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Columbus Square Railroad Depot by Buddy Sullivan 

In the years of Reconstruction immediately following the Civil War, Darien became a prominent sawmilling center and shipping port for yellow pine timber and lumber harvested in southeast Georgia.  What was remarkable about Darien’s sudden burst of prosperity so rapidly was the fact that the town had been burned by the Union forces in 1863, and little remained of the commercial district but ashes when the war ended two years later.  However, beginning in late 1865, sawmills began to be rebuilt on the waterfront areas in and around Darien, and on several of the marsh islands east of the town, convenient to deepwater ship anchorages.

   Timbermen in the Georgia upcountry in areas with close proximity to the Altamaha River system cut pines and rafted then in log rafts down river to the sawmills at Darien, the only seaport at the mouth of the river with convenient access to the  Atlantic Ocean and the intracoastal waterway.  The primary areas of timber cutting were along the Ocmulgee, Oconee, Ohoopee and Altamaha rivers in the Georgia counties of Montgomery, Laurens, Pulaski, Dodge, Telfair, Appling, Wayne, Tattnall, Liberty and McIntosh.  Timber rafts were floated down river to Darien where the timber was measured and graded, then sold to local sawmills at Darien, Doboy and St. Simons Island.  Sailing vessels, later steamships, came to the Darien vicinity from all over the world, including the northeastern U.S., Mediterranean Sea, British Isles, Scandinavia and South America, to load and ship Georgia timber processed at Darien.  The peak of this activity was reached in 1900 when Darien exported 112.5 million linear board feet of yellow pine timber.  At this time, Darien was the leading pitch pine timber port on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard and second in the world only to Pensacola, Florida.

   As the sources of timber were overcut and moved further away from the Altamaha River system, alternative methods of shipping timber to Darien were sought.  This led to the creation of the Darien Shortline Railroad Company in 1889, a consortium of Darien timber brokers and sawmill owners.  The railroad was established primarily to facilitate the shipment of pine timber from the Georgia interior (at greater distances from the river systems) to the sawmills at Darien.     The Darien Shortline was soon supplanted by another company, the Darien & Western Railroad Company, even before work began on construction of the new line.  The railroad, as originally conceived, was to run from Collins in Tattnall County, through Liberty County and into McIntosh County, with a terminus at Darien.  Work began in 1890 in Tattnall County and proceeded toward Darien about eighty miles away.  In 1895 the Darien & Western reached Darien.  A passenger depot and turning facility was constructed in Darien at Columbus Square.  Trains began running daily in each direction and, for the first time in its history, the town of Darien had rail service to the interior of Georgia, with connections north to Savannah and south to Jacksonville on the Seaboard Air Line Railway, which had a depot at Darien Junction (later Warsaw).  Darien Junction was the point at which the Darien & Western and the Seaboard met, being located about fifteen miles northwest of Darien.  

   The railroad’s arrival in Darien enabled increased shipments of pine timber to be brought in to the local sawmills.  In the long run, however, the railroad was unable to save what, by 1905, was a dying timber industry in that area.  Columbus Square, meanwhile, became the transportation focal point for the town of Darien which, according to the 1900 census, had a population of about 2,000 persons.

   In 1906, the Darien & Western was acquired by the Georgia Coast & Piedmont Railroad Company.  The G.C.&P. Retained its Columbus Square depot in Darien and increased the level of passenger and freight service along the line from Darien to Collins, via Eulonia, Darien Junction, Ludowici and Reidsville.  In 1910, bonds were sold to fund the extension of the Georgia Coast & Piedmont 18 miles south to a new terminus at Brunswick, to take advantage of the deep-water port facility at that place, as well as what, by then, had become the world’s second-leading exporting center (to Savannah) for naval stores products such as turpentine, rosin, roofing shingles and railroad cross ties.  The construction of steel bridges and trestlework over the marshes and tidal streams of the Altamaha River delta between Darien and Brunswick was carried out in 1912 and 1913.  In the spring of 1914 the Darien-Brunswick rail connection was completed, giving the G.C.&P.  A total track system of ninety -nine miles from Collins to the Brunswick River.

   In the summer of 1914, the Darien train depot was moved from Columbus Square to the Darien River waterfront on the precise spot where the Darien News building now stands adjacent to the present U.S. Highway 17 concrete bridge.  A passenger and automobile transfer service between Darien and Brunswick was begun and for the next five years, local citizens had their first convenient and efficient transportation access to Brunswick, more rapid that the previous method of steamboat travel.

   The G.C.&P. Went into receivership in 1919 and rail service to Darien was terminated, never to be revived.  Several years later (1925-27) U.S. 17 was built between Darien and Brunswick, part of the new highway traversing the former track bed of the G.C.&P. Railroad over Generals, Butler and Champney islands south of Darien.

    Nothing remains of the train depot at Columbus Square.  However, close scrutiny of the landscape there clearly shows the approaches of the railroad into Columbus Square.  Live oak trees dominate Columbus Square where the depot once stood.  The G.C.&P. Depot on the waterfront is also gone, having been destroyed in a fire of questionable origin in 1971, it having been occupied by the Darien News since 1953.  The present building was built on the site of the former train station.