commerce met on Oct. 22, 1835, to endorse the Cincinnati proposal, after which Hayne took control of the city’s involvement:
“We can almost perceive the finger of heaven pointing to the barriers which have long separated them [West and South], and reverently think we HEAR THE VOICE OF GOD, [capitals are original] speaking through his works, commanding us to remove those obstacles, and encouraging our exertions, by the promise of abundant blessings, with which a wise and beneficent Providence, seldom fails to regard the faithful efforts of his children.”
Following Cincinnati’s lead, the Charleston group also appointed a standing committee that undertook two important processes. First, they pushed for the chartering of the Cincinnati & Charleston Railroad in the states through which the route would pass: South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and by March 1836 all four states had done so. The irony was that Ohio, the state that probably stood to gain the most through the continued growth of Cincinnati’s economy, refused to do so, claiming the potential damage that such a railroad might have on the state’s other internal improvements. Advocates of Cincinnati’s competing neighbor, Louisville, however, had also made Kentucky’s legislature hold out for the concession of a branch of the road to end at Louisville, which the railroad’s supporters not only agreed to, but to assure continued support from the Blue Grass state, wisely revised the company’s name to the Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Railroad. Second, the Committee arranged for surveys for the route, paid for by a $10,000 appropriation by the South Carolina legislature, to be conducted by Capt. William G. Williams and Col. James Gadsden, South Carolina’s chief engineer.
A convention, the Great Southern Railroad Convention was held in Knoxville, TN, midway between the two planned termini on July 4-8, 1836, to discuss the next steps, which was attended by 380 delegates, the largest railroad convention ever to gather in the antebellum South. Hayne was unanimously elected to be the company’s president, while he also joined Drake among those who sat on the all-important Committee of Forty-Five that hammered out the important details. Considering the potential conflicts, the event ended quite harmonious with the exertion that all involved should move forward with the greatest of speed. Pres. Hayne at once began the campaign to secure the $4 million in stock subscriptions needed to incorporate the company. Meanwhile, Cincinnati looked forward to the completion the road, anticipating even greater economic results for its businesses and civic status…
Grant, H. Roger. The Louisville, Cincinnati, & Charleston Rail Road. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
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