The Swamp Rabbit Trail, the successful rails-to-trail conversion, currently extends from downtown Greenville to Travelers Rest with plans to extend the trail southward to Fountain Inn. The Greenville County Recreational Department is seeking support for a project to extend the northern end of the trail up to Slater-Marietta.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail closely follows the route of the Greenville & Northern railroad, better known as the Swamp Rabbit Railroad, from downtown Greenville to just north of Travelers Rest matching where the railroad had ended since the mid-1950s. However, as late as 1921, the railroad ended at River Falls, near Jones Gap, and as late as 1933 in Marietta. This part of the railroad route isn't plotted on any modern maps, being abandoned long ago, making me interested in learning more about the route the Swamp Rabbit railroad took to from Travelers Rest to River Falls.
I read over Abandoned Railroad's section about the Swamp Rabbit, but their map was missing a segment. I researched online historic maps, satellite images, Greenville County's GIS, and some old fashioned on-the-ground field work to help produce my own map on Google Maps with the results of my own research.
Historic maps are good place to start, if you can find a map from the right time period. The SC Digital Library has a 1921 Greenville County soil map showing the route of the railroad all the way from downtown Greenville to River Falls. I already knew where the railroad route traversed between Greenville and Travelers Rest since the Swamp Rabbit Trail so closely follows the railroad right-of-way and modern maps, of course, show the trail. The soil map's rendering of the railroad's route north of Travelers Rest provided me enough information to draw a crude rendering of this part of the route on my own map.
|1921 map with the Greenville & Northern railroad route|
The Cleveland map has a black dashed line running from just north of Tankersley Lake up to River Falls.
|1961 USGS Cleveland quad map snippet|
The routes shown on the 1961 Cleveland map and the 1921 soil map closely match each other, but disagree slightly on where at River Falls the line ended. The 1921 soil map advocates a spot close to where the River Falls Fire Department is now on the west side of the Middle Saluda River.
|1921 map - terminus on west side of the Saluda|
But the 1961 Cleveland map advocates a spot near the east bank of the Middle Saluda River and the confluence of Gap Creek.
|1961 map - terminus on the east side of the Saluda|
The 1961 Cleveland map is much more accurate about all other features, so I'm going with its route until shown otherwise.
When I switched Google Maps to satellite view, I can see how closely my route matched the actual route where the right-of-way is still visible. Beyond where the railroad crosses U.S. 276/S.C. 11, where the railroad has been abandoned the longest, the route becomes mostly impossible to find from the satellite view.
In Slater, Greenville County's GIS proved useful by showing in places where the right-of-way is unclaimed or can be inferred. In this snippet from the GIS, historical lines (the red dashed lines) curving toward U.S. 276 show the abandoned right-of-way.
|Abandoned right-of-way running SW to NE|
Now that I've exhausted all my online resources, it's time for "ground truth". This is the map I've created and will use for reference:
I started at the northern end of the Swamp Rabbit Trail just north of Travelers Rest where the path was easy to see:
Just north of the intersection of River Falls Road and McCarson Road in the Middle Saluda River are some ruins (a mill?), and the ruins of a trestle:
The path was headed toward the electrical lines and the road, and not wanting to meet the maker of the campfire if I could help it, I went back to my car and followed the electrical lines until the lines crossed the road. I found no more signs of the abandoned railroad after my find, and it was getting dark, so I headed home.
The signs of the Swamp Rabbit railroad I did find, especially in River Falls, provided me information that helped make my map more accurate. I have the least confidence in the segment between U.S. 276/S.C. 11 and the intersection of River Falls Road and Devils Fork Road, except for the Middle Saluda River crossing on River Falls Road I verified personally.
The photos above and a few more are all in my Swamp Rabbit Railroad photo album on Google Photos. Each photo's mapped location can be viewed with the the photo details option.
If you want to know more about the history of the Swamp Rabbit railroad, I suggest purchasing Mann Batson's recent book, The Swamp Rabbit Railroad: Legacy and Legend, and if possible, buy the book from the Travelers Rest Historical Society.
Update: The next entry in the series is Tracing the Swamp Rabbit Railroad part 2, or list all entries in the series.
Update Jan 2016: Change map link to currently maintained map. Remove some map views that look wrong now with Google's updated look. Fixed link to Greenville County's GIS after Greenville County shut down their old interface in favor of the mobile friendly one.
- 1921 Greenville County soil map part of the USC Digital Library. Website
- USGS quad maps: 1959 Tigerville (10.7MB), 1961 Cleveland (12MB), 1983 Slater (10.7MB)
- GCGIS used to fine tune the Swamp Rabbit railway map. In some cases, the exact location of the right of way can be inferred from historical property lines (shown with red dashes) or from the shape of the property lines themselves.
- Google Maps satellite and terrain view.
Even more reading
- Historically Speaking: The History of the Swamp Rabbit Trail from November 17, 2010 The Travelers Rest Tribune.
- Greenville to River Falls by Abandoned Rails
- Swamp Rabbit Trail Use Agreement
- Greenville Rec District asks for public's help in trail project grant approvals
Contemporary newspaper stories
- Thomas Wilson Building Another Railroad from the March 28, 1900 The Watchman and Southron.
- The Swamp Rabbit Railway from the July 13, 1904 Keowee Courier.
- Looking Southward from the November 24, 1905 Sylvan Valley News. Hope springs eternal the railway will be extended to North Carolina and on to Knoxville.
- Swamp Rabbit Sold Again from the July 30, 1919 Keowee Courier.
- 1926 story from the Greenville News
Photos of the locomotives