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Tales of Train Travel

Thomas C. Williams, Jr., was a man of varied interests, both business and personal, as evidenced by where he left his money after he passed (please see last month’s "Ask the Past" post for more information). One of his business interests included the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, whose motto was “Through the Heart of the South,” which named Williams as a director within the company. The Seaboard Air Line Railroad (S.A.L.) evolved out of a complex and competitive post-Civil War regional railway market in the southeastern area of the United States. The S.A.L. began operating in April of 1900 and consolidated with another railway in 1967, ultimately being subsumed by CSX. It operated out of Portsmouth, VA until 1958 when its headquarters were moved to Richmond. In the collection here at Agecroft Hall & Gardens, we have a grouping of ephemera related to the inaugural trip on the S.A.L.’s ‘Florida and West India Short Line’ which ran between Richmond, VA, and Tampa, FL.


The “first through train” started on May 30, 1900, at Richmond’s Broad Street train station, located at 16th St and Broad, and arrived in Tampa on May 31st. The train then turned around and came back to Richmond, arriving on June 2, 1900. This trip included stops in Tampa, Jacksonville, Savannah, GA, Colombia, SC, Raleigh, NC, and Petersburg, VA. Each stop included something touristy and a meal. Train travel was mostly overnight allowing for sightseeing and eating during the day. Guests enjoyed a sail around Tampa Bay and a river cruise in Savannah. They got to see what their investment helped build by visiting S.A.L. terminals in various cities. They enjoyed elaborate meals on boats and in hotels. There was a lot packed into this short trip!


The train arrived in Richmond around 430PM on June 2, 1900. Immediately before the train pulled in, the last spike, hopefully a ceremonial spike, completing the Seaboard Air-Line Railroad was driven in the track. The train guests disembarked and were led to the Virginia State Capital, where “appropriate ceremonies” took place. This included a speech from the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, John Hoge Taylor. An elaborate banquet celebrating the railway and the company was held that evening at the Jefferson Hotel.



We can assume that T. C. Williams, Jr., actually went on this trip, and it seems most likely he did, as he saved all the pamphlets, maps, and programs. The question becomes, what was T.C.’s part in the company and why had he been invited on this trip at all? His name is listed in the program from the banquet held at the Jefferson Hotel as a “Director of the Twenty Constituent Companies now embraced in the Seaboard Air Line System, 1900.” But the program does not say what company of Williams that was incorporated into the S.A.L.


It is these small collections of items within the larger collection at Agecroft Hall that shed light on the type of man T.C. Williams, Jr., was. Having left few personal and business letters behind, Tom was often described as a quiet man who preferred staying home to being out in society. Having concrete evidence he helped fund a train line adds to the knowledge we have of him.

Invitation + Program





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