CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — The “death” of a railroad is always a difficult time for everyone involved, from the employees of the road to the communities the line serves.
The Tennessee Central traces its origins to 1884 when Alexander S. Crawford founded the Nashville and Knoxville Railroad. Col. Jere Baxter jumped into the fray in 1893, and a line between Harriman, Tenn., and Hopkinsville, Ky., was eventually completed in about 1904.
The line was fraught with problems throughout its history. In 1905, the segment between Nashville, Tenn., and Hopkinsville was leased to the Illinois Central Railroad, while the section between Nashville and Harriman was leased to Southern Railways.
Neither line renewed the lease. A few years later, in 1922, the railroad reorganized as the Tennessee Central Railway Co.
The railroad continued to operate, but by the 1960s, profits were reduced. The last Tennessee Central trains operated on the last day of August in 1968.
“There was a death in Clarksville yesterday,” The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle reported in a front-page story with the headline “TC Death Here Goes Unnoticed” in its Sept. 1, 1968, edition. “It was not a sudden death–in fact, everyone knew it was coming. And with the death, an era of history passed.”
A court-appointed trustee divided the railroad into three segments operated by competing railroads: the Illinois Central, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and Southern Railway.
The last train to Clarksville — pulled by locomotive No. 251, a 1,600-horsepower Alco unit built in October 1950 — departed Nashville at 1:40 p.m., and by 4:45 p.m., it was at the station in Clarksville, located on Sring Street. According to the newspaper account, the cab of the locomotive pulling the train turned quiet as it approached Hopkinsville, a city the Illinois Central served since 1897 when the railroad purchased the Ohio Valley Railroad.
The crew on that last train included A.S. Ray, conductor; D. Smith, fireman; and C.H. Stonridge, brakeman, according to the newspaper report.
The Tennessee Central Line Today
The Tennessee Central line today is largely abandoned.
The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) allowed the Illinois Central Gulf to abandon its portion of the line in 1983, though the U.S. Army does operate a portion. The Louisville & Nashville removed a section of track between Monterey and Crossville.
The Nashville and Eastern Railroad operates about 30 miles of the line east of Nashville between Old Hickory and Lebanon. In 2000, the Nashville and Western Railroad launched and began operations over a stretch of track between Nashville and Ashland City, Tenn.