The GM&G was chartered in 1885, construction began in May 1886, and its 100-mile line from Columbus through Warm Springs and Griffin to McDonough was completed in December 1887.
The railroad was built by the Georgia Midland Construction Company, a principal of which was Columbus businessman G. Gunby Jordan (1846-1930). In 1886 the Marion County Patriot cited Jordan in a note on the progress of construction:
|Col. Gunby Jordan telegraphs that work on the Midland east of Flint River will not commence before August. A large convict force are now busy grading the Columbus end of the line. (Marion County Patriot, No. 21, Friday, May 21, 1886).
The convicts mentioned were acquired by Jordan through Georgia's brutal convict leasing system of 1868-1908. In the decades before mechanized grading equipment, cutting through hillsides and filling low areas for rail beds required backbreaking labor, a type of work considered appropriate for prisoners. While free labor could refuse to work when conditions became intolerable, convicts had no such choice.
In his 1996 book on convict leasing, One Dies, Get Another, Matthew Mancini tells of one prisoner at the construction site:
|At the camp of the Georgia Midland Railroad on 19 August 1886, whipping boss C.C. Bingham ordered a young prisoner, Hardy Mobley, to drop his pants. Positioning Mobley across a barrel and ordering four convicts to hold him down, one at each hand and ankle, Bingham proceeded to whip him until streams of blood flowed down his legs. Occasionally Bingham would pause in his cruel business to soak his whip in water, then drag it in the sand.
By 1888, the railroad had seven locomotives, eight passenger cars, two baggage cars, and 135 freight cars.
Poors 1888 Manual indicated that the GM&G's owners intended to construct a northeastern extension of the line beyond McDonough to Athens. Interestingly, Poors 1891 edition noted that an extension to Atlanta was being "comtemplated," but the earlier Athens plans were not mentioned.
Although the lines to Athens and Atlanta were never built, the GM&G did briefly expand its system by leasing the Columbus Southern Railway (Columbus-to-Albany) in 1890. The lease was cancelled the following year, however, as the GM&G edged towards bankruptcy.
The GM&G entered receivership in 1895 and its property was sold to the Georgia Midland Railway, chartered in 1896 and controlled by Southern Railway. The latter company was merged into Norfolk Southern in 1982.