JACKSON, Tenn. — Standing at the railroad crossing on South Royal Street, a faint, almost distant whistle from a freight train breaks the day’s silence.
Will the afternoon freight soon be passing, an anxious railfan wonders, camera poised and ready to catch any action?
Not today. Instead, the lonesome whistle serves as an eerie reminder of the city’s history, long relegated to history books and oral history.
Railroads came to Jackson in the latter half of the 1850s and within a few years of their arrival, the city would become a regional railroad hub. Judge Milton Brown is often attributed with helping draw the railroad to Madison County and Jackson.
During its heyday, several railroads served Jackson, including the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis, Illinois Central and the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroads. Today three railroads — Norfolk Southern, CSX and the West Tennessee Railroad — still serve the western Tennessee city of Jackson.
Federal troops, acknowledging Jackson’s importance as a railroad hub, occupied the city for much of the Civil War.
A train depot serves as a reminder of the city’s railroading past. Built in 1907, the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad depot was restored in the 1990s and is today a museum dedicated to the city’s rail history.
Gracing the museum’s grounds include three rail cars – a pair of cabooses and an Amtrak dining car. Inside the depot is a model railroad exhibit, built and maintained by the Jackson Model Railroad Club.
The depot also houses a vast collection of railroad-related relics with photographs and artifacts.
But Jackson is perhaps best known for its most famous former resident — Casey Jones.
Jones lived in Jackson at the time of his death in an April 30 train crash in Vaughn, Miss.
I.B. Tigrett, a president of the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad, also called Jackson home.
Published in the May 2005 edition of The Cross-Tie.