The La Grange Railroad Museum was formed by the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) IRS tax-exempt organization.
This started as a vision of Robert (Bob) C. Widman, Sr. as (and others) early as the mid to late 1990s. His vision for this museum too many hours of research, contemplation, and contacts throughout the community to move forward.
The acquisition of the outside train cars was a more significant challenge than could be written here. The current outside cars consist of a Steam Engine, 1929 Dining Car, L & N Caboose, and a train-yard jitney. The estimated value of all the outside display units is between 500,000 and 1,000,00 dollars. So, as small historical museums are concerned, this museum enjoys significant value even before taking into account the interior historical artifacts.
Interurban ushered in a new era
for Oldham County commuters
La Grange, Buckner train depots
were busy stops on route
By Helen E. McKinney
LA GRANGE, Ky. (January 2003) – In its heyday, the Interurban Railway brought convenience to Oldham County by providing a fast, safe mode of transportation. Its dramatic impact was felt all across the county at the turn of the 20th century.
The interurban electric railway typically drew its power from overhead wire. Unpowered trailer cars were often used, making a two-car train.
The Interurban ferried passengers from Louisville to La Grange and other towns. Below are the La Grange train depot (right) and the Buckner train depot (left).
Percival Moore was a wealthy Anchorage, Ky., resident who instituted an electric railway line that began service on Nov. 18, 1901, traveling to Beard’s Station in Crestwood. Known as the Louisville, Anchorage and Pewee Valley Electric Railroad, this new method of transportation took residents of Oldham County to and from Louisville in one day.
“It was just a blessing,” said Oldham County resident Jim Calvert, who has always been fascinated by trains. “It was fast, and warm in the winter.”
By 1903, the line was reorganized, now under the control of the Louisville and Eastern Railway Company (L&E). In an era when the only other way to travel was by horse and buggy over unpaved, dusty roads, the interurban was a luxury to those who used it.
Calvert, 80, remembers riding the interurban to Camp Kavanaugh when he was a boy. “A round trip ticket to Louisville cost 60 cents. It meant a lot to Oldham County,” he said.
In competition with the L&E, a second interurban company, The Louisville and Interurban Railroad (L&I), opened its first interurban line east to Jeffersontown in 1904. The L&I was owned by the Louisville Traction Co., a holding company that also owned the Louisville Railway Co.
Interurban tracks continued to stretch across Oldham County as the county embraced this new concept. A new line was opened northeast to Prospect the same year by electrifying a Louisville & Nashville steam railroad branch.
The L&E interurban line to La Grange was completed by 1906. According to the History and Families of Oldham County, Ky: The First Century, 1824-1924,” it had “established itself as a quick and convenient way for people to travel between Louisville and La Grange, which just a few years earlier, would have been impossible to imagine.”
The idea of the interurban had trickled down from the larger cities to the suburbs. Cars usually had a two-man crew, the motorman and conductor. If a trailer was used, a second conductor was added.
Calvert said it was great for dairy farmers and their wives. It was now possible for the farmer’s wife to go to town, do her shopping, and still arrive home in time to fix dinner. The interurban could travel at speeds of “65 to 80 mph on the long runs such as Louisville to La Grange,” said Jack Diehl. Diehl has researched the interurban and written a column about it for the Division 8 National Model Railroad Association. In the city, they averaged 15-20 mph, said train enthusiast Charles Keeling of Louisville.
Keeling, 86, also rode the interurban, a ride that he compared to, “A rolling barn-with wheels on it.”
For the most part, the ride was smooth, and the cars were fast, said Diehl. His mother, Sylvia Vatter, lived in Louisville around 1918. Now 93, he said she remembered riding the interurban on its Jeffersontown line.
The ride was “smooth because they were heavy in comparison to other types of vehicles. They were fast because the trains were short and the locomotives were electric and accelerated much faster than steam engines.”
The interurban was not just a passenger electric train. Some lines also provided freight and cattle services.
Farmers could ship milk to Louisville creameries more quickly. If taken by regular train, there was no method of refrigeration and the milk would often heat as the railroad cars were being switched out.
