Introduction to The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad: A History

The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad’s “good old days” were rather brief.

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.

Perhaps that is what makes this road such an intriguing study. There is no single history dedicated solely to this line. The line was linked inextricably to the much larger Louisville & Nashville Railroad from the start. The accounts of the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville that exist explore the railroad in the context of the Louisville & Nashville.

It is essential first to recognize its geography. The railroad was the middle section of a line between Louisville and Nashville. The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville built a link between Paris, Tennessee, and the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, known as State Line during the early railroad era. A community in this area, Guthrie, Kentucky, first developed along a stagecoach line in the 1840s. Guthrie, named for Louisville & Nashville President James Guthrie, formally incorporated in 1876.

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 that spelled doom for the line, which struggled to operate from its inception.

As a company, the railroad existed for roughly two decades — from 1852 until 1871. The company only operated the entire 82-mile-long line under the cloud of war or under receivership starting at the time of its completion in 1861. After the Civil War, it ran in receivership, and the larger Louisville & Nashville, which overshadowed it for its entire corporate history — and supported the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville — subsumed the “Clarksville” in the decade after the Civil War.

Creating this account proved to be somewhat challenging given the dearth of reliable and available information. It was written using newspaper accounts and corroborated with official railroad records and government reports, where possible. I have made attempts to correct the spellings of names, but at times, this information was inconsistent or otherwise unavailable.

Even the line’s completion date is open to some conjecture. Most accounts say it was completed in mid-April 1861, just as the Civil War commenced. But, news accounts from November 1861 indicates that is when the first train rolled over the Tennessee River bridge, the last link of the railroad completed.

Sometimes history leaves us an incomplete record from which to work. That is what happened here. I have presented information as accurately as possible. It is vital to remember roads such as the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville, even if most histories have opted to relegate this line to nothing more than a brief mention.

From The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad: A History.

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Before you copy and paste this information to your website, please keep in mind this research took a lot of effort. Appreciate it. Learn from it. But do not plagiarize it. Yes, if you think we might be talking to you, we are.

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About Todd DeFeo 374 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.