Tennessee Central Railroad

The Tennessee Central Railroad was an important late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century competitor to the dominant Louisville and Nashville (L&N) and Southern Railway systems in Tennessee. Nashville capitalist and former Memphis and Charleston Railroad president Jere Baxter organized the line in 1893 to link, first, Nashville to Knoxville, crossing the Cumberland Plateau and tapping rich resources of coal and timber. Despite initial financial setbacks during the Depression of 1893-94, Baxter’s work crews completed this first section by 1898.

Baxter then turned his attention to a western extension which would connect Nashville to Memphis. Executives at both the Southern and the L&N did everything within their corporate and political power to impede Baxter’s progress. For example, the L&N denied the Tennessee Central terminal access to the new Union Station under construction in Nashville. The Southern also built a new, exclusive terminal in Knoxville. Legal maneuvers cost Baxter additional time and money as he sought public support and funding for the western branch. Then, in 1904, Baxter died at the age of fifty-four; his dream of an independent railroad was over.

In 1905 the Tennessee Central leased its eastern section to the Southern Railway and its incomplete western branch to the Illinois Central, which was primarily interested in having a connection to Clarksville. L&N officials undermined these arrangements by building a huge concrete and brick warehouse named Cummins Station near the Nashville Union Station in order to draw business away from the Tennessee Central line and associated warehouses in Nashville. Within three years, in 1908 both the Southern and Illinois Central ended their arrangements with the Tennessee Central.

The Tennessee Central still was a formidable presence in the communities of the Cumberland Plateau, reshaping urban development in Cookeville and Crossville while creating new towns such as Baxter in Putnam County. But with the loss of freight and passenger business from Nashville and Memphis, the line could not sustain itself based primarily on products and passengers from the Plateau. In 1912 it was in receivership. Ten years later, the company was reorganized and remained a freight carrier until it ceased operation in 1968.

Suggested Reading

Don H. Doyle, Nashville in the New South, 1880-1930 (1985)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Tennessee Central Railroad
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018