Calvert said the La Grange line was easy to build. There were no major bridges to construct, as occurred within some of the seven routes that branched out from the downtown Louisville terminal at Third and Jefferson streets to points in Jefferson, Oldham and Shelby counties, as well as Jeffersonville and New Albany, Ind.
Five of these routes were the Prospect line, the Shelbyville and La Grange line, the Fern Creek and Jeffersontown line, the Okolona line, and the Orell line. Stops were made every hour on each route in such towns as Harrod’s Creek, Glenview, Glenarm, Anita Springs, Eastwood, Buechel, Valley Station and Pleasure Ridge.
There were also suburban lines running from the downtown Louisville terminal over the Big Four bridge to Jeffersonville and over the K&I bridge to New Albany. These routes had been arranged between the Louisville & Southern Indiana Traction Co. and the Big Four steam railroad.
One of the earliest passenger specials was a Sunday trip labeled, “Meet The Steamer,” in which a resident of Seymour, Ind., or points south could take the interurban to Louisville to board one of two steamers, City of Cincinnati or City of Louisville. The combined cost of this enjoyable scenic river cruise and interurban ticket was only $1.75.
Most interurban routes passed through serene countryside en route to the bigger, bustling cities like Louisville and New Albany, Ind. Calvert said that Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, remarked that traveling the interurban to and from work each day was “the most peaceful time of day for him.”
“The interurban had a quick rise, and a slow decline,” said Calvert. By 1935, the La Grange route was defunct, the Depression having taken its toll on America. The advent of the automobile slowly contributed to its demise, as many workers carpooled.
Bus lines eventually began operating in competition with streetcars and the interurban railway routes. This was perhaps the biggest detriment to the success of the interurban, as many lines were phased out and replaced by such companies as the Chaudoin Bus Line. This line replaced the La Grange interurban route.
Interest in light rail travel may rise again with the completion of the Interurban Greenways Trail. The nonprofit Greenways for Oldham County have chosen to institute a walking and bike trail along the original route of the interurban railway.
It will run from the La Grange train depot to Pewee Valley, a distance of roughly 10-13 miles. Greenways president Judy Hall said the interurban route was chosen because it represented “the history of the railroad itself. We thought it was a golden opportunity.”
Phase I of this project is scheduled for completion in late spring of 2003, said Hall. The trail will eventually be part of the county parks system.
1889 - First electric streetcar line in Louisville opened on Green St., now Liberty St.
1901 - Electrification of streetcar lines completed 1901. The Crescent Hill Mule Car Line was the system's last mule operation.
1901 - Louisville & Eastern Railroad opens the first interurban railway in the area, extending northeast to Crestwood.
1904 - Louisville & Interurban Railroad opens its first interurban line, east to Jeffersontown. Louisville & Interurban Railroad was owned by Louisville Traction Co., a holding company that also owned Louisville Railway Co.
1904 - Line also opened northeast to Prospect by electrifying a Louisville & Nashville steam railroad branch former Louisville Harrods Creek and Westport Railway. This would be the only 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge interurban line in the Louisville area, with broad gauge on all other electric railways in the area.
1905 - Louisville & Interurban Railroad opens interurban line southeast to Okolona.
1907 - Louisville & Eastern Railroad completes interurban line beyond Crestwood to La Grange. Louisville & Interurban Railroad opens interurban line southwest to Orell.
1908 - Louisville & Interurban Railroad opens interurban line southeast to Fern Creek.
1910 - Louisville & Eastern Railroad opens interurban line east to Shelbyville.
1911 - Louisville & Interurban Railroad acquires Louisville & Eastern Railroad.
1923 - Louisville Railway Co. forms subsidiary Kentucky Carriers Inc., which operates first bus route in Louisville on 3rd St. This route was not successful and would be discontinued within a few months. Additional bus routes were created that year, which would be more successful.
1927 - People's Transit Co. begins operating bus routes on Broadway in competition with streetcars but is soon ordered to cease operating. Additional new bus routes were created, operated directly by Louisville Railway Co. Also, Virgil Pierce begins operating a bus route on Preston St. to Camp Taylor, competing with the interurban railway route, which operated south to Okolona.
