Visiting small Tennessee museums

By April 19, 2019 Features

By Thomas Dyrek

Over spring break in 2017 my family and I took a trip to Tennessee to visit Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and other places. We stopped at several small museums along the way.

Clarksville Depot
Clarksville, TN, which is home to several historic sites including the famous Clarksville Depot. The town was established in 1784. Train service started in 1859 with the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad, a predecessor to the Louisville & Nashville. The L&N constructed a fancy wood frame depot in downtown Clarksville in 1881, and it remained in service for the next 87 years.

Throughout the 1900s, Clarksville was the site of several fatal train wrecks. A 1906 wreck happened as a result of failure to obey a red signal. An L&N passenger train fell off an open lift bridge into the Cumberland River, killing the engine crew and several passengers. In 1947, a similar scenario occurred when a local freight plunged into the river, again killing the engine crew. In 1951, the L&N’s famous Pan-American passenger train smashed head-on into a local killing six crewmen and completely destroying both locomotives.

Despite these tragedies, the Clarksville depot and the railroad itself continued to be a major part of the community. The depot gained its fame in 1965 when The Monkees released their hit song, “Take the Last Train to Clarksville” following the discontinuance of the Pan-American. Passenger service at Clarksville continued until 1968 and the depot was subsequently closed.

For the next 28 years the depot fell into disrepair and became an eyesore. In 1996, the Montgomery County Historical Society was able to acquire the depot and restore it for the Tennessee Bicentennial celebration and has since developed it into a nice museum that tells the story of the railroad presence in Clarksville.

The Clarksville Depot Museum features several displays of local railroad artifacts. Outside is former RJ Corman GP30R number 3501 and an Illinois Central steam era caboose.

The 3501 began life in October of 1963 as Southern GP30 number 2641. At an unknown date, the engine was wrecked and rebuilt into a GP30R using a GP35 shell. It became Norfolk Southern 2641 after the 1982 merger and was later sold to RJ Corman who donated it to the Clarksville Depot Museum in 1996. Before being donated, RJC removed all of the internals for reuse on other locomotives. Today the engine is in decent cosmetic condition but the interior has been completely gutted.

Behind the 3501 is an Illinois Central steam era caboose of the 99XX series. The caboose’s number is unknown. Today it’s painted red to match the locomotive but is not lettered or numbered for any railroad.

Maintained by members of the Montgomery County Historical Society, the Depot is a great little museum with plenty of things to keep a railfan busy for a couple hours. For more information, go to http://www.mchsociety.org/Sub-Pages/Hist-TrainStation.html. The museum is open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9 AM to 1 PM or by appointment and the equipment display is available for viewing 24/7.

Everyday, RJ Corman operates their Clarksville Turn local between Guthrie, KY and Clarksville over the old L&N to serve various industries. While the tracks are still used, one can’t help but think of the song that made Clarksville famous.

Casey Jones Museum

A little over two hours from Clarksville is the town of Jackson, located in west-central Tennessee. Jackson is home to two railroad oriented museums, the more notable of the two being the Casey Jones Museum.

On the night of April 30, 1900, one of the most famous train wrecks in American history occurred near Vaughn, MS. Southbound Illinois Central train number 1, the Cannonball Express, collided with the rear end of a stopped freight train. Casey Jones was the engineer. His train, headed up by 4-6-0 number 382, hit a torpedo and passed a brakeman flagging down the train at 80 miles an hour. Casey told his fireman to jump, and brought the train down to a slow enough speed that there were no deaths in the passenger cars. Casey, however, was killed on impact and was the only fatality.

Shortly after Casey’s death, Eddie Newton wrote a song about him, which quickly became famous and other artists made their own versions and recordings. Casey Jones’ popularity continued to grow and he remains well known today. A museum inside of a replica depot and the original house where Casey and his wife lived at the time of his death was opened in Jackson.

The museum has many indoor exhibits about Casey Jones, the Illinois Central, and other railroad related things in Tennessee.

Casey’s house was restored to its original appearance and is set up on the inside to resemble a typical house from the turn of the century.

The Casey Jones house.

Outside, several pieces of full scale railroad equipment are on display including ex-Clinchfield 4-6-0 number 99, painted as the IC 382.

Built by Baldwin in 1905, Clinchfield 99 is slightly smaller than the real 382. The real 382 was built by Rogers in 1898, just two years before the wreck at Vaughn. In addition to the Vaughn wreck, the 382 was involved in other derailments, several of which were also fatal. A January 1903 wreck caused by criminals destroying a section of track killed the fireman and severely injured the engineer. In 1912, the 382 (renumbered to 2012) was involved in the infamous wreck at Kinmundy, IL, which claimed the lives of four railroad employees.

