The Roundhouse Railroad Museum
Baldwin C-3 class 2-8-0, built 1907, retired from service in 1952
The Roundhouse Railroad Museum (also called the Georgia State Railroad Museum) is across the road from the Visitor’s Centre and Savannah Historic Museum. It is considered one of the most complete antebellum railroad complexes in the southern United States. The museum is part of a historic district included in the National Register of Historic Places. The site contains exhibits of historic railroad equipment and facilities.
Site history: The Central of Georgia Railway and Canal Co. (CG) was chartered in 1833. The purpose of the railroad was to bring products grown or manufactured in Georgia to Savannah for export, primarily cotton. By 1843, CG had constructed one hundred and ninety miles of railroad and formed the longest continuous railroad under one central management in the world. Construction of the Savannah repair shops began in 1851. In the Pre-Civil war South, the Central possessed the second largest holding of rolling stock with fifty locomotives and five hundred cars.
The information boards
The information boards were excellent
During the Civil War, the government ordered the Central to release most of its rolling stock for use by the Confederate military. General William Sherman led Union soldiers on their march through Georgia to the sea. The troops traveled down the railroad, and destroyed the Central’s rail connections by heating the rails over fires, and wrapping them around trees and telegraph poles. During the war, the Central suffered major losses and it took several years to restore the rolling stock inventory.
In 1866, William Wadley became president of the railroad and rebuilt the shattered complex to surpass its original glory. The destroyed rail connections were replaced and almost one thousand five hundred new miles of track were added. In 1893, the Central operated an innovative high speed passenger service between Savannah and Atlanta known as the Nancy Hanks. In 1895, the Central was sold under foreclosure and was reorganised as the Central of Georgia Railway.
The Central reached its peak in the early 1920’s and was the largest employer in Savannah. During the Great Depression, although economically strained, the Central continued operation as a leading employer.
In the late 1940’s the Savannah shops began servicing the newer diesel locomotives but a roundhouse is not conducive to diesel maintenance. Soon the majority of the diesel locomotives were sent to the newer Macon shops. In 1963, Southern Railway purchased the Central and the Savannah shops were closed.
After years of neglect, the Southern Railway began demolishing several structures at the Savannah shops complex. However, a group of concerned citizens halted this demolition and the Southern Railway transferred the property title to the City of Savannah. The site sat abandoned and decaying until 1989, when the Coastal Heritage Society accepted management of the complex.
The Roundhouse: The roundhouse is a large structure where locomotives were stored overnight, refueled and received light repairs. Completed in 1855 the original roundhouse formed a complete circle and was only two hundred and fifty feet in diameter. In 1926, half of the original building was demolished, and it was redesigned and expanded in order to accommodate larger steam locomotives. The roundhouse was divided into thirty four stalls, each over one hundred and thirty eight feet long. The large hoods that protrude through the ceiling were called “smoke jacks” and were used to vent the smoke and steam from the parked locomotives. The floor of the roundhouse is composed of wooden blocks. Wood blocks were used because they absorb shock, weight, grease, oil and ash better, required little maintenance, and protected tools, and cast iron parts from damage when dropped. During the remodeling seven stalls were converted into a separate “back shop” area. Each of the stalls has a maintenance pit which is three to four feet deep, allowing workers access to the underside of the locos. This section also included an electric drop table, allowing railroad mechanics to do more extensive work on the wheels and boilers of the locos.
Turntable: This is used to rotate the locos and rolling stock, allowing them access to all the stalls in the roundhouse. The current turntable was installed in the Columbus shops in 1907 and was seventy five feet long. It was moved to Savannah and installed here in 1923 and was extended five feet on either side in 1945 to its current length of eighty five feet.
Machine Shop: This building was completed by 1855, and a second floor was added in 1878. It housed the various types of large machinery, such as lathes and drills, used to repair loco parts.
Garden: Research suggests was constructed around 1900 by the master mechanic at the site. A garden such as this one, was not uncommon among industrial sites.
Tender Frame Shop: Completed by 1855, the shop was used for the construction of wooden frames and piecing together the metal castings for the loco tender cars. In 1899, a second floor was added to house a space for blueprinting, draughting, and one of the first chemical laborotories in the country. Currently this building houses a Smith and Porter portable steam engine built in 1858.
Smokestack: Completed by 1855, the chimney is one hundred and twenty five feet tall and was used to draw smoke from several areas of the site via underground tunnels. In addition, the lower portion of the stack held a forty thousand gallon cast iron water tank, and the small rooms under the tank served as privies.
Blacksmith shop: Completed by 1855, this building originally contained thirteen forges that were used to fabricate metal components used by the railroad and to repair parts on locomotives. Currently, it also houses a belt driven machinery exhibit with machines similar to those that would have been used in the machine shop.
Boiler Room: Completed by 1855, this building housed a boiler and stationery steam engine that provided power for the extensive belt driven machinery systems employed at the shops. Currently, it houses the Findlay stationary steam engine. Built in Macon, Georgia in 1852, it is the oldest Georgia-made stationary steam engine in the USA.
Storehouse: Completed by 1925, this structure was used to store mechanical parts for repairing and constructing loco and rolling stock, as well as many other supplies necessary in the operation of the railroad – even hairbrushes for passenger cars. It also houses the Print Shop where they printed office forms and information, as well as the in-house magazine “The Right Way”.
The Lumber Shed: Completed by 1855, the lumber shed was originally used to store wood for use in the Carpenters’ Shop. In 1907, the building was converted to house a compressor, generators and transformers that distributed power throughout the entire complex.
The Carpenters’ Shop: Built in 1853, this shop was where the majority of carpentry work took place for the passenger and freight cars, furniture, and architectural elements, such as doors and windows.
The Coach Shop: Completed by 1924, this building was used to repair and overhaul the rolling stock.
The Paint Shop: Completed by 1925, this building funnily enough was used to paint the rolling stock. The basement included offices, the electrical department, and an area for production of upholstery, tin, and cabinets.
ALL IN ALL A REAL BOYS DAY OUT