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Visiting Tennessee's Oldest Railroad

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  • Member since
    February 2014
  • 6 posts
Visiting Tennessee's Oldest Railroad
Posted by The Dixie Flyer on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 2:34 PM

Tennessee's oldest railroad, the Nashville & Chattanooga Rail Road (chartered in 1848), is now CSX's busy corridor between the upper midwest and the southeastern U.S. If you plan to travel I-24 through the Volunteer state there are a couple of stops that are a must for the railfan. First is Wartrace, Tenn., a sleepy village of 650 souls, a mainline passing track, and a junction with the Walking Horse & Eastern Railroad, a backwoods short line. Approximately 25 to 30 trains a day pass through the heart of downtown Wartrace. There's also a historic 1917 railroad hotel with guestrooms and verandas furnished with rocking chairs facing the tracks (931-212-2602). While in town visit the Dixie Flyer, a model railroad hobby shop (800-465-0448), and the 1960's era L&N bay window caboose at trackside.

The other popular railfan destination is Cowan, Tenn. located about a 40 minute drive south of Wartrace. It's home to CSX's Cowan pusher district with two helper locomotives stationed there to assist trains up and over Cumberland Mountain and through its 2,228 ft. tunnel. The Cowan Railroad Museum (931- 967-3078), located in the former NC&StL Railway depot, features an HO layout depicting the local area circa 1952 and several pieces of prototype equipment including a GE 44 ton switcher, caboose, and a 2-4-2  steam locomotive.

Both Wartrace and Cowan can be included in a side trip loop by leaving I-24 at either exit #97 or #134 depending on your direction of travel.               

  • Member since
    September 2014
  • 24 posts
Posted by JOHN MEHRLING on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 8:50 AM

You are correct if you define the Nashville & Chattanooga line as the "oldest continuously operated line".  But i believe that the earliest Tennessee railroad to operate was the Memphis & LaGrange which was chartered in 1835; initial portions were put into operation the following year - 1836. According to the Memphis newspapers of the day, it operated with a "small Philadelphia made locomotive", two 4-wheeled passenger cars, and seven 4-wheeled freight cars. The line started at Fort Pickering and ran out along what later became Southern - essentially the R-O-W of the Memphis & Charleston, later the Southern, and today's NS. Of the projected 50 mile mile line, by 1841 40 miles were graded with 10 miles of rail laid.  But of that, only the portion out as far as today's Highland St. (the MSU campus) was operational because there were no turning facilities at the end of the line.  The Panic of 1837 caused payments for stock subscriptions to slow to a trickle (stifling continued construction) while operating income dropped. State aid keep it operating for a period, but in 1841 the railroad was sold at s sheriff's auction. I never found a record of the disposition of the rail and the rolling stock.  In 1851 the Memphis & Charleston bought the R-O-W, doing some additional grading (new terminal, completion of the grade to LaGrange) and started laying newly purchased iron in 1852.  That line is still in operation today, perhaps not in quite as picturesque venues as Wartrace and Cowan.

 

  • Member since
    February 2014
  • 6 posts
Posted by The Dixie Flyer on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 10:17 AM

John, thanks for the history. It appears you are 100% correct. It doesn't look like edits are permitted to my post or I would add "continously operated". I will in any future discussions.

 

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