CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Railroad history in Clarksville starts on Jan. 28, 1852, when the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad was chartered. The road, which ran from Paris, Tenn., to Guthrie, Ky., connected with two other railroads — the Memphis & Ohio Railroad and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad — to provide service from Louisville to Memphis.
Tracks were laid on the eve of the civil war and the first train rolled down the line from Clarksville to the Tennessee-Kentucky state line on Oct. 1, 1859, according to newspaper accounts of the time. However, trains didn’t run during the Civil War. Clarksville remained under Union control for most of the war.
Train service resumed again on Aug. 13, 1866. However, by 1867 both the Memphis & Ohio Railroad and the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad were on the verge of bankruptcy after they defaulted on their state bonds. Salaries and bills went unpaid, eventually leaving the railroads unable to operate.
On Feb. 6, 1868, trains on the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville stopped operating “due to an unwillingness on the part of its employees to work without being paid,” historian Kincaid Herr noted in his 1960 chronicle of The Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
For 11 days, the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad was dormant and trains were rerouted via the Nashville & McKenzie on the Nashville & Northwesters Railroad.
Instead of selling the road outright to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad sought to lease the company. That action essentially extended the life of the road by about three years.
Historian Maury Klein contended in his 1972 history that the Louisville & Nashville’s purchase was fair and generous.
“Some Memphis merchants continued to fear that L&N domination would result in commercial discrimination against their city,” he wrote. “Goaded mainly by public clamor over this anxiety, the Clarksville rejected every L&N overture and vowed to operate the road free of outside control. While this stance med with popular approval, it led to financial disaster. The Clarksville lacked any resources to rehabilitate its line, and earnings failed to pay even operating expenses.”
When the Louisville & Nashville took control of the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad, it improved it not only supported it financially, it helped improve its infrastructure — including its 86 miles of track. Despite the improvements, however, the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad wasn’t able to operate self-sufficiently.
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad purchased the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad on Sept. 30, 1871.
A second road — the Indiana, Alabama & Texas Railroad — began service on Feb. 10, 1885 with trains operating from Clarksville to Southern Christian County, Ky.
A meeting was held Feb. 1, 1882, in Princeton, Ky. The road was formally incorporated on Feb. 22, 1882, at the Clarksville Bank. The road’s first president, Hon. D.N. Kennedy, was elected at that meeting, as well as the Secretary and Treasurer, H.C. Merritt. Judge C.G. Smith of Clarksville successfully motioned to set the capital stock was set at $2,500,000. Individual shares were fixed at $100. Another meeting was set for March 11, 1882, also to be held at the Clarksville Bank.
The Feb. 25, 1882, edition of The Clarksville Weekly Chronicle indicated railroad officials “are now vigorously at work all along the line getting up their subscriptions.” The same article predicted the road would be up and running by March 1, 1883, and lauded the railroad. “The people who possess such a spirit of enterprise will always succeed,” the paper wrote.
The line would later reach Gracey, Ky. On April 9, 1887, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad purchased the railroad’s stocks and bonds, according to Elmer Sulzer’s 1975 book “Ghost Railroads of Tennessee.”
In 1903, a third railroad was completed. The Tennessee Central Railway connected Nashville, Tenn., and Hopkinsville, Ky. The railroad operated until it went bankrupt in 1968. It was taken over by the Illinois Central Gulf, which operated trains through Clarksville until the early 1980s.