That Time Georgia Almost Sold the Western & Atlantic Railroad

(Photo by Roger Puta)

While the state of Georgia owned the Western & Atlantic Railroad since the 1830s, by the 1960s, the state considered a sale of the line.

The state had leased the line since 1870. The Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, or its successor the Louisville & Nashville, controlled the road since 1890.

By 1963, the Louisville & Nashville paid the state $540,000 per year for the lease, which expired in 1969. In 1963, then-Gov. Carl Sanders said there would be no new lease or sale without “a full investigation by a group of highly regarded citizens,” The Atlanta Constitution reported.

Whatever their recommendation, the Georgia General Assembly would have to approve.

However, by the end of January 1963, the state legislature dropped the word sale from a resolution pending before lawmakers.

Former Gov. Ernest Vandiver represented the Louisville & Nashville and told an Atlanta newspaper that the railroad no longer had an interest in purchasing the Atlanta-to-Chattanooga line.

“The sale provision in the resolution is no longer there,” The Atlanta Constitution quoted Vandiver as saying. “It was my advice to my clients, since they were not interested in buying the railroad, to simply ask for a study to determine a fair rental value for the lease.”

While lawmakers dropped the potential of a sale, the idea returned a few years later. But, most powerbrokers in the state expected any such push to fail.

“I don’t believe in the state getting in business, but we have that railroad and I want to keep it,” The Atlanta Constitution quoted Lt. Gov. George T. Smith as saying.

Even The Atlanta Constitution came out in opposition to a potential sale of the railroad.

“By retaining ownership of the W&A and other state holdings such as the Henry Grady Hotel property in downtown Atlanta, the state will have a valuable hedge against inflation,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial. “The long-term gain prospects far outweigh the arguments for selling these properties.”

The state ultimately re-upped its lease with the Louisville & Nashville, but only after Southern Railway made a formidable challenge for the Western & Atlantic and nearly wrestled it away from the incumbent.

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About Todd DeFeo 356 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.