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




Old Railroad Bed Road

by Bob Baudendistel

The Decatur, Chesapeake & New Orleans (DC&NO) Railway Company was founded on July 20, 1887. The plan was to construct a rail line from Decatur, Alabama running in a northeast direction passing through Fayetteville and then on the reach Gallatin. Approximately 17 miles of the proposed route would be built through the north and western sections of Madison County. Only 25% of the total project was ever completed, and turned out to be rather short lived.

Early promoters of the rail line worked to raise money through stock subscriptions. Dr. G.C. Sandusky was elected as director for the railroad. $200,000 was then raised with money paid out by the City of Shelbyville, Tennessee and through other private subscriptions. An additional $150,000 was later subscribed by Lincoln County, but with the condition that rail service would operate over the line within two years, or by September 10, 1889. Despite this condition, the construction and grade work for the new railroad did not start up until June 6, 1889. Work was done very quickly and eagerly to beat the deadline and the resulting roadbed fell into a state of disrepair soon thereafter. The lack of any initial service from the rail line was partly due to its poor condition and caused the company to default on subscription balances which it now owed interest. This resulted in a foreclosure followed by an order from the State of Tennessee to sell off the line. No bids were immediately declared, so a second attempt was made to auction the rail line in two segments, one in Tennessee and the other in Alabama.

On January 2, 1893, the entire DC&NO Railroad was finally sold for the price of $100,000. Mr. J. Edward Simons headed the group that bought the property and assets. The rail line was re-incorporated under the new name of The Middle Tennessee & Alabama (MT&A) Railroad. To many, this name seemed more appropriate than the original. The construction of the rail line on the stretch between Fayetteville and Shelbyville was nearly completed during original work efforts, but several bridges and trestles over major creeks and rivers were deemed unsafe for rail movement. In 1897, construction efforts ceased along this section of the line, leaving only the part that ran southwest of Fayetteville and into Madison County, Alabama. This operation would stem from a Fayetteville rail yard along the existing Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis (NC&StL) Railroad branch line that came over from Elora and Decherd.

Efforts to rebuild the MT&A railroad from Fayetteville into Madison County were fairly successful. Under the direction of Mr. James Rodes, the Cumberland Construction Company out of Fayetteville succeeded in getting the rail line in operable condition. The first bale of cotton was shipped successfully over the railroad on September 17, 1896. Soon after, regularly scheduled mixed trains were running out of Fayetteville approximately 27.4 miles south to reach Madison Crossroads (Toney), Alabama. Despite the renowned success, the MT&A fared no better financially than the DC&NO. The MT&A defaulted on the interest of two bonds, and soon after, the rail line was sold once again.

On May 5, 1897, Mr. Joseph Dickson of St. Louis, Missouri purchased the 27.4 mile rail line and assets for a price of $150,000. On October 13, 1897, Dickson sold the rail line to the NC&StL for a sizable profit. Following this purchase, NC&StL had to temporarily suspend the rail operations from Fayetteville to Madison Cross Roads in order to make the needed repairs. The original goal of connecting with the Memphis and Charleston Railroad at the Decatur Junction never materialized. This may have been partly due to the fact that the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad was now the majority stock holder of the NC&StL. Since the L&N Railroad already had a mainline rail connection to Decatur from Nashville, the need for another north-south rail corridor was quickly dismissed.

NC&StL did extend the former MT&A another 10 miles south of Madison Cross Roads to reach the community of Capshaw. This terminal point marked the end of the line and was only about 15 miles short of reaching Decatur. For quite some time, the passenger service along the line was operated only as far south as the community of Harvest. Later, passenger service was continued along the remaining 6 miles to Capshaw. Freight deliveries included cotton, timber, corn, hay, livestock, and nursery stock. Passenger service was often scheduled to help serve many of the nearby schools, primarily those around Fayetteville.

Due to the use of lighter weight rail, light ballast, and several weak bridges, only the smallest locomotives could be used along the rail line. This limited the total tonnage of freight that could be safely handled. Upon departure from the station and yard in Fayetteville, the rail line had numerous curves as it generally followed the path of the Elk River before crossing over using a through-truss bridge. From here, the line followed a tributary of the river to reach the community of Cold Water. Just south of here, the train would encounter a 2% grade for a distance of approximately 3 miles before reaching a summit at the community of Taft. Upon entering Madison County, Alabama shortly thereafter, the rail line was fairly level and straight with very few curves along the remainder of the way to Capshaw.

Stations and flag stops along the railroad from Fayetteville to Capshaw included: Harmes, Tillman, De Ford, Sumner, Hobbs, Cold Water, Blanche, Taft, Akers, Elkwood, Bobo, Ready, Madison Cross Roads (Toney), Harvest (Jeff), Coalton, Clark, and finally Capshaw. Some of the busier and more populated communities along the railroad featured a typical NC&StL depot with an agent’s office, freight rooms, and passenger waiting areas. Many of the stops however were only marked by the use of carbodies (stationary rail cars) that acted as a temporary makeshift depot.

The 1920s brought about a sharp decline in the number of passengers and total freight tonnage. The timber industry had quickly exhausted its resources, leaving only smaller loads of cotton, hay, livestock, and other agricultural commodities to be shipped. The advent of paved roads allowed over-the-road transport to gain an even larger share of the transportation market. As a result, on July 21, 1928, NC&StL applied with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to discontinue rail service along the former MT&A railroad including all 37 miles from Fayetteville to Capshaw. By March 8, 1929, the ICC granted permission. It was then on April 20, 1929 that the last train to use the rail line rolled into Fayetteville bringing with it all of the rolling stock and other equipment that was used along the line.

The short-lived history of the MT&A Railroad is an example of a railroad branch line operation that simply had no place to go. With little business and industry along the line, any long-term success would have only been possible with more track-miles, better connections with the other rail lines, and more commerce. On April 20, 1929, the NC&StL Railroad Company sold the property and roadbed running through Madison County to the County Highway Department with a quitclaim deed. Today, the roadbed is marked as a two-lane roadway that continues to serve as a vital link in the modern day-to-day transportation network, and carries the seemingly appropriate name “Old Railroad Bed Road”.

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

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


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