The Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railway received its charter in 1870 to begin construction on a narrow gauge rail line extending from Fayetteville to "a point near Johnsonville", in Tennessee. Construction began in Columbia, and headed southerly towards Fayetteville. By the spring of 1877, the line from Columbia to Lewisburg offered reliable transportation between the neighboring cities.
Construction continued on a southeasterly path at a fast pace, and reached the sleepy little town of Petersburg in 1879. The goal of the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railroad was to complete this line all the way into Fayetteville, where it would connect with the standard gauge line operated by the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry (NC&StL). While the Duck River Valley RR had been successful at maintaining and operating this line, funds for the final expansion into Fayetteville started to dry up.
In the fall of '79, the decision was made to lease the line to NC&StL, injecting much-needed resources into the project. The construction slowed down quite a bit during this period, and work actually stopped for a year in the fall of 1880. The line to Fayetteville was finally completed in 1882, and for five years the line was owned by the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge RR, but was serviced and maintained by NC&StL.
In 1888, the NC&StL Ry purchased the entire line from the Duck River Valley NGRR. In an effort to better service the area, an improvement project began to convert the entire 48 mile spur from the narrow gauge track to standard width. Not only would this increase the capacity of the line, but it would eliminate the need to transfer the narrow gauge loads onto the standard gauge equipment in Fayetteville.
By early 1889, 100% of the line was standardized and was renamed the Columbia spur of the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad. In its heyday, this line offered two daily round-trip trains from Fayetteville to Columbia on all days except Sunday. Trains would make the 47.4 mile journey in as little as 2 hours.
The line continued operation for more than seventy years, carrying goods and passengers to and from the heart of Tennessee. This spur was very successful, but competing technologies would soon cut into the demand for rail service along this route. In 1945, the line connecting Columbia to Lewisburg ceased operation and the line was abandoned. By the end of 1961, the rest of the line from Lewisburg to Fayetteville would meet the same fate.
What once was the backbone of this area now has become a faint memory. A few of the portions of the original track are still in use as spurs in Columbia and Lewisburg, but the majority of the line was either converted into rural roadways, or left to be overtaken by the elements.
At mile post 86 (and the end of the line for the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railroad), stands the Columbia Depot. Columbia offered this depot, a stock pen, a siding, a turntable and a coal platform. Columbia also had many industry spurs nearby, and many of them are still visible today. Built in 1905 by both The NC&StL and the L&N, this station served as a rail hub for this city for about 60 years.
Columbia's Union Station (also known as the Columbia Railway Depot) serviced as the terminus for the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railroad / Nashville Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway, and also serviced the Louisville and Nashville (L&N). A "Union Station" typically earned this name when the station and trackage is used by more than one company.
A few years ago there was talk about relocating this station to St. Louis. While it would be great to see this place back in operating condition, I feel it would be a huge loss to the community. Fortunately, it seems that the deal never materialized and it was recently purchased by a local company. Some improvements have been made to the structure, but there is still a long way to go.
Rankin is at mile post 83.75, and is at an elevation of 689'. Due to its close proximity to Columbia, there wasn't much demand in the form of facilities at this location. A cinder platform was the only thing offered.
Midvale (Blue Cut)
Blue Cut was an area a few miles southeast of Columbia, at mile post 81.80. It is half a mile south of the Goose Creek Bridge (the one-lane bridge at the rock quarry), which once carried the rail across the small creek. The area was renamed Midvale at some point after the line was well established, and shows up on a few of the NC&StL schedules as "Midvale (formerly Blue Cut)". The only facility that Blue Cut/Midvale offered was a cinder platform.
Fountain Creek Bridge
In 1876, the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railroad finished construction on this bridge to extend the line to the east from Columbia. The bridge was constructed with timber over the floodplain portion, and a steel span supported by stone abutments carried the rail over Fountain creek. The steel portion of the bridge was removed a few years after the line was abandoned.
Hill was (and still is) a quiet little area that offered a stop along the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge railroad. Located at mile post 79.4, Hill had a depot, a siding and is at an elevation of 614 feet above sea level.
People coming to Hill would travel across Silver Creek on the old bridge near this area, which is still in use after all of these years. The railbed once occupied the location that New Cut / Blue Springs road now does, and this "straight stretch" next to Silver creek is where the main line and the siding ran parallel. Along with the bridge, there are also two box culverts along this stretch to the east of the bridge that shows stone work from the late 1800's.
This area is known as Park Station, and was a popular stop along the Duck River Valley Narrow gauge / Columbia spur of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis railroad.
The Park Station depot was located at mile post 76.75, and was at an elevation of 663 feet above sea level. Along with the depot, this stop offered 1 siding and a water tank. This area also included a store, which was located behind and across what is now Rick Hight road from the depot. Park Station saw quite a bit of traffic back in the day, even though it was extremely rural (population of 11 people in 1910).
While the Depot is almost completely destroyed, you can easily create a mental picture of what it was like in 1890. Bryant Station is located at mile post 74.95, at an altitude of 685 feet, and offered a depot and one siding.
Bryant was a pretty popular area back in the day, even though the area only had a population of 18 in 1910. A quarter of a mile north of the crossing at Bryant Station was Bryant School. A lot of activity around the school and at the station meant that the road at the crossing was the "main drag" of Bryant.
At approximately the center of highway was the Silver Creek stop on the Duck River Valley Narrow gauge / Columbia spur of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis railroad.
Officially, Silver Creek's depot was at mile post 73.8 and offered one siding and one section house. The section house provided shelter for off duty railroad workers, and was likely positioned just north of where highway 50 is today. I have found no remnants of the section house (likely lost during construction of the highway).
