Lesson Plan: Overview

The Best Friend of Charleston, The Charleston Railroad

Grade Level: 3rd

Academic Standards

Standard 3.1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of places and regions and the role of human systems in South Carolina.
Indicator 3-1.4 Explain the effects of human systems on the physical landscape of South Carolina over time, including the relationship of population distribution and patterns of migration to natural resources, climate, agriculture, and economic development.
Standard 3-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the major developments in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century.
Indicator 3-5.1 Summarize developments in industry and technology in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, including the rise of the textile industry, the expansion of the railroad, and the growth of towns.
Indicator 3-5.3 Summarize the changes in South Carolina's economy in the twentieth century, including the rise and fall of the cotton/textile markets and the development of tourism and other industries.
Social Studies Literacy Elements
E. Explain change and continuity over time.
G. Make and record observations about the physical and human characteristics of places.
H. Construct maps, graphs, tables, and diagrams to display social studies information.
(Literacy elements E, G, and H are at the demonstrate level for 3rd grade.)
Essential Questions
1) Why did Charlestonians feel the need for a railroad line?
2) How did the building of the railway line and the Best Friend affect South Carolina’s economy and its people?

Historical Background Notes

Between 1820 and 1830, Charleston was feeling threatened by perceived economic disaster.  During the Colonial period, trading and shipping with other cities had gained importance. (Derrick 1930, 2)  Imports, as well as exports, were down.  In DeBow’s Review, August 1849, it was reported that cotton exports from South Carolina were not keeping up with other states.  The reason Charleston was experiencing problems was because towns began springing up along the fall line which caused retail trade to fall.  Businesses were now moving into the up country.  Savannah was even surpassing Charleston as a commercial port.  Cities to the north were growing as well.  By 1825, Baltimore’s population had risen 5 times its amount 5 years earlier.  Fearing the future, Charlestonians had to do something.  Transportation facilities were needed.  (Derrick 1930, 8)

Charleston had become the primary cotton market in South Carolina.    In the interior of South Carolina trading centers were still active such as Columbia, Camden, Hamburg and Cheraw. (Edgar 1998, 272)  The price of cotton had many ups and downs.  In 1818, cotton was priced at 30.8 cents a pound.  During the panic of 1819, a depression occurred and cotton dropped by 1823 to 12 cents a pound.  The average of 9 cents a pound was found between 1826 and 1832. (Edgar 1998, 273-274)  South Carolina was dropping behind other states in the production of cotton.  (Edgar 1998, 275)

In 1786, the Santee Canal had been begun by a private company and was completed in 1800.  The canal connected the Santee and Cooper Rivers and connected Charleston to the up country.  This helped keep land rates down, but it was dangerous traveling along the canal.  The canal was in disuse by 1840 and the state canal system failed to get off the ground. (Edgar 1998, 282)  The water route had delays, had problems with water depth and wrecks which made travel slow up stream.  Turnpikes had been built, but not enough were available.  Swamps and streams required bridges, causeways and ferries.   State roads were no better.  A state toll road was formed and also failed.  The road was later turned into a free road. (Edgar 1998, 283)

Charleston also tried to divert trade from Savannah by planting a town near Savannah named Hamburg.  The town was to hopefully keep the business on the South Carolina side of the border with Georgia.  In 1821, South Carolina was granted a mortgage loan of $50,000 with no interest with an additional $25,000 bond to Henry Schutz, the founder and promoter of Hamburg.   The town failed to divert enough trade.  Another way had to be found.

According to a report in the City Gazette, November 22, 1821 issue, a railroad was suggested to run from Charleston to Hamburg and a branch on to Columbia.  Horatio Allen (1802-1890) was the chief engineer for The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company from 1829 – 1835.  (This line is now a part of the Southern Railway System.)  On December 19, 1827, The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was chartered.  Work began, January 9, 1830, on the line to Branchville, SC which was 62 miles from Charleston and it was opened in November, 1832.   The line to Hamburg (adjacent to Augusta, GA) was opened on October 1, 1833.  The line was now the longest continuous railroad in the world, 136 miles in length, and first to carry the US mail.  (Derrick 1930, 10)   This route took passengers on the 11 ½ hour trip with 7 stops for $6.75 one way.  (Edgar 1998, 283)

The “Best Friend” had a brief, but historic, life.  It was completed and put into regular service on December 25, 1830.  On June 17, 1831, three men were injured in an explosion.  A tied down safety valve due to the noise of the steam escaping, caused the boiler to blow up.  Parts of the “Best Friend” were used in construction of the “Phoenix.”   The “Best Friend” having been designed by C.E. Detmold, chief engineer was Horatio Allen, who early on advocated steam power locomotion and Nicholas W. Darrell became the first railway engineer.  Nicholas W. Darrell died in 1869 after running engines for many years and having the distinction of being the first man to open the throttle on the “Best Friend.”  The “Best Friend of Charleston” was modeled after its forerunner “Best Friend” and was known as the first locomotive built in the United States and used in service of transportation. (Southern Railway System, 1)


Primary Sources

Howard, William.  Report on the Charleston and Hamburg Rail RoadCharleston, SC: Published Materials Division.  South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Miller’s Planters and Merchants Almanac.  South Carolina Rail-Road. Charleston, South Carolina, 1835.

