The Tennessee Central’s Long and Sordid History

The Tennessee Central Railway, which at its heyday operated a line between Harriman and Hopkinsville, Ky. Like other railroads in the latter half of the 19th century, the Tennessee Central grew after combining a slew of smaller short lines, many of which bore the name “Tennessee Central.” All would later come under the control of former Memphis & Charleston Railroad president Jere Baxter, who organized the Tennessee Central Railroad on Aug. 23, 1893.

Tracks between Nashville and Knoxville were completed in 1898. And later, Baxter tried unsuccessfully to complete a section of road between Nashville and Memphis, according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. However, a lack of adequate finances hampered the company from its beginning, with several receiverships and bankruptcies occurring.

In 1905, the railroad leased its western section to Southern Railway and its eastern section to Illinois Central, which finished laying tracks to Clarksville and later Hopkinsville.

However, by June 30, 1908, both Southern and the Illinois Central ended their leases. The Tennessee Central Railway was later reorganized and remained a freight line until it ceased operations on Aug. 31, 1968. At that time, a court-appointed trustee divided the railroad and sold its property to three competing railroads: the Illinois Central, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and Southern Railway.

Tennessee Central Railway Timeline

  • 1884 – Nashville & Knoxville Railroad Company chartered.
  • 1893 – Tennessee Central Railroad chartered.
  • 1897 – Tennessee Central Railway chartered.
  • 1901 – The Cumberland Plateau Railroad Company, the Tennessee Central Railway Company and the Nashville & Clarksville Railroad chartered.
  • 1902 – The Nashville & Clarksville Railroad changes its name to the Tennessee Central Railroad Company and buys the Tennessee Central Railway Company, the Tennessee Central Railway, the Nashville & Knoxville Railroad, the Tennessee Central Railroad and the Cumberland Plateau Railroad Company.
  • 1903 – First train from Nashville to Ashland City.
  • 1904 – Line completed to Hopkinsville, Ky.
  • 1905 – Leased to Illinois Central and Southern Railway Company.
  • 1909 – Tennessee Central recovers operations from Illinois Central and Southern Railways.
  • 1922 – Reorganized as Tennessee Central Railway Company.
  • 1954 – Last steam locomotive retired.
  • 1967 – Tennessee Central Railway files for bankruptcy.
  • 1968 – Trustee A. Battle Rodes files for line abandonment. Operations cease at midnight on Aug. 31. The Illinois Central began operating west end on Sept. 1.

– Source: Tennessee Department of State, Library & Archives

Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 233 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.