In 1885, the South Carolina General Assembly issued a charter for the Columbia, Newberry, & Laurens, and the railroad was official on Christmas Day, 1885. In 1890, work began on the track, and by July, 1891, the line was complete from Columbia to Dover Junction, 63.5 miles. In 1896, the Laurens Railroad Company was merged into the CN&L to complete the line to Laurens.
The first locomotive of the CN&L was built in 1887, and sold in 1922. The CN&L ran daily passenger trains that originated from Union Station in Columbia, and travelled up the line to Laurens, SC. These trains were always pulled by steam, until the service was discontinued in 1952. The rail was originally 56 pound rail which was replaced with 80-85 pound rail in 1925. In 1972, the entire line was rebuilt using heavy ribbon rail.
The CN&L's first wreck occurred on September 9, 1899 when a wood trestle over the Broad River collapsed under the weight of the train, killing the entire crew. On September 5, 1928, a Southern Railway passenger train was detoured on the CN&L from Newberry to Columbia, due to a washout on SRR track. However, a washout had also occurred on the CN&L at the 3 mile marker, right near the site where Riverbanks Zoo would be located 44 years later. The Southern train was unaware of this, and plunged into tout. The train crew and the CN&L pilot onboard were all killed.
Despite these wrecks, as well as other derailments over the years, the CN&L was a very safe railroad. Those 2 wrecks were the only ones that resulted in death.
Because of the CN&L's location and businesses along its route, the CN&L was a very profitable railroad. It was an important connection with the Seaboard Air Line, Atlantic Coast Line, and Southern Railway. In the late 1950's, the South Carolina Electric & Gas Company steam-powered electric generating plant opened up at Lake Murray, providing significant coal traffic on the CN&L.
As an interesting side note, the town of Irmo, SC was built by the railroad as a water and fuel stop along the way. It was incorporated in 1890, and consisted of 1 square mile of area. It has obviously grown over the years. The name of the town came from the first two letters of the last C. J. Iredell, secretary-treasurer of the CN&L, and H. C. Moseley, first president of the CN&L.
The Columbia, Newberry, and Laurens railroad was an important boom to the towns of Irmo, Clinton, Chapin, and others along it's route. Known also as the 'Crooked, Noisy, & Late', the railroad was an independent company throughout it's 99 year history, even though it was technically 'owned' by the Atlantic Coast Line since 1924. Its diesel locomotives reflected this controlling interest, as they were in the ACL's purple and silver paint scheme. In 1984, the CN&L was formally merged into CSX Transportation.
Many thanks to the Chuck Larson, Executive Director, and the staff of the Irmo Chamber of Commerce for their invaluable help in gathering this information. For more information on the CN&L, and particularly it's history with the town of Irmo, please look for the book 'Irmo and the Dutch Fork Legacy', Gene Able, Editor and Chief Writer, copyright 1990.