March/April, 2019 Froe Chips, Greg Tucker, Rutherford County Historian
The Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad (N&C) was chartered on December 11, 1845, for the sole purpose of building and operating a rail link between the two namesake cities. Right-of-way acquisition and construction began immediately using Irish immigrant and contract slave labor.
In December 1850 the first locomotive was delivered to the Nashville port by steamboat along with thirteen freight and one passenger rail cars. In the spring of 1851 the N&C became the first railroad operating in Tennessee. Rail service extended from Nashville to Antioch (11 miles). By the end of 1852 the railroad was servicing Rutherford County with stations at LaVergne, Smyrna, Florence, Murfreesboro, Christiana and Fosterville.
According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture (THS 1998), p. 767, Smyrna was among a number of new towns established by the railroad to service the trains and encourage local commerce. “These new towns offered a new spatial town alignment with the railroad depot as the central point. The traditional town square pattern gave way to businesses located parallel to the railroad tracks, or perpendicular from the depot.”
In 1854 the N&C construction reached its Chattanooga terminus. There it connected with the Western & Atlantic Railroad giving Middle Tennessee commerce access to the Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA ports.
During the Civil War, the N&C system supplied both sides, depending on who controlled what section of track and rolling stock. As the federal army advanced, N&C rails and trestles were favorite targets of Confederate raiders. The command under Confederate General Joseph Wheeler kept Yankee workmen busy daily repairing rails and bridges in Middle Tennessee.
After the war, the N&C added a station at Cemetery, a community established by the occupying military for the freedmen families that were working on the national cemetery at the Stones River battlefield. Another station was added in 1869 to serve what was then the Tennessee State Fairgrounds on the Shelbyville turnpike. In addition to the stations, the railroad added several Rutherford County water stops in communities like Rucker (between Murfreesboro and Christiana).
The N&C in 1873 purchased several smaller railroads in Tennessee and Kentucky and connected with Hickman KY, a modest Mississippi River port. To emphasize its interstate reach, and with only a modicum of exaggeration, the N&C was renamed the Nashville, Chattanooga & St.Louis Railroad (NC&StL). With this expansion, the NC&StL became a troublesome competitor for the larger Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N).
A secret stock purchase in 1880 gave the L&N control of the NC&StL, but the resentment over the deal prompted the L&N management to leave the NC&StL operating as a separate entity under the familiar NC&StL identity. The Louisville management, however, controlled on major decisions such as route expansion, senior level promotions and profit distribution. In 1887 the company demolished the original Murfreesboro station and built a “modern” facility that still stands today on West Main Street.
Railroad consolidation continued into the 20th century, and in 1902 the L&N was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL). These new owners also decided that both the L&N and the NC&StL should continue to operate independently under their respective names. The NC&StL finally disappeared in 1957 when it was merged into the L&N. Twenty-five years later (1982) the L&N became part of The Seaboard System (“The Family Lines”) which became CSX in 1986.
L&N passenger service through Murfreesboro ended in the early 1970’s and colorful southern train names—Dixie Flyer, Dixie Flagler and the Dixieland—became nostalgic memories. For several years ending in 1979, the government-run system (“Amtrak”) an the “Floridian” through Middle Tennessee, but Murfreesboro was not a scheduled stop.