By Todd DeFeo
FOLKSTON, Ga. — The first train, of the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad, passed through town in June 1881, marking the beginning of an industry that would change the city’s history forever, a change that is still visible.
Today, more than 120 years later, the town is still known for its trains, as dozens pass through the Charlton County, Ga., seat daily. And, railfans from around the country gather on a viewing platform downtown to catch the action.
The Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad completed two railroads — the Waycross and Florida Railroad, which was built from Waycross, Ga., to the Georgia-Florida state line and the East Florida Railroad, running from Jacksonville, Fla., and connecting with the Waycross and Florida Railroad at the Florida-Georgia state line.
Later, the Atlantic Coast Line built tracks through town. The line, now a part of CSX’s Jesup Subdivision, from Jesup, Ga., to Jacksonville, Fla., also passes through town.
The Atlantic Coast Line probably built its tracks through Folkston because of the nearby Okefenokee Swamp. As a result, trains from the two railroads — today, two CSX subdivisions — come together, hence funnel, just north of town and head into Florida.
A third railroad — the Brunswick and Pensacola Railroad — was built in 1894. The line, built by the Suwanee Canal Co., ran from Folkston to the nearby Suwanee Canal, but the line did not have a major impact on the city.
Today, as many as 80 CSX trains pass through the Folkston Funnel, running along the former Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line tracks.
The city of Folkston has embraced the railroad that passes through town daily and welcomes railfans from around the country who want to watch trains pass through the south Georgia town. In 2001, with the help of a $30,000 state grant and inmate labor, the city opened a train viewing platform in downtown Folkston.
The platform has fans, lights and a scanner that allows railfans to listen in on railroad radio traffic.