The movement to develop railroads in the Volunteer State dates to January 1830, when the state Senate approved a measure to support state aid for internal improvements. It was two decades before the formation of the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad, but residents of Clarksville, Tennessee, wanted a railroad.
On December 8, 1831, the state legislature incorporated the Clarksville & Russellville Railroad. Ultimately, however, the railroad was unable to secure the capital needed and forfeited its charter.
While the early 1830s were a period of economic prosperity, railroad projects in the state ultimately slowed in the wake of the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis that lasted until the mid-1840s.
When railroad fever again struck the city in the 1840s, citizens debated building a line to connect Clarksville and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and eventually other points. But, “this project fell completely through for want of means caused by the great lack of public interest.”
Talk of railroads forming in cities across the country filled the pages of Tennessee’s newspapers. Six years later, interest grew among Clarksville’s residents for a line connecting Louisville and Memphis.
A road connecting Henderson, Kentucky, and Nashville was eventually established. Initial plans called for the road to pass through Clarksville. However, its route changed, and Clarksville no longer lay along the road’s projected course.
“Had the projectors—some of them the most prominent citizens of Clarksville—listened to the advice of far-seeing men, who look forward for results … and divided the subscriptions between the two roads, Clarksville would now be a prosperous commercial and manufacturing city with a population at least four times as large as that given by the last census,” prominent Clarksville resident John W. Faxon wrote in 1881.
The state legislature in 1850 chartered a line between Clarksville and Madisonville, Kentucky. Despite the discussions about the need for railroads in the state, there were no railroads in Tennessee in 1850. A decade later, the state had 1,200 miles in operation.
A Railroad Meeting
On March 5, 1850, the Commonwealth of Kentucky chartered the Louisville & Nashville. The charter provided for a branch line to Memphis, leaving the mainline five miles south of Bowling Green.
A meeting on May 10, 1851, in Clarksville, brought together a group of citizens in favor of a railroad. The group elected G.A. Henry as president and agreed the need for a railroad convention was in order.
On May 14, 1851, the Clarksville Jeffersonian reported:
On the first meeting of the Corresponding Committee in favor of the Clarksville, Memphis and Louisville Rail-road, in Clarksville on the 10th of May, 1851, G. A. Henry, Esq. Was appointed the President of said committee, whereupon, it was unanimously
Resolved, That the friends of said Road along the whole line hold a Rail-road Convention in the town of Clarksville, being nearly central, and easy of access by water from the extreme points of the contemplated Rail-road, for the purpose of taking into consideration the importance of initial steps for the building of said Road, and devising the ways and means of accomplishing the same. It was farther
Resolved, That said committee, after consulting the friends of the Road as to the best time of holding said Convention, settle on the day when it shall be held, and give timely notice of the same through the newspapers at Memphis, Clarksville, Louisville and all intermediate points.
With this action, the drive to bring a railroad to Clarksville had picked up steam, and in about a year, the city of Clarksville would formally be in the railroad business with the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville.
Adapted from The Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad: A History.