Columbus & Greenville Railway

Columbus, Mississippi

Located along the Tombigbee River and just miles from the Alabama state line, the town of Columbus, Mississippi has seen rail service since the early 1880s. The county seat of Lowndes County, Columbus has been home to playwright Tennessee Williams, the world's largest manufacturer of flush toilets, and the venerable Columbus & Greenville Railway. In point of fact, the origins of the C&G should be traced to the other side of the state -- in Greenville, along the mighty Mississippi -- where a narrow-gauge operation proposed to build eastward from the Delta toward the hills.

But it would be Columbus in the east that would develop as the Delta Route's more active terminus, providing the shortline with shops, a company office, and the most interchange points along its entire mainline. But long before the C&G was even an idea in the minds of local businessmen, the town of Columbus was a key waypoint in the plans of the Georgia Pacific Railway Company to link Atlanta with western coalfields beyond the Mississippi River -- a mainline finally completed in the summer of 1889. Eventually, the Georgia Pacific was merged into the Richmond & Danville, itself a key component in what would become the sprawling Southern Railway system.

By 1894, rails into Columbus from the east were Southern Railway, but rails westward out of Columbus were Southern Railway Company in Mississippi. By the turn of the century, aided by the Frisco and the Mobile & Ohio, Columbus had tracks running in almost every direction.

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INSPECTION PHOTOS
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In the spring of 1917, agents of the Interstate Commerce Commission travelled the Southern Railway in Mississippi (precursor to the C&G) from end to end. Going town to town on nothing more than a small 2-axle gasoline motorcar, the agents took pictures of almost every structure along the line. This Mississippi tour was part of a larger ICC effort of the time to evaluate the state of the nation's railroads. These inspection images are indicated below by the notation "1917 inspection," and we are grateful to be able to have in our C&G collection copies of these historic prints.

Station

The Columbus station was erected in 1886 by the Georgia Pacific Railroad, predecessor to the Southern Railway Company in Mississippi. After the Columbus & Greenville Railway became an independent railroad in 1923, the station was shared by the C&G and the Southern Railway. C&G trains operated westward to Greenville and points in between, and the daily Southern train operated eastward from Columbus to Birmingham, Alabama.
Click to see the former Columbus station area plotted on a Google Maps page

Notes on station area / Mar 1973 / JCH

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Map of station area, c. 1950 / JCH

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In 1939, on the first anniversary of his death, a memorial was erected behind the Columbus station to honor Adam T. Stovall (1868-1938) -- lawyer, businessman, railroader. A graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, Stovall was the local attorney for the nearby Mobile & Ohio railroad. He served in this post until 1921, when he was appointed receiver of the Columbus & Greenville Railroad -- the first incarnation of the independent shortline purchased from the Southern Railway. By 1923, Stovall had stopped practicing law altogether in order to become the president of the newly reorganized Columbus & Greenville Railway. He remained at the helm until his death.

In his history of the railroad, Louis Saillard writes of Stovall: "His personality and financial abilities were responsible for ending a receivership and returning prosperity to a little railroad many through could not survive."

To commemorate 50 years of service to state and nation, this plaque is presented with the affection of the employees of the Columbus & Greenville Railway Company.

Shops

Extending off the soutwest corner of the Columbus roundhouse is the formidable machine shop building. A secondary wooden shop building sat just the south of the main shop at least through 1917, but was later removed. Erected in 1908, the shortline shop maintained and rebuilt the original C&G's entire steam locomotive fleet. The last steamer rebuilt in the shop was Ten-wheeler #178 (see below), outshopped in 1948. However, the machining equipment was kept in good use throughout the diesel era.
Click to see the Columbus shop and roundhouse area plotted on a Google Maps page

Notes on shop area / Mar 1973 / JCH

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A peak inside the machine shop at Columbus revealed a fully-working 1900's-era shop, complete with flat belts, shafts, and pulleys. The last time I got to look into the shop was about 2000, and its was still intact! Guards had been installed over the pulles and belts to meet OSHA standards, but it was still the same 100-year old shop.

Roundhouse

The hub of C&G operations in Columbus has always been a wye track arrangement, with each leg of the wye leading to the C&G westward mainline (later relocated) or an interchange connection. At the center of the wye stands an impressive 10-stall roundhouse building, each stall accessible by rail via an 80' turntable. Built by the Southern Railway in Mississippi in 1908, the Columbus roundhouse has housed and serviced every batch of Delta Route motive power that the road has ever owned -- Ten-wheelers, Baldwins, Geeps, and everything else.

Turntable

Adjacent to the Columbus roundhouse is an 80' "Armstrong" turntable for turning locomotives, "Armstrong" referring to the lack of electrical-mechanical equipment for turning the structure. Throughout the steam era, the table was turned by hand as needed by shop forces. In later years, in the diesel era, a tractor was used for turning the engines.

Servicing Area

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Every time I visited Columbus in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and there were always a handful of Baldwins in the roundhouse or servicing area, and Queen the roundhouse dog was poking around ... it always felt like home to me.

Propst Park

In addition to being one of the few surving locomotives of the Rogers Locomotive Works (built 1900), Columbus & Greenville Ten-wheeler #178 also claims the distinction of being the last steam engine rebuilt by the Columbus shops (rebuilt 1948). Having been saved from the scrapper's torch when retired in 1951, by the early 1970's #178 was moved to Propst Park along Hwy 182 in Columbus and put on permanent display there with four pieces of rolling stock. Indeed, one of the last actions of the original C&G just before the Illinois Central Gulf takeover was for President Stovall to deed the train over to the city.
Click to see Columbus' Propst Park area plotted on a Google Maps page

Notes on display train / Dec 1972 / JCH

Map of Propst Park

Leaving Town

Notes on US 45 crossing / 1972 / JCH

See next our Along the Mainline collection

Links / Sources

This page was updated on 2017-07-08