The Branchville Railroad Shrine and Museum stands at the site of the world’s first railroad junction that was created by splitting a rail. By 1833, Branchville was part of the world’s longest railroad, which ran 136 miles from Charleston to Hamburg. (Hamburg was located in Aiken County but no longer exists). Several years later, a route was established between Branchville and Columbia, making Branchville a junction. The line to Columbia was in operation by 1842, and soon afterwards other branches were added in towns such as Camden.
The train depot was heavily damaged by a fire in 1995, but it has since been restored as a museum. It houses a replica of the Best Friend of Charleston, a steam locomotive which carried passengers en route from Charleston to Hamburg, passing through Branchville. It made its first trip on December 25, 1830, and was received with much excitement.
The railroad was the product of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company, which incorporated in 1827. Cotton merchant William Aiken, Sr. was the company’s founder and first president, and the City of Aiken – founded in 1835 as a stop along the Charleston-to-Hamburg line – was named in his honor. Aiken’s son, William Aiken, Jr., served as South Carolina’s governor from 1844 through 1846.
Replica of the Best Friend of Charleston
The Branchville Museum houses a replica of the Best Friend of Charleston, a steam locomotive which carried passengers en route from Charleston to Hamburg, passing through Branchville. It made its first trip on December 25, 1830, and was received with much excitement.
Its service was short-lived, ending with a deadly explosion when an engineer closed the steam valve to extinguish its sound. Pieces of the locomotive were salvaged, and the Phoenix was built to replace the doomed engine. Though its own course was ill-fated, the Best Friend marked the start of a transportation transformation in the United States.