Historic Structures

Central of Georgia Railway Station, Savannah Georgia

Date added: November 13, 2020 Categories: Georgia Train Station

The Central of Georgia Railroad was organized in 1833 and by 1850 had outgrown its original facilities in Savannah. Trackage increased from 190 miles in 1843 to 527 miles by 1855. To meet these demands, William M. Wadley, then Superintendent, conceived a plan for a comprehensive, integrated complex, including passenger and freight depots and shops for the construction and repair of locomotives and rolling stock. When completed in 1855, the Central's facility was described in Zerah Colburn's New York Railroad Advocate as "the most complete and elegant railroad station in the country."

The construction of the passenger depot building is an illustration of the impact of the events of April 1861 on the industry of the South. Begun in 1860, the completion of the head house was interrupted by the Civil War. It stood unfinished for over fifteen years, gradually decaying until 1874 when the railroad was finally able to resume construction on the station. By that time, much of the timber framing had deteriorated and had to be replaced. It was finally opened in 1876.

The Central of Georgia Trainshed was completed in 1861 as the last major feature of the depot complex. Its designer was Augustus Schwaab, a German immigrant who was an engineer with the company and later became one of the city's most prominent builders. Schwaab's foreign training probably accounts for theunusuaLconfiguration of the building's roof trusses. The radial connection between the cast iron compression member and the wrought iron-lover chord is unlike others used in America and is more characteristic of French and German practices. These tricomposite trusses of wood, wrought iron and cast iron are Tare documents of the early use of structural ironwork.

The Central of Georgia Terminal and Trainshed at Savannah are part of one of the earliest attempts to build a comprehensive railroad terminal and shop complex in this country. The structure of the trainshed is the oldest remaining example of early iron roof construction, the first step in the evolution of modern steel frame building methods.

The headhouse of the Central of Georgia Passenger Depot in Savannah is a two-story, nine-bay, gable-roofed brick building. The facade includes a central five-bay pedimented pavilion with each bay set off by pilasters from ground to cornice. Each bay is pierced by a semicircular arched opening on both first and second levels. On the first floor, these openings contain double-door entrances in bays three and seven and double-hung, rectangular sash windows in the other bays. All first floor bays contain solid wooden semicircular transomes. Second floor openings contain double-hung arched sash windows. All windows are six over six lights.

Each side contains four windows on each floor identical to those in the facade. The side elevation is bisected by a central pilaster and set off by corner pilasters. A cornice frieze surrounding the building is composed of alternating panels of grilled and tryglyphic patterns.

The first floor focuses around a central waiting room and a ticket office flanked on either side by what were probably separate facilities for black and white passengers. A one-story brick addition projecting from the rear of the main block at the southern end was used as a mail room. A similar two-story frame addition projects from the northern end into the trainshed.

The trainshed at the rear of the building is the earliest remaining example of tricomposite truss construction. The roof is carried on a series of 26 trusses set 15 feet 2 inches apart and measures 381 feet 5 inches in length. Each truss is composed of a top chord of 2 parallel wooden timbers (15 x 4-1/2 inches), wrought iron, cambered lower chord. Perhaps the most interesting detail of the truss is the radial connection between the cruciform cast-iron strut and the horizontal tension rods of the lower chord. This is composed of two slightly oval spoked disks bolted through a central axis and securing between them an iron rim with holes to receive the various members. The truss span is 70 feet and rests on brick sidewalls which are pierced with arched doorways at each bay. Cast iron brackets support a 5 foot overhang on either side.

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