The South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro was established in 1973 by a group of railroad history afficianados from Columbia and Charleston. In 1983 the group was gifted with the former Rockton and Rion Railway in Fairfield County. The Rockton and Rion Railway transported locally-quarried blue granite along 11.5 miles of railroad from the Rion Quarry and the Anderson Quarry from around 1883 until the 1970s. Both quarries and the Rockton and Rion Railway were part of the Winnsboro Granite Company, formed in 1887. In 1936 the Rockton and Rion Railway became a separate corporation, though run by the Winnsboro Granite Company.
Upon receiving the railroad, the group began restoring the line and now operates a moving museum along five miles of the historic track. The museum also renamed the rail line the Rockton, Rion, and Western Railroad. Visitors can ride the museum train, which is comprised of several historic cars. Guests can tour a series of stationary cars that sit alongside the track as well.
Over the years, the museum has built a considerable collection of rail cars. Below is steam locomotive #44, made in 1927 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia as a logging train. The locomotive serviced the Hampton and Branchville line and has never left South Carolina. The engine ran until 1959 and was purchased ten years later by the Charleston chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. After it was displayed in a 1970 convention of the NRHS, the locomotive was used in Charleston as a freight car. It was acquired by the South Carolina Railroad Museum in 1991.
Pictured below is a Pullman sleeper car. These passenger cars were built by the Pullman Palace Car Company, founded by namesake George Pullman in 1862. They were made in a community near Chicago called Pullman that solely existed for the manufacturing of these rail cars. Legend claims that Pullman developed the idea for the sleeper berth after an uncomfortable overnight trip traveling by rail.
Following the death of Pullman in 1897, the company was led by Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. It continued production under the name Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company after merging with the Standard Steel Car Company in 1930. When Amtrak started producing its Superliner cars in 1982, Pullman ceased operations, selling its remaining designs to Bombardier Transportation.
Visitors to the South Carolina Railroad Museum can also tour a mail car, seen above. In cars such as this one mail was sorted, transported, and delivered. Below is a car from the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which operated from 1900 until merging with competitor Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1967, forming the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The railroad company operated across the southeastern United States, transporting both passengers and freight.
A caboose from the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad is pictured below. The car, which features a cupola, was built in 1924. The iconic red caboose is one of many cabooses featured at the museum.
Below a pile of coal stands next to the museum train’s engine. It is used in even-numbered years to operate the steam locomotive. The original Rockton and Rion Railway was one of the last in the Southeast to use steam power. The railroad converted to diesel in 1967.
The South Carolina Train Museum offers two train departures each Saturday from June through August. It also hosts regular events throughout the year, including the BBQ Dinner Train, the Pumpkin Patch Ride, a Valentine’s Dinner, and more. Private charters for school groups, weddings, reunions, and birthday parties ensure that the renovated railroad continues to be a well-traveled track. For those interested in celebrating an event on an authentic historic railway, the museum train offers an unforgettable experience. The museum is also home to a gift shop and a gallery of photographs and artifacts.
The Rockton and Rion Railroad Historic District is listed in the National Register:
The Rockton and Rion Railroad Historic District is significant as a collection of buildings, sites, structures and objects associated with the quarrying, finishing, and transporting of Winnsboro blue granite between ca. 1883 and ca. 1945. The district is composed of forty-five properties located along the twelve mile stretch of the Rockton and Rion Railroad in south central Fairfield County. The district includes the Anderson and Rion Quarry sites, industrial buildings and structures associated with granite quarrying and finishing operations, residences constructed for management personnel at Anderson Quarry, the Rockton and Rion Railroad line and side tracks, two steam locomotives from the Rockton and Rion Railroad, and a ca. 1941 school building constructed of granite. The district retains sufficient integrity to reflect the history of the Winnsboro Granite Company and granite quarrying in the area between ca. 1883 and ca. 1945. The properties, with the exception of Greenbrier School, are grouped into two complexes, the Anderson Quarry-Phillips Granite Works and the Rion Granite Quarry-Brooks Granite Company. Most of the buildings and structures in the Historic District were constructed of Winnsboro blue granite, with the majority constructed from the late 1920s to the late 1930s.