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Middle Tennessee Railroad

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A tobacco-spitting elephant, a clown, egg sandwiches, county music band, buck dancing, and give-away bags of flour were all part of the celebration in Fly on the day of the first full operation of the Middle Tennessee Railroad in April 1912. Celebrations took place at all train stops, and a large group of railroad investors road the train that day from Franklin to Mount Pleasant to celebrate this day in history. The 28.7 mile one way trip from Franklin to Leatherwood opened for operation in March 1910 followed by the entire railroad being completed from Leatherwood to Mt. Pleasant, 41.5 miles total, in April 1912 which was when the celebration took place at all train stops.

Before the incorporation of the Middle Tennessee Railroad in 1907, Maury County residents traveled by foot, horse or mule, buggy, wagon, or surrey. Trips were rare, and life at this time in Maury County was remote and wooded with few roads. The railroad brought not only transportation for its residents, but also a means to buy and sell goods with Franklin and Nashville. Phosphate mining boomed and the railroad was incorporated on October 25, 1907.

The phosphate industry in middle Tennessee dates back to 1893 when blue rock phosphate was discovered in both Lewis and Hickman counties. Brown rock phosphate was later discovered in Maury County, and phosphate mining boomed by 1897. In the Mount Pleasant mining district, 26,000 tons of blue rock phosphate was mined in 1896, and mining increased each year there after until it reached its high at 915,283 tons in 1942 partially due to an increased demand during time of war.

Sold for $1,000,000, the Independent Phosphate Company gained a section of land from the Tennessee Fertilizer Company near Leatherwood on the Hickman and Maury County line. The tract of land included the condition that a railroad would be built to haul and operate at consistent rates of that of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in Mt. Pleasant.

Dispatched by telephone, the train made many stops including the stop at Bethel where there was a water tower available next to the section house. Water ran down hill through the pipes for approximately one mile and filled the train’s tank by the use of gravity. The section house, also located in Bethel still standing today, was used as a residence by section bosses; multiple families lived here along with babies being born. Leslie Sewell ran the Bethel train station which looked very similar to that of the McKnight Station Train Depot.

Named after property owner and local justice, Robert Samuel McKnight, the McKnight StationTrain Depot built in 1910 still stands today along with the section house as a reminder to the history of the railroad and the changes that have since taken place. A blacksmith shop, two sawmills, meat curing business, stave bolt mill for making large barrels for shipping goods and a bootlegger were all present during the time of the operation of the Middle Tennessee Railroad located in the area of the McKnight Station Train Depot. Unfortunately there are no signs of those businesses today. The Youngers, who ran with outlaw Jesse James, homestead resides in McKnight.

Beginning at the Franklin Train Depot located on 3rd Avenue, the railroad ran westward along North Margin, crossed 5th Avenue at Harpeth Ford, curved southward and crossed East End just below Roberts Street. The railroad bed ran close to what is Leiper’s Creek Road today towards Bethel, Elam Station, Fly Station, and on towards Leatherwood and Water Valley. There was a turn table at Leatherwood close to the present Steam Mill Hollow Road. Reportedly, the Middle Tennessee Railroad did not run directly into the heart Water Valley.

Middle Tennessee Railroad Schedule 1917

Train No. 1 Miles November, 1917
9:15 AM 0 Franklin
– – 1.3 Wye
9:28 4.4 Carl
9:40 8.8 Leiper’s Fork
9:52 12.8 Boston
10:02 16.2 Davis
10:10 19.0 Bethel
10:13 20.5 McKnight
10:18 22.2 Fly
10:25 24.7 Leatherwood
10:28 25.0 Water Valley
10:37 29.4 Capers
10:40 30.0 Arkland
10:47 33.7 Brooks
10:51 35.3 Cross Bridges
11:00 38.3 Bigby
11:10 41.5 Mount Pleasant

Maury County History and Families published 1999.

Hopefully more to come!



Hinson, C. and Hardison, Harold. Maury County Tennessee History and Families. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1998.

Sulzer, E. Ghost Railroads of Tennessee.  Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1975.

3 Responses to “Middle Tennessee Railroad”

  1. Carter Newton

    Just this June while helping my grandmother move we found an original copy of that photo of Mike Howard, Sr among a collection of items kept by his son (my grandmother’s father-in-law). We were aware that Mike, Sr. had worked for the Tennessee Central, but had no idea about the Middle Tennessee RR. I’ll have to contact the archives and see what else they may have on him. Thank you so much for doing this!

    • flybackinhistory

      I hope you are able to find more information about Mike Howard, Sr. and the Middle Tennessee Railroad. The archives should be a great resource to you. Also, in Mount Pleasant there is a museum which may provide with some information about the Middle Tennessee Railroad called the Mt. Pleasant-Maury Phosphate Museum located in Mt.Pleasant. I have not been there before, but I imagine they would have some good information about the railroad as well. Thank you for your comment! Have a fantastic day!


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