After the Civil War, Connecticut investor and entrepreneur Henry B. Plant built a network of railroads across southern Georgia and northern Florida. His key property was the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway, which he organized in December, 1879 after purchasing the Atlantic & Gulf Railway at a foreclosure sale the previous month.
In 1880, Plant, seeing an opportunity for a northwards expansion, purchased out of receivership the Savannah & Charleston Railroad, a line that suffered so much war damage that it did not reopen until 1869-70. He changed the name to the Charleston & Savannah Railway and began operating it as part of his growing system.
An expansion to the south came the following year with the opening of the Waycross Short Line, a direct connection from that town to Jacksonville. Previously, Savannah-Jacksonville travelers had to go to DuPont, 35 miles west of Waycross, then south to Live Oak, Florida, before heading east to Jacksonville. The new cut-off shortened the trip by more than half.
In 1882, Plant established the Plant Investment Company to acquire additional railroads. One of these was the Brunswick & Western, which was added to the Savannah, Florida & Western in 1888. The two merged in 1901.
In July, 1890, the company acquired a controlling interest in the Alabama Midland Railway, a new line between Bainbridge and Montgomery, giving the Plant System approximately 2000 miles of track.
In 1901, the Plant System constructed a direct line from Jesup to Folkston, bypassing Waycross and speeding traffic along the eastern seaboard. Waycross remained an important hub, however, for Plant operations as well as those of other lines.
Atlantic Coast Line acquired the Plant System in 1902.