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
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 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”.