“The Public are respectfully informed…' Charleston Mercury.  24 December 1830. Newspapers on Microfilm.  Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

“Rail Road Accident” and “Gentlemen.”  Charleston Mercury.  18 June 1831. Newspapers on Microfilm.  Published Materials Division.  South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Southern Railway System.  99 Years of Progress, First Locomotive Built in America for Service.  s.c. p621.3342 So8n

"Tied to Cotton" Resource Packet. Created by Teaching American History in South Carolina.

Secondary Sources

Derrick, Samuel Melanchthon. Centennial History of South Carolina Railroad. The State Company, Columbia, South Carolina, 1930.

Edgar,Walter B.  South Carolina: A History.  Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press, 1998.



  • Smart Board/LCD Projector /Laptop Computer

*If you have access to a Smart Board and the Education Gallery, pictures of the modes of transportation can be found along with a blank timeline. If you don't have access to a Smart Board, you can draw a time line on a chart and allow students to attach pictures of the modes of transportation in sequence of invention.

  • A blank timeline

  • Pictures of various modes of transportation from Native American canoes through the steam engine

  • Completed SC map and blank maps of SC

  • Chart paper and construction (or newsprint) paper

  • Markers, pencils, and colored pencils

Lesson Plans

Lesson 1
1. Write the essential question on the board. “Why did Charleston feel the need for a railway line?”
2. Ask students to think about the different modes of transportation that have been used in the past and today.  Allow students to make a list with another student.  Then, list students’ answers on chart paper.
3. Display different pictures (from Smart Board Gallery or pictures you have collected).  Discuss the different modes represented and why they may have been invented.  Display the time line and modes of transportation using the Smart Board.  Choose one child to manipulate the modes on the Smart Board while the class helps them decide where the modes should go on the time line.
4. Ask:   In  early South Carolina life, how did farmers get their crops to market to sell?  Where was the best place to take the crops to sell in South Carolina?  Why?  Which was quickest, a water route or a land route?  Why?    Write down the answers on chart paper.
5. Discuss what was occurring in other parts of the United States at the time as well as the declining trade in Charleston.  What did Charleston business leaders need to do?  How do you think they could solve the problem declining trade? 
6. Allow groups to work on this in order to come up with suggestions to solve the trade problem.  Each group will have chart paper and markers to record their suggestions.
7. Each group will present their suggestions to the class.  Discuss which suggestions would be better and why.
8. Tell the class Charleston chose to build a steam train and railway line in order to solve their problem.  Show the picture of the Best Friend and tell the story of how it was built and subsequently blew up.  The Best Friend of Charleston was built from parts taken from the Best Friend.  Show the primary source map showing the railway line to Hamburg from Charleston.
9. Give students blank maps of South Carolina.  Show the map rubric and review it with the class.  Students will locate and mark:  Charleston, Columbia, Hamburg, the route of the railway line, Georgia, North Carolina, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Lesson 2
(This lesson is designed to be the second part of "Who Needs Another Best Friend?"
1. Remind students of the essential question from “Who needs another Best Friend?” and write the essential question for this lesson on the board:  “Why did Charleston feel the need for a railroad line?  How was South Carolina’s economy and people affected by the railroad?
2. Review modes of transportation, Charleston’s need for a faster mode of transportation to market to sell cotton, and how they solved the problem. (Also from the lesson entitled “Who need another Best Friend?”)
3. Ask, “Would this new mode of transportation help Charlestonians?  Why or why not?”  Allow students to work with partners to answer the question.  Ask them to write these down to share with the class.  (Benefits:  faster transport of cotton to markets, use for public transportation, quicker mail delivery, package delivery, etc.; detractors:  noise, disruption of farm land, more need for coal, travel would be long and dirty, chance of injury, etc.)
4. Ask, “Would they face problems in building the railroad?  What would the problems include?   How could they solve them?”  (i.e. need to find level ground, cross rivers, hire workers, create a plan, etc.)  Ask, “How do you think they might have worked out crossing rivers, roads, hills, etc.?”
5. Allow time for students to work with their partner to make a list of problems that might be encountered and come up with strategies to solve them.
6. Show primary source of schedule and price of transporting people or things by train and discuss who might have ridden on the railway line.  Compare the prices of 1830 to today’s prices.  Ask, “What might have been positive about riding the train?  Negative?  Do you think anyone could have ridden the train?  Why or why not?”
1. Continue the discussion about how the state has changed since the 1830’s.  Compare maps from 1830 to maps today.  (You can extend this further by comparing a map of your county from 1830 with a current county map.)    Using the two maps (old and current) discuss how the land has continued to change, the effects on life today, why things changed, etc.  Discussion could also center on how the same area may change in the future.
2. Students interested in trains could research how the train has changed from steam trains to the modern trains of today.
3. Students could construct a model of the Best Friend of Charleston and include a short history report.
4. Students could research and report on what affect the train really had on Charleston’s economy and South Carolina’s people.  Students could graph the growth or decline of population, cotton crop revenue, etc.
5. Math connection: Students could write math problems using the prices of train tickets and time schedule.  Using the map and the price and time schedule, students could find how many miles would be traveled between different towns.
6. Science connection:  Students could research the types of soil found along the route of the train and report on how that would affect the building of the train tracks.

Student Assessments

Lesson 1
Map Rubric
Lesson 2
The student will create an advertisement poster for the Best Friend of Charleston. Put students in groups of 3 to 4 and ask them to create a poster advertising the railroad line from Charleston to Hamburg. Include transportation of people as well as cargo, prices, and time schedule.
Poster Rubric


Pat Griffith
Lowcountry Institute