Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




The Elora-Huntsville Railroad

by Bob Baudendistel

During the summer of 1886, parties interested in the new Huntsville Railroad were confident that they could raise the required $40,000 subscription. By September of that year, the money had been secured, and hope was that the construction would soon begin with the new railroad to Huntsville. Several key prospectors from the area formed a local committee at Huntsville. Their efforts were intended to stimulate more trade and economic boost for Huntsville and Madison County. Headed by Milton Humes, they traveled to Nashville to help with the money subscriptions. On October 9, 1886, the Board of Directors of Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad Company met in Nashville. Representing their controlling interest in the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis (NC&StL) Railroad Company, they voted unanimously in favor of any action taken by the NC&StL to begin with the construction of a rail line leading from Elora, Tennessee to Huntsville, Alabama. L&N President John W. Thomas called a special meeting with the NC&StL Board of Directors to make final arrangements in reference to the matter. Once all subscription balances were paid and the final deed descriptions were entered into the Madison County probate records, construction was permitted on Huntsville’s new connection to Nashville.

Work efforts were soon underway with at least 500 hired hands. The goal was to push the workers hard in an effort to reach an earlier then expected completion date with the construction of the railroad. Some of the names of the families and landowners who bargained, sold, and conveyed the lands required to build the railroad included Petty, Steele, Yarbrough, Fanning, Bostick, Stewart, Douglas, Hawk, Davis, Nuchols, Mastin, Penny, Kelly, Chapman, O’Shaughnessy, and many more. Many of these individuals were prospectors of the plan to help Huntsville prosper and as the Huntsville Gazette put it, “not be left in the dust”. By February 5, 1887, all deeds and legal descriptions to the property from all of the required landowners were sent to the office of probate records at the county courthouse to be entered in the deed record books. The county court clerk was being hit with bundles of these deed records, and soon, more help would be needed for them to make quick work with the entries. This same date, word was that the contractors, Holmes and Davis, were already concentrating their work forces at Elora, where a construction train brought in the required dump carts, live stock, picks, shovels, and excavators from up in Nashville. Dirt would soon be flying as work was finally underway with Huntsville’s new gateway to wealth.

The newly completed railroad would operate under the ownership and management of the NC&StL Railroad Company. This “Huntsville Branch” operation of NC&StL was highly successful for the railroad. The branch operation started out of Decherd, Tennessee stemming from the NC&StL Mainline track. The branch operation ran along much of what was once the Winchester and Alabama (W&A) Railroad. This railroad had previously been built out of Decherd, Tennessee in 1852, through the county seat of Winchester, and then to Elora. The original plan was for this W&A rail line to be built to reach Huntsville, but a lack of funding forced the money-strickened railroad to detour the line instead over to Fayetteville. The W&A was later ripped apart during the course of the civil war. Following the war, the State of Tennessee foreclosed on the W&A rail line. It was not until 1877 that the NC&StL bought the W&A Railroad from the state, and soon after, Huntsville would finally see its connection.

In route from Elora to Huntsville, the path of the railroad followed very much of the same route as you can travel over today along Winchester Road. Several flag stops and stations were located along the rail line between Elora and Huntsville. These included Steele Crossing, Plevna, New Market, Fanning Crossing, Deposit, Bell Factory, Mercury, Chase, Normal, and finally Huntsville. The railroad crossed over many of the larger creeks and rivers. The original trestle over the Flint River was built using wooden trusses and cut stone piers. This structure was soon replaced with additional concrete piers and open-deck steel girders. During the construction of the rail line, a temporary junction with the Memphis and Charleston (M&C) Railroad (today’s Norfolk Southern) was built at what would later become known as Chase. This point was referred to as the “Fearn” Switch, and marked the very first junction of two major railroads in the history of Huntsville and Madison County. Once the construction of the NC&StL was completed the remaining distance into Huntsville, the Fearn Switch was removed. The arrival point at Huntsville along The NC&StL formed a junction with the M&C. The NC&StL railroad came in around a curve located behind the current location of the former Dilworth Lumber Company building on Church Street. Part of the same track is still visible today, and is presently being used to store maintenance-of-way equipment.

During the 1950’s, the entire NC&StL rail system was transitioned to operate under the full name, ownership and management of the L&N. By 1985, CSX Transportation Inc. had controlling interest. The last revenue train to run over the line from Elora to Huntsville was in 1985. Five miles of this rail line have been restored by volunteers with The North Alabama Railroad Museum (NARM), a chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS). The Madison County Water Authority owns a remaining large portion of the property and roadbed running through the northeastern sections of the county. The museum operates a train excursion out of Chase over the restored 5 miles of track that it owns. The headquarters for the museum is located at the Chase Depot, which was built to serve as a union depot with both the M&C and NC&StL. For museum schedules and ticket information, call (256) 851-6276, or visit the web site


Other Huntsville Information: Elora | Hobbs Island | Old RR Bed

Further information on today's Huntsville Depot can be found here.


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