Friday, September 21, 2007

Guthrie, KY: A Railroad Town

How trains have shaped the history of Guthrie, KY

R.J. Corman railroad at Guthrie, KYFreshly painted locomotives in Guthrie, KY

Railroads made Guthrie, Kentucky. Several major rail lines intersected in southern Todd County, on the Kentucky and Tennessee state line, and the city of Guthrie grew around the tracks.

The beginning of the railroad era

The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture gives the following information about railways that ran through Guthrie, even before the Civil War.

Nashville gained rail access to the North through Kentucky. Louisville city subscriptions and Tennessee state aid financed the Louisville and Nashville (L&N), incorporated in Kentucky in 1850... Completed in 1859, it hosted an excursion intended to preserve the Union... The Edgefield and Kentucky (E&K), completed in 1860, ran from the Nashville suburb of Edgefield to Guthrie on the Kentucky boundary.

Memphis also established railroad access to Louisville: the Memphis and Ohio (M&O) ran from Memphis to Paris; the Memphis, Clarksville, and Louisville ran from Paris to Guthrie; and the L&N constructed a branch from Bowling Green to Guthrie."

Quoted from The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

Shortly after the L&N completed its line to Nashville in 1859, the Civil War disrupted the region. During the war, the Union controlled the area in which the L&N operated, and the railroad made a lot of money transporting U.S. troops and supplies.

Guthrie becomes a railroad boomtown

Opera House, Guthrie, KentuckyOpera House, Guthrie KY
When the war ended and reconstruction began, the L&N Railroad had plenty of cash on hand to expand dramatically throughout the South. The surge of investment in infrastructure paid off in an immense increase in traffic on its lines, bringing many trains through Guthrie at all hours of the day and night. Businessmen recognized the opportunity to provide goods and services to travelers and shippers, and Guthrie became a railroad boomtown.

In 1879, the city of Guthrie was chartered. It was named for John James Guthrie, the L&N Railroad President. The railroads prospered for many years, and Guthrie also prospered. Fine homes were built, and the business district was lined with stores, saloons, a hotel, and even an opera house.

Five railroad lines that met in Guthrie were:
- the L&N St. Louis-Evansville-Nashville line
- the L&N Louisville-Memphis line
- the L&N Guthrie-Bowling Green branch
- the Edgefield and Kentucky Railroad
- the Guthrie-Elkton (KY) spur (chartered in 1883)

Hard times for the railroads

Rail travel and shipping declined during the mid-1900s. The rail companies labored under out-of-date FCC regulations, a loss of travel and shipping to the new Interstate highway system, an increase in air travel, and the loss of railway post offices. These problems led to major restructuring and consolidation. Many railroad lines closed in the 1960s. 1970s and 1980s.

Congress could not agree whether to subsidize, nationalize, or deregulate the remaining passenger lines, so nothing was done. Finally, in 1970, Amtrak was formed and most of America's railroads turned their passenger service over to it. In 1980, an important railroad bill, the Staggers Rail Act, was passed, and with deregulation, freight lines were able to operate at a profit again.

R.J. Corman locomotive in Guthry, KYR.J. Corman locomotive
in Guthrie KY
The Elkton-Guthrie line closed in 1957. The L&N was merged into the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in the early 1970s and eliminated its few remaining passenger lines in 1979. After another merger, the CSX railroad company assumed control of the former L&N rail system. The City of Guthrie's website states that the population of Guthrie dropped by 50% in a single year, sometime (no year given) during all this restructuring.

Railroads in Guthrie today

I've become quite curious about Guthrie lately, and this has led to my research of its history. We bought a used car for Keely in Guthrie, so we've made several trips there in the last month. I've had a chance to loiter about the town, admire the old houses and buildings, and note the presence of the train industry to this day.

R.J. Corman locomotive in Guthrie, KY
Front end of an
R.J. Corman locomotive
The R.J. Corman Railroad Company has a shop in Guthrie. They usually have a freshly painted locomotive on the tracks in front of it. R.J. Corman operates a short-line railroad from Bowling Green, KY, to Zinc, TN, that passes through Guthrie.

The CSX Railroad Company, heir to the L&N railroad, has an office and shop in Guthrie also. Trains still rumble through the town regularly.

L&N caboose in Guthry, Kentucky
L&N Caboose in Guthrie, KY
The L&N Railroad's role in Guthrie history is honored in a little downtown park where a cheery red L&N caboose is displayed. The depot was torn down long ago.

I'll write more later about some of the efforts Guthrie is making to revitalize itself after enduring the changes in the railroad industry.

"Southbound in the Snow" -- train pictures taken near Guthrie
Songs by Mickey Newbury that mention Guthrie
More train pictures from Guthrie
Many L&N Railroad photos

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limey said...

Your railway engines have so much more character than ours. The ones we use to pull freight are basically an oblong box with a slightly rounded front. Don't let this get out - when I am travelling along skyline I'm quite pleased to see one of those engines pulling what seems like ten miles of freight. : )

Genevieve said...

When I have plenty of time, I enjoy seeing the trains, too. Your comment reminded me of one time about ten years ago when I gave our Mennonite neighbor lady and one of their boys a ride to the doctor. The little boy was so thrilled when the bars went down on Skyline Drive and the train came through blowing its whistle and pulling a hundred cars or more.

Anonymous said...

Railroad history is so interesting to me. I love trains and have always been a huge fan of history. I can't wait to learn more about them. Great post.

Phyllis said...

I grew up in Guthrie. My dad,two uncles and my step-dad all worked for the L&N railroad. My dad help build and maintain the bridges. My step dad rode the trains. So i have a love trains. Thank you for this story about Guthrie.

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