The Orangeburg County
town of Branchville
, like so many South Carolina towns, owes its founding and fortune to the railroad.
The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company
was charted in 1827. Branchville was a stop on the railroad’s Charleston
to Hamburg (Aiken County
) rail line. When completed in 1833, it was the longest railroad in the world (136 miles) and the first with scheduled train service. In 1842, a new rail line connecting Branchville to Columbia
was completed, making Branchville the first rail junction in the world.
Historians say this was not the first time travelers had to choose a route at Branchville. The spot also was where a Native American trail split at an oak tree and led to areas that would later be the towns of North Augusta and Orangeburg.
For more than 100 years, serving passengers of the railroad was the town’s main occupation. When passenger service was discontinued in 1962, the town turned its attention and energy to agricultural and other industrial pursuits.
The present train depot, which was completed in 1907 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, serves as a railroad museum. Although largely destroyed by fire in 1995, the building and museum have been restored and a restaurant is on site.
In fact, Branchville was the site of the first railroad dining room, the “Branch Eating House.” Reportedly, Presidents William McKinley, William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt all ate there. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech at the depot on his way to Warm Springs, Ga.
The Eatery at the Depot
offers a full menu Thursday through Saturday, from 6 to 9 p.m. Main dishes include a variety of seafood (oysters, scallops, shrimp) served with Charleston rice, pan sauteed crab cakes, pork tenderloin and filet mignon.
Each September, townspeople celebrate Branchville’s history with the Raylrode Daze Festivul
. This year’s celebration will be Sept. 23–25.
If you’re going:
Branchville Railroad Shrine Museum and Depot, 7505 Freedom Road (U.S. Hwy 21), is a restored historic depot that is open Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. For information, call (803) 274-8104 or (803) 274-8934.