Sample Article from Mystery & History in Georgia
Railroad Destination to Utter Devastation
The Horrible 1926 Rockmart Wreck
Exactly two days before Christmas of 1926, a lot of the passengers upon the northbound Ponce de Leon passenger train in northwest Georgia had happy plans for the upcoming holiday season. Little did they know, they not only would never enjoy those plans, they would never see Christmas on this earth again.
“I heard the shrill whistle and saw the headlights ahead, but the
northbound was not slowing. . . . When I saw the collision was certain,
I slammed on my brakes and called to my fireman to
Arthur M. Corrie
Engineer of the Royal Palm
The tiny township of Rockmart, Georgia, in the northwest quad
rant of the state was very sparsely-settled in 1926. It was a very
uneventful place where a major disaster had simply never
occurred. That changed on December 23rd of that year as two
immense passenger trains crashed head-on in one of the worst
disasters in U.S. railroad history.
Interestingly, though it was a tiny town, Rockmart had enjoyed
passenger rail service since the 1870s, when philanthropist Sea
born Jones, according to tradition, donated land to Southern
Railway for a rail line right-of-way through the county at no cost
– with the stipulation that Southern would guarantee passenger
service to Rockmart as long as the company existed. It was the
strict timetable required for this passenger service which quite
possibly became the catalyst for disaster in 1926.
That December evening was a dark and rainy night in the foot
hills of north Georgia, as are many days in the autumn and early
winter months of that region. Despite the miserable weather
and gloom outside, the Pullman coaches in the Ponce de Leon
were nevertheless filled with warm diners and, no doubt, lively
Both the Royal Palm and the Ponce de Leon were crack passen
ger trains of Southern Railway and were regularly patronized by
many travelers, since the 1920s was a time when the rapidly-growing
network of railroads in our nation dominated the
travel industry. Both trains were renowned for their good food,
accommodations, and timely schedules. December 23rd was
no exception, as both trains hustled to remain on schedule.
It was at a long side-track at Rockmart that the Royal Palm and
the Ponce de Leon regularly passed each other on this route, so
it was a common occurrence. The Southern railroad through
Rockmart was not double-tracked, so the side-track a short
distance from the Rockmart depot made it possible for these
two luxury trains to pass each other and then continue on to
their destinations in opposite directions.
In order to prepare for this maneuver, Engineer Arthur M. Corrie
on the Royal Palm had throttled back to slow his big locomotive
down to approximately 4 miles per hour to give the Ponce de
Leon ample time to take the siding.
Looking south down what once was the Southern Railway, the line today no longer offers passenger service, but CSX freights still rumble up and down the line daily. The small shack in the fore ground sites near the former site of the Southern Railway Depot. The 1926 wreck occurred approximately 300 yards south of this site.
An early photo of Rockmart, Georgia, taken circa 1900. A trestle on the Southern Railways track is just visible in the distance.