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**Note: The following information is an excerpt from "The History of Fayette County, Tennessee 1986" by the Fayette County Historical Society, reprinted here with permission.

                                                                                                     FIRST RAILROAD

The TN. Legislature passed an Act December 14, 1835 to incorporate the La Grange and Memphis Rail Road Company. The commissioners for this company were Epps Moody, Chairman-Eastin Morris, Joseph Shinpock, Fielding Hackney, E. S. Davis, Samuel McManus, John T. Foster, John P. Robinson, George Anderson, John Anderson, Thomas Booth, J. M. Walker, R. T. Mahaffy, Hugh Davis, Will Cage, Edmund Dupuy, Robert Cotton and Charles Michie. Books were opened for stock subscriptions at five places-At La Grange, at Hiram S. Morgan's store north of La Grange near the Hardeman county line, at Moscow, in Memphis, and at Somerville. The stockholders met at La Grange, organized, and elected Eastin Morris, president; John Anderson, Secretary-treasurer; John J. Potts, attorney; all of La Grange, and Charles Potts of Philadelphia, PA., chief engineer.

In La Grange in 1836, town lots 167 through 172 facing the Somerville-La Grange Road, bounded on the north by Fourth St., and on the south by Third St. (now State Highway 57) were deeded to the Railroad directors. Work commenced soon after at which time the country was in a prosperous condition. The financial panic of 1837 dealt the first cruel blow to this venture. By 1843 labor prices had gone up and people who had ledged to buy stock were unable to pay for their subscriptions, consequently, the Board of Directors was forced to tell the legislature that they could not complete the road by 1844, the agreed upon completion date. They asked for additional time ( to 1848) to complete the road. But even this was not sufficient to save the road and on 8 January 1846 the railroad iron, the engine and all rolling stock was to be sold. Only about 6 miles of track had been laid out of Memphis, but the land had been secured all along the southern edge of Fayette County and road bed work had been done. An Act was passed Februaru 2, 1846 to incorporate the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Books were opened for stock subscription at La Grange by John J. Potts, Thomas B. Firth, John W. Burton, Elisha W. Harris, Charles Michie and Thomas Polk. At Somerville, Burchett Douglas, Levin H. Coe, Robert J. Yancey and Lewis P. Williamson were in charge of subscriptions. Thomas B. Firth and Hugh Davis were the agents who handled the legal transaction in the 1851 deed of conveyance on behalf of the La Grange and Memphis Railroad to the Memphis Charleston Railroad.

In 1853, (8 July, Memphis Daily Appeal) passenger train stops were announced, including three in Fayette County. The first one of these was between Collierville and La Grange at the rail crossing on S. P. Walker's plantation. This location is now in the town of Piperton. The second stop was between LaFayette (Rossville) and Moscow at the road crossing leading to Hay's Bridge. The third was between Moscow and La Grange at the road crossing near Cromwell's. The 22 March 1853 edition of the Daily Eagle newspaper credited Colonel Joseph Royal Mosby with being instrumental in bringing the railroad to where it then was. He also wanted the lateral line extended to accommodate Somerville and this was done. Lewis P. Williamson was also influential in getting this railroad completed through Fayette County.

The Somerville Accommodation line ran from about 1857 to about 1930. Mike Brady was its most famous engineer. Mike Brady and the Accommodation departed Memphis from the old Union Station at Calhoun and Main in the late afternoon and arrived in Somerville about 8:00 p.m. where it remained until the next morning when it began its run back to Memphis. There was the equally famous conductor, George Greer Higgins, called "Cap'n Higgins" and Bond, the flagman and Jaybird the black brakeman and Stone, the baggageman. The train and it's activities were much storied about in the country. It was thought that during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878, the Accommodation brought the germ to Somerville in a box of ladies' hats. The hats had been shipped to Memphis by boat from New Orleans. Many young people strolled arm-in-arm to the depot each night to see who was coming in. Here people of the community bade farewell to the "boys" as they left Somerville for service during the Civil War, some never to return. The Accommodation carried passengers only at first, later it added freight.

In 1898, the Memphis Charles Railroad property was purchased by the Norfolk-Southern Railway Company.


Excerpt from John W. Hunt's "History of La Grange" written at the turn of the century:


AN ANCIENT RAILROAD

But there are other sides to La Grange history which, while not as rich in sentiment, are none the less substantial and interesting at this time. John W. Hunt, a citizen of La Grange, has in his possession an interesting relic of the old days of wealth and prestige in La Grange. It is a certificate of stock in an old railroad. The face value of the certificate is $1,000, and it was issued by the La Grange and Memphis Railroad Company, and mind you well that La Grange comes before Memphis in the compact. This company was chartered December 14, 1835, with a capital stock of $375,000. The certificate in Mr. Hunt's possession was issued April 20, 1841, has upon it the seal of the railroad company, and is signed by Eastin Morris, president and George W. Adams, cashier. At the top of the certificate is a curious picture, the picture of an engine, tender, and one coach of the kind used in that day. The rails of this road were strings of wood upon the top of which was spiked a strip of iron. The spikes often got loose and would come out. Sometimes the strip of iron would bend at the end and run up through the wheels of a coach or pierce through the bottom of coaches and injure, and sometimes kill passengers. Older lawyers will remember many damage cases growing out of accidents of this sort on the railroad in question. The first coaches used on this railroad were the regular old stagecoaches. The tongue and wheel of the stage coach variety were removed, flange wheels were placed on the coaches and they were coupled together. The certificate of stock now in the possession of Mr. Hunt has a picture on it of one of these coaches attached to a curious looking tender behind a curious looking engine.


( La Grange Depot photo is courtesy of Collection of Allen H. Cogbill )

The first engine used on this road was shipped from Philadelphia by sea to New Orleans, placed on the front end of a steamboat at New Orleans and sent to Memphis by river.

Here is an early Memphis celebration:

The few citizens who had gathered on the Chickasaw bluffs at that time had the same progressive spirit which they show today, and they manifested a keen appreciation of the advance guard of the mechanical revolution. They met the boat which had the engine by the time her nose touched the wharf. They covered the engine with flowers. They tied ropes to it and headed by a band of music, they pulled it through the streets of the town to the terminal of the railroad. Appropriate speeches were made on the occasion. The engine was finally put on the track. Fire was kindled under the boiler. But the thing was new to them, and it was several days before they could get the engine to move. When it did move, according to a faithful chronicler, "everybody was afraid to ride behind it." However, the start for La Grange was made, and it took the same length of time to go from Memphis to La Grange as it took under the old stagecoach system. When the engine would get out of wood the train was stopped, the train crew would get out with their axes, and cut enough wood to start the engine. The trip was finally made, and great was the rejoicing of the La Grange folk and the country generally.

Nearly all the stock of the road, amounting to $375,000 was subscribed in La Grange. The president of the company and all of the other officers had their offices in La Grange. This was the first railroad chartered in the State of Tennessee and the second in the South. The road was afterwards sold to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad Company, and is now a part of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad Company.


5 Dollar Note LaGrange Memphis Railroad

Photo is courtesy of Mr. Paul Greenberg.

 


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