Silver Creek served as a flag stop along this line, where the train only stopped on a signal (either by whistle or flag). This allowed the train to service passengers in this low-demand area as needed, avoiding unnecessary stops. If there was no signal the train would simply pass by at full speed, or only slow partially depending on the amount of traffic at the junction.
South Berlin was a very busy stop on the Duck River Valley line, and was used to load and unload both freight and passengers. At mile post 71.5, South Berlin offered a Box Car depot and one siding. The siding was useful at this location as it allowed one train to be loaded with lumber and other time-consuming items, while allowing other trains to pass on the main line.
Ewing was a road crossing in the country, a couple of miles outside of Lewisburg. Located at mile post 69.1, this stop had no facilities at all. This was simply a flag stop halfway between the L&N crossing in Lewisburg, and the depot in South Berlin. This stop is not mentioned in most of the printed train schedules and saw very little use commercially.
This is the location of the L&N Depot (now destroyed) that serviced the nearby L&N line (now CSX, running north and south).
The DRV line crossed the L&N track, and was controlled by a simple set of iron gates. The L&N Depot was also used as a stop for this line.
Lewisburg was a major stop along this line, and provided a Depot (formally at this location), three sidings, a stock pen, a turntable and several industry spurs. All of the lines remain in the City of Lewisburg, and are used occasionally as spurs for the nearby active CSX line.
Just to the north of Belfast is Orr's Crossing. Just like today, there wasn't too much going on around here 100 years ago. This area (known as Orr) was basically just a spot on the map where there was a road crossing. This area could have been used as a flag stop if needed, but I suspect that was rarely ever the case. It is interesting at the amount of work that was needed to navigate this stretch of track. With the gradual hills and large amounts of limestone outcroppings, the line snaked back and forth through the area to avoid excessive labor.
Belfast was one of the main stops along the Duck River Valley line, and the depot represents the best preserved piece of history from that period.
The depot sits at mile post 61.15, and was accompanied by one siding and a spur. It is a board and batten Victorian that was built in the 1870's, and has not changed very much over its lifetime. In 1984, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
At 931' in elevation, Blackwell crossing is one of the highest points along this line. The elevation here is 102' higher than Belfast (829') to the north, and 126' higher than Talley (805') to the south. Trains traveling in either direction were usually glad to see this crossing, as it meant that the long climb was finally over. There were no facilities at Blackwell, but the crossing could be used as a flag stop if needed.
At mile post 56.30, Talley offered the only siding between Petersburg and Belfast and saw a great deal of activity throughout the history of this line. At an elevation of 805 feet, Talley offered north-bound trains one last opportunity to prepare the equipment for the climb that was to come. 2.7 miles north of Talley is Blackwell hill (cresting at ~ mile post 59), which is at an approximate elevation of 930 feet.
At mile post 54.30 sat the crossing known as "Dahney's" - There were no facilities here. Positioned in-between Petersburg and Talley, this small community was the home to a few residents, a church - and during the later years of the line, a food plant (north of the crossing).
You might not recognize it today, but Petersburg was once a major railroad town serviced by the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railroad. The depot (formally located where this marker is) was officially at mile post 52.40, and offered a section house, two sidings, a large stock pen and a water tank.
Until the line was finally completed to Fayetteville, this stop was the "end of the line". Back at that time, the No. 2 engine was operated by a local man named Lou Dancy who parked the engine at his home at the end of each day.
As the line weaves its way south from Columbia, it dodges several small creeks and streams along the way. Just south of Petersburg, the line crossed the Cane Creek via the Cane Creek Bridge. The abutments and pier are still present.
Location of a former spur
At just about the half-way point between Fayetteville and Petersburg was the community of Howell. With a population of 42 in 1910, Howell was considered to be one of the "main stops" along this route. With a Depot, siding and stock pen, Howell had quite a bit of activity for such a small area.
Harris was another flag stop, located just north of Fayetteville. From the north, the line runs parallel with US431 until a point near this location. From here, the line continues on a southeasterly path, while the highway veers more to the south.
The actual line can be seen crossing Round Square Lane (the road intersecting with US431) a few yards east of 431.
Fayetteville (Elk Cotton mills)
The Elk Cotton Mills (Elk Yarn Mills) sits at mile post 40.1, and was one of the leading industries serviced by this line. Construction on this facility began in 1900, and was positioned at this location to increase freight efficiency with the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge rail line. This factory was in operation for more than 90 years, but manufacturing came to an end in 1997. Now the building sits partially empty, but still in great shape.
Fayetteville was a major railroad center in the late 1800's, and this location was the southern terminus of the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge railroad. This marker is at the center of the Fayetteville "Wye" where three lines intersected. To the north was the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge line, to the west was the Winchester & Alabama line and to the south the Decatur, Chesapeake & New Orleans. The Wye at this location was also used to head around trains for return trips.
The passenger station at Fayetteville was likely the busiest in southern Middle Tennessee. Lumber mills, stockyards, and grain were the main commodities - along with a large amount of "human stock" heading in all directions. The break in gauge at Fayetteville meant that all cargo on the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge line had to be transferred from the narrow gauge equipment onto the standard gauge by hand. This was extremely labor-intensive, and was the main justification for the standardization of the line in the 1880's.
In 1890, there were lines going in four directions from this location. The weakest line (and first to be abandoned) was The Decatur, Chesapeake and New Orleans Railway that traveled northeast to Booneville, and south to the Tennessee/Alabama state line. To the East was the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry into Decherd (originally the Winchester & Alabama - then the Memphis & Charleston before the takeover by the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry in 1877). Finally, to the north was the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry (recently purchased from the Duck River Valley Narrow Gauge Railroad) that connected with the L&N in Columbia.
Thanks to Tony Mowell for contributing information about this route.