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Southern Railway records

Collection number: ahc.MSS1257

Scope and Contents

This collection contains records created by Southern Railway, and records created by its predecessor railroads, railways, and companies. Records include annual financial and inspection reports, meeting minute proceedings, construction contracts, correspondence, publications, and company ephemera.

The bulk of the materials are Southern Railway contracts and the predecessor records. More than 3,000 contracts illustrate the history of the company through the construction of train depots, grading and track laying, bridges, delivery of equipment and materials, machinery installation, and yard offices and structures. Records of more than 100 predecessor railroads and companies are documented in this collection, including South Carolina Canal and Railroad; Richmond and Danville Railroad; East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railway; Louisville, Evansville and St. Louis Consolidated Railroad; Central of Georgia Railway; and Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific Railway. These records include bound journals of meeting proceedings and annual reports, as well as correspondence, contracts and agreements, deeds, and publications.


  • 1828-1996, undated


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. All requests to publish, quote, or reproduce must be submitted through the Kenan Research Center.

Biographical / Historical

Southern Railway was incorporated on July 1, 1894, through the consolidation of railroad companies that had fallen into bankruptcy. Among the largest of those companies were Richmond and Danville Railroad Company (1847-1894), East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad/Railway Company (1869-1894).

Richmond and Danville Railroad was established in 1847. In 1856 it opened operations between Richmond and Danville, Virginia. Richmond and Danville Railroad Company leased, purchased, and consolidated multiple companies to expand its breadth, including the Richmond and York River Railroad, North Carolina Railroad, and the Virginia Midland Railway. Additionally, Richmond and Danville created Richmond and West Point Terminal Railway and Warehouse Company, commonly known as the Richmond Terminal, to handle the operation of its newly acquired railroad companies. In 1886, Richmond Terminal took ownership of Richmond and Danville Railroad Company, as well as control of East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railway. In 1892, Richmond and Danville Railroad Company and the Richmond Terminal went bankrupt.

In 1869, East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad was established through the consolidation of its predecessors East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, and East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad. Also in 1869, it acquired Memphis and Charleston Railroad and the Georgia Southern Railroad to further expand its reach and connect and complete lines between cities. During the 1880s the company reorganized itself as the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railway, and was acquired by Richmond Terminal. Richmond Terminal, along with Richmond and Danville Railroad, went bankrupt in 1892, resulting in the end of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway.

With Richmond and Danville Railroad and the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railway companies falling into bankruptcy, a former financier of the Richmond and Danville Railroad Company, J. P. Morgan (1837-1913), along with his banking company, reorganized and consolidated the two into what would be known as Southern Railway.

Biographical / Historical

Southern Railway’s first president was Samuel Spencer (1847-1906), who served from 1894 to 1906. As president, Spencer expanded the company by acquiring ownership of Georgia Southern and Florida Railway, Asheville and Spartanburg Railroad, Alabama Great Southern Railroad, and Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific Railway. Samuel died in a railroad collision while riding in a private passenger car on the Southern Railway in 1906.

William W. Finley (1853-1913) served as president between 1906-1913. He was followed by Fairfax Harrison (1869-1938), who served until 1937. During Harrison’s presidency a foreign freight traffic department was established. The railroads in the United States were nationalized in 1918 and fell under the United States Railroad Administration. Control was returned to Southern Railway in 1920.

Ernest Norris (1882-1958) was the fourth president and served until 1951. He implemented diesel passenger services. Harry A. DeButts (1895-1983) served as the next president between 1951 to 1962, followed by D. W. Brosnan (1903-1985) who served until 1967. During his presidency he the technologies, techniques, and ownership of Southern Railway increased with the development of new types of train cars, newly built yards, and acquired Central of Georgia Railway and Georgia and Florida Railroad. W. Graham Claytor (1912-1994) served as the seventh president and created a steam locomotive program. Following Claytor, L. Stanely Crane (1915-2003) served from 1977-1980, and Harold H. Hall (1926-1991) served as the final president until 1982.

In June 1982 Southern Railway and Norfolk and Western Railway merged, creating Norfolk Southern Corporation.

In 2021, Norfolk Southern Corporation moved its headquarters from Norfolk, Va. to Atlanta.


245.59 linear ft. (325 document cases and 89 oversize boxes)




This collection is organized in eight series. Series I: Board of directors; Series II: Speeches of executives; Series III: Contracts; Series IV: Correspondence; Series V: Publications; Series VI: Brochures, menus, timetables, and tickets; Series VII: Employee organizations; Series VIII: Predecessor railroads and companies. Series I is arranged in two subseries: Subseries I: Annual reports; Subseries II: Inspection trips. Series VIII is arranged in three subseries: Subseries I: Stockholders' and board of directors' minutes; Series II: Annual reports; Series III: Subject files.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, 2021

Related Materials

Southern Railway photographs, VIS 435, Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center

Bias in Description Note

As archivists, we acknowledge our role as stewards of information. We choose how individuals and organizations are represented and described in our archives. We are not neutral, and bias is reflected in our descriptions, which may not accurately convey the racist or offensive aspects of collection materials. Archivists make mistakes and might use poor judgment. In working with this collection, we often re-use language used by the former owners of the material. This language provides context but often includes bias and prejudices reflective of the time in which it was created. The Kenan Research Center’s work is ongoing to implement reparative language where Library of Congress subject terms are inaccurate and obsolete.

Kenan Research Center welcomes feedback and questions regarding our archival descriptions. If you encounter harmful, offensive, or insensitive terminology or descriptions, please let us know by emailing Your comments are essential to our work to create inclusive and thoughtful description.

Content Advisory Note

This collection contains unedited versions of all content. Some material may contain depictions of violence, offensive language, or negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record for the purpose of education and research. The viewpoints expressed in this collection do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the Atlanta History Center or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers.


This collection contains what was MSS 922.

Processing Information

This collection was processed in 2023.

Southern Railway records
Mariah Isbell
September 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center Repository

130 West Paces Ferry Road
Atlanta GA 30305