Standing at the corner of 10th and Commerce streets in Clarksville, Tennessee, it may be hard to imagine this was once a bustling transportation hub.
The old depot, known by locals as the L&N Station, still stands, but passenger trains no longer pass through the city. Freight trains seldom rumble through town, even if at a volume below the heyday of railroading in this Middle Tennessee community.
But, the first of the railroads to pass through Clarksville, the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad, offers a fascinating window into what it took to finance and build a railroad in the decade before the Civil War.
The line, chartered in 1852, ran between Paris, Tenn., and Guthrie, Ky., and formed part of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad’s Memphis branch. The Louisville & Nashville acquired the road in the 1870s.
I first learned of the road in 2002, and it was intriguing to me from the start. I wrote an article for the local newspaper in 2003 in honor of the 135th anniversary of the February 1868 strike — an action that effectively spelled doom for the line, which struggled to operate from its inception.
Many histories mention, usually briefly, the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad, but few records of the railroad seem to exist, and the accounts that do are incomplete. So, writing a history of this railroad required weaving together a narrative based on the limited files and the news accounts.
The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville formed an integral part of the railroad link between New Orleans and New York. The Louisville & Nashville purchased the railroad in 1871 and operated it as part of its Memphis Branch for more than a century.
Earlier this year, at my request, Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett declared July 28 as Budds Creek Disaster Day of Remembrance honoring the sesquicentennial of a Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad disaster on July 28, 1869. Five people, including the train’s engineer, fireman and several passengers, died in the wreck at Budds Creek in southern Montgomery County.
While railroads such as the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad are not as well-remembered as other lines, their stories are worth remembering. They might even change our understanding of history and the events that shaped the world we know today.
Todd DeFeo is the founder of The DeFeo Groupe and editor of Railfanning.org. He has written about the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville extensively for Railfanning.org. His book about the railroad published on Oct. 14. For more information, visit Railfanning.org/books.