A big celebration was in place on the first day of full operation of the Middle Tennessee Railroad. According the book, Maury County, Tennessee History And Families, 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 that day 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.
Before the incorporation of the Middle Tennessee Railroad in 1907, Maury County residents traveled by foot, horse and 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. This 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, located in Santa Fe near the Williamson County line. Bethel was home to a water tower as well as a section house (pictured above) and schoolhouse. 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, which is still standing today, was used as a residence by section bosses. Babies were born here, and multiple families lived here over the years. Leslie Sewell ran the Bethel Train Station which looked very similar to that of the McKnight Station Train Depot (pictured below).
Named after property owner and local justice, Robert Samuel McKnight, McKnight Station Train Depot built in 1910 still stands today along with the section house. Both of these structures are a reminder to the history of the railroad and the changes that have since taken place. Both the section house and McKnight Train Station are located on Leiper’s Creek Road in Santa Fe, Tennessee.
The community of McKnight was once home to a blacksmith shop, two sawmills, a meat curing business, a stave bolt mill for making large barrels for shipping goods, and also a bootlegger were all present during the Middle Tennessee Railroad operation. Unfortunately there are no signs of those businesses today; only the train station stands today. The Youngers, who ran with outlaw Jesse James, homestead resides in McKnight although its location and whether or not it is still standing today is unknown.
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|
Maury County History and Families published 1999.
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.