The Central Rail Road & Canal Company was organized in 1833 by a group of Savannah businessmen who were concerned that Charleston’s new railroad to Augusta would bring a loss of shipping business for their port. Construction of their new line began in late 1835. Meanwhile the company decided to go into the banking business to attract capital investment in the railroad. To better reflect its new interests it changed its name to Central Rail Road & Banking Company of Georgia.
The line was complete from Savannah to Oliver by 1839 and to Macon in 1843. (It was not until 1851, however, that a bridge over the Ocmulgee was built.) At Macon a connection with Atlanta was made by way of the Macon & Western Railroad, which had completed its line in 1846.
At Millen, the Central connected with the Augusta & Waynesboro Railroad, a 53-mile line to Augusta. The A&W was chartered in 1838 and completed in 1854. Its name was changed to Augusta & Savannah Railroad on February 16, 1856.
The Eatonton Branch Railroad, from Milledgeville to Eatonton, was leased by the Central. Chartered in 1850, the line opened in 1853. It was later consolidated into the Central by an act of 1859. It connected with the Central main line at Gordon via the Milledgeville & Gordon Railroad (chartered 1837, opened 1852).
The Central leased the Augusta & Savannah Railroad in 1862 and the Southwestern Railroad in 1869.
The 16-mile Upson County Railroad from Thomaston to Barnesville was controlled by the Central from the early 1870s. The Central eventually acquired all of its stock.
In 1872, the Central acquired the Macon & Western and the Savannah, Griffin & North Alabama.
In 1872, William M. Wadley, president of the Central from 1866 to 1882, purchased the Savannah-New York steamship line then operated by W. R. Garrison & Company and in 1874 established the Ocean Steamship Company of Savannah to take it over. This Central subsidiary later became well known as The Savannah Line. (See 1883 map at Florida Memory.)
In 1875, the Georgia Railroad and the Central jointly purchased the Western Railroad of Alabama.
In 1881, Wadley personally leased the Georgia Railroad. Along with it he acquired the Georgia’s interests in the WR of A and the Atlanta & West Point. He then assigned the lease jointly to the Central of Georgia and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
In 1886 the railroad changed the gauge of its tracks from five feet to the standard four feet, eight and a half inches.
In 1887, the Central built a short connecting line between Americus and LaCrosse, the latter a place about six miles east of Ellaville on the Central-controlled Buena Vista & Ellaville. The BV&E, which ran from Buena Vista to Andersonville, was purchased by the Central in 1889. It was extended west to Columbus the same year.
In June and July, 1888, the Central consolidated seven of the lines it controlled or leased into the 400-mile Savannah & Western.
By 1888 the Central was controlled by the Richmond Terminal Company, a Virginia holding company with extensive railroad interests throughout the South.
In July of 1890, the Central acquired all of the stock of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad, an 18-mile excursion railroad between Savannah and Tybee Island. See 1897 map (132K).
In 1890 the Central owned or controlled 2300 miles of railroad and was one of the most efficient and prosperous systems in the South. Unfortunately its control by the Richmond Terminal Company would lead to financial disaster.
As a result of a bond default and a shareholder's lawsuit in 1892, the Central entered receivership. The Terminal Company suffered the same fate that summer, along with the Terminal Company-controlled lines Richmond & Danville and East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia.
In the 1894 edition of The Official Railway List, the Central reported operating 1,524 miles of railroad, 241 locomotives, 241 passenger cars, and 4,856 freight and miscellaneous cars. These figures were for lines owned, leased, and controlled. The receivers were identified as H. M. Comer of Savannah and R. Somers Hayes of New York.
The Central was sold at foreclosure and reorganized as Central of Georgia Railway on November 1, 1895. The new company also acquired the properties and franchises of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad, the Macon & Northern Railway, and the Savannah & Western Railroad, as well as two lines in Alabama. A major interest in the Central was held by the Southern Railway, successor to the Terminal Company.
On April 1, 1896, Seaboard Air-Line Railway began operating the Central's 58-mile Lyons Branch (Meldrim-Lyons) under a perpetual lease.
In 1897, the Central purchased the Middle Georgia & Atlantic Railway, a 64-mile line from Milledgeville to Covington, and the following year it bought the Louisville & Wadley Railroad, a 10-mile line in Jefferson County.
In 1898, the Central's half-interest in the lease of the Georgia Railroad was sold to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
The Central completed a branch line to Porterdale, south of Covington, on June 30, 1899. See 1964 map (120K).
In July of 1900, the Central acquired the 58-mile Bruton & Pineora Railroad which ran from Bruton (now Brewton) to Register, and in 1901 bought the Dover & Statesboro Railroad, a ten-mile line between those two towns. It connected these two by building 9 miles of tracks between Register and Statesboro. The new line opened June 9, 1901.
On May 16, 1901, the Central reacquired the Chattanooga, Rome & Southern Railroad, a 138-mile line between Carrollton, Ga. and Chattanooga. (This purchase included the 17-mile branch line between Chickamauga and Durham.) The Central had previously owned the CR&S through its Savannah & Western subsidiary, but had lost it during the financial troubles of the mid-1890s.