Despite suffering several wrecks in its service life, the 382 was returned to service after each one and stayed on the IC roster until early 1935. Not yet realizing the historic significance of the locomotive, it was scrapped in July of that year, but not without one final accident. On the way to be torched, the engine derailed for the last time and killed one person.

The Clinchfield 99 was acquired by the Casey Jones Museum in 1956 and was painted as IC 382 by the GM&O at their shops in Jackson. Today, it remains on static display at the museum and visitors are allowed to go inside of the cab and ring the bell.

Behind the “382” is a former Mobile & Ohio RPO, painted as IC 51, and IC side door caboose number 9764.

Jackson was also served by the M&O, later the GM&O. Outside in the museum parking lot is former GM&O lightweight sleeper car “Judge Milton Brown,” built by Pullman in 1948 and named to honor the man who supposedly brought the railroad to the City of Jackson.

The Casey Jones Museum is definitely worth visiting if you’re in Jackson. In addition to the museum, a small “village” has been built nearby and resembles a 19th Century downtown area. There are several stores offering a variety of products. The museum is open seven days a week, from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday-Saturday and 1-5 PM on Sunday.

For more information, go to https://www.caseyjones.com/museum/.

Jackson NC&StL depot

Across town from the Casey Jones Museum is Jackson’s historic Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis depot, which has been restored to its as-built appearance and currently houses a small railroad museum.

The handsome Jackson depot opened for business in the spring of 1907. Constructed of brick and decorative stone, the station served Jackson for six decades before closing in 1967.

After getting off the train, passengers could head over to a hotel across the street or go to nearby Lancaster Park, one of the biggest attractions in the region. Lancaster Park had beautiful gardens, sport fields, swimming holes, zoo and fairgrounds. Several accounts state that the depot’s impressive architecture was designed specifically to attract visitors to the park.

Throughout its years of service with the railroad, the Jackson depot, like so many others of the time, went through a lot. Several accidents occurred here including one instance where a railroad employee was killed after saving a civilian who was stuck on the tracks.

During both World Wars, the station was one of the busiest in the area for soldiers who were leaving or coming home. During WWI, an eastbound train carrying troops off to basic training left Jackson and was involved in a head-on collision near Nashville, killing several people who boarded in Jackson. The depot has been visited by two U. S. Presidents as well. One of Teddy Roosevelt’s “whistle stop” campaign trains paused here for a speech in 1912. Thirty years later, Franklin Roosevelt passed by on an overnight military train traveling from Memphis to Jackson.

After WWII, the NC&StL’s passenger train business began to decline. Several passenger trains were discontinued and the railroad was taken over completely by the Lousiville & Nashville in 1957. The depot continued to serve L&N trains until passenger service was discontinued in 1967. For the next few years, the aging structure was used as a bus terminal. By 1975, the bus company had moved out and the Jackson depot would remain vacant for the next 20 years.

In 1994, local railfans talked the city into purchasing the depot and restoring it to its 1907 appearance for use as a museum dedicated to local railroad history. The museum opened later that year, and in 1995, an impressive HO scale layout resembling Jackson as it appeared in the 1950s was built in the baggage room of the depot.

The layout features several operating trains and animated scenes that are operated by a button on the outside of the layout that visitors can push. Some of the other displays are tools from the GM&O shops in Jackson, old photographs of trains in the area, antique railroad documents, and some of the original depot hardware.

In 2003, a tornado caused significant damage to the depot, but before long, the museum had started to repair the structure. The layout was among the items damaged and was rebuilt by Eagle Scouts.

Outside of the depot are three pieces of rolling stock which have been cosmetically restored both inside and out. Perhaps the most interesting is former Florida East Coast dining car number 1447, the “Fort Matanza” (Pullman, 1947). This car was later owned by Amtrak until 2005 when it was acquired by the museum and placed on display. The museum is currently in the process of returning the car to its original 1947 appearance.

Coupled to the 1447 is former Chessie System caboose number 3255, originally built for the C&O as number 903255.

Also on display is ex-Southern bay window caboose number 421.

The Jackson Depot Museum is a small but elaborate museum that any railfan or history buff should visit while in the area. The depot is open year-round on Monday through Saturday from 10:00 to 3:00. For more information, go to http://www.jacksonrecandparks.com/leagues/custom_page.cfm?clientid=3046&leagueid=0&pageid=1112.

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