There is something about trains and Christmas. Maybe it’s the Tom Hanks and Polar Express effect or it’s a kid’s delight when they hear that beloved whistle. At one time Crossville had a train that ran straight through town. It did not last long, not even a 100 years, but its story is one to be heard.
The Tennessee Central Railway has always been something of interest and mystery to those of us too young to remember it. It unfortunately ended on January 23, 1969 when the Interstate Commerce Commission divided the Illinois Central, Louisville & Nashville, and the Southern Railway. The division caused many of these shorter routes, like Crossville’s to die out quickly.
Similar to the way that Cumberland County got its start with the Wilderness Trail, the plan was simple: there needed to be a railway that connected Tennessee’s two major cities, Nashville and Knoxville. With that idea in mind, Alexander Crawford set out to charter the railroad across the Cumberland Mountains. That route began in Lebanon and headed east toward Knoxville, but unfortunately Mr. Crawford died on April 1, 1890. Colonel Jere Baxter then took over.
Colonel Baxter chartered the Tennessee Central Railroad on August 25, 1893. His plan was to buy out the eastern railways and connect them with Nashville. Mr. Crawford and Mr. Baxter were just two of the many men it took to run a railroad through Tennessee.
Meanwhile in Crossville, the town continued to fight for the railroad. A charter had been originally obtained in 1855 but the tracks never seemed to come. The rails had already come to Rockwood, Sparta, and Monterey. People in Crossville felt that the town could not grow without it and to make matters worse, a line had been proposed to connect Nashville and Knoxville through Chattanooga missing Crossville.
Captain Lina Beecher, who resided in the Genesis area, had his own plans for establishing the railroad in Cumberland County. As a true entrepreneur and businessman he began with the telephone. His “Beecher Wire” ran through Sparta, Cookeville, Gainsboro, Rockwood, and Crossville, but in December of 1890 a heavy snow came and his lines fell. Regardless, Captain Beecher had bigger dreams of a railroad.
On August 29, 1890 the “Great Railroad Celebration” was held. A pavilion was constructed solely for the celebration where the new Depot would later be built. Grading began in Crossville thanks to the Genesis & Obed River Railroad Company. While it was a start it was not the end of Crossville’s fight. Jere Baxter planned to finish the tracks.
Baxter had alternative methods in bringing the Tennessee Central to Crossville, but he did succeed. The story goes he road drunkenly on a mule from Monterey to Crossville with ambitions of finishing the tracks one way or another. He campaigned throughout the county for citizens to vote for $50,000 in Tennessee Central stock paid by Cumberland County bonds. The Tennessee Central then promised to have the railroad in operation in 24 months. But only 31 of the 42 miles were completed. Baxter took matters into his own hands one night by taking two crews and several kegs of beer to finish the tracks. The next day the first train came through Crossville, an event the town will never forget.
- Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, Bullard Krechniak
- Tennessee Central Railway: History Through the Miles, Barton Jennings