1928 - Kentucky Carriers bus routes transferred to Louisville Railway Co., with Kentucky Carriers subsidiary remaining only as a charter bus operator.
1931 - Interurban line to Okolona abandoned, with Virgil Pierce bus route remaining to provide local service.
1932 - Interurban line to Jeffersontown abandoned. Blue Motor Coach Co. formed, providing replacement bus service.
1933 - Interurban line to Fern Creek abandoned, replaced with bus service operated by Blue Motor Coach Co. Bus service operated into downtown Louisville, not carrying local passengers within the city.
1934 - Interurban line to Shelbyville abandoned, with no direct bus replacement. Southeastern Greyhound Lines already provided service along this route, on its route between Louisville and Lexington.
1935 - Interurban line to La Grange abandoned, replacement bus service operated by Chaudoin Bus Lines. The interurban line to Prospect abandoned, replaced with the Paxton Bus Line route. After World War II, Paxton Bus Line would be succeeded by Goebel's Bus Line, and later Prospect Bus Line. The interurban line to Orell also abandoned, replaced with the Louisville Railway Co. bus route. Virgil Pierce bus line sold to Blue Motor Coach Co.
1936 - Walnut becomes the first trolleybus route in Louisville.
1938 - Newberg Bus Line begins operation, serving Newberg and Buechel areas southeast of downtown Louisville. The line would later be sold to Buechel Bus Co., which would later extend service to General Electric's appliance factory, completed in 1951.
1945 - Chaudoin Bus Lines sold to Kentucky Bus Lines.
1948 - Last streetcars replaced with buses Louisville Railway ended all streetcar service on the 4th Avenue Queen Loop route Derby Day
1948 - Blue Motor Coach Co. introduces service between Louisville and Middletown, over objections of Southeastern Greyhound Lines, already serving Middletown along its route between Louisville and Lexington.
1951 - its trolleybuses ceased service on Market Street, Walnut, and Fourth Street following the expiration of a power agreement with Louisville Gas and Electric and Louisville Railway Company.
1951 - Louisville Railway Co. sold to Louisville Transit Co. Blue Motor Coach Co. discontinues the Middletown bus route after a court battle, leaving Southeastern Greyhound Lines as the only provider service along this route.
1953 - Louisville Transit Co. assumes Middletown service from Southeastern Greyhound Lines after service proved inadequate and unprofitable for Greyhound. The Middletown route was formed by extending its St. Matthews Express bus route.
1958 - Louisville Transit Co. acquires Buechel Bus Co.
1972 - Louisville Transit Co. acquires Kentucky Bus Lines routes.
1974 - Louisville Transit Co. becomes publicly owned Transit Authority of River City. Discontinues service to Lagrange and Shepherdsville
1976 - Transit Authority of River City acquires Blue Motor Coach Co.
1977 - Transit Authority of River City acquires Prospect Bus Line.
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad was born March 5, 1850, when it was granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Kentucky “...to build a railroad between Louisville, Kentucky, and the Tennessee state line in the direction of Nashville." On December 4, 1851, the Tennessee General Assembly's act authorized the company to extend its road from the Tennessee state line to Nashville. Laying of track began at Ninth Street and Broadway in Louisville in May of 1853. By 1855, the founding fathers of the L&N, most of them Louisville citizens, had raised nearly $3 million to finance the construction. The first train to operate over the railroad ran on August 25, 1855, when some 300 people traveled eight miles from Louisville at a speed of 15 mph!
A little more than four years later, on October 27, 1859, the first train operated all the way from Louisville to Nashville, joining the two namesake cities. For all practical purposes, the 187-mile railroad was complete. Scheduled trains began running a few days later, and except for war, fire, and several floods, they have been running ever since. The total cost of this original construction was $7,221,204.91.
By the time the Civil War began in 1861, the L&N had 269 miles of track. Located almost in the middle of the opposing armies, the L&N at various times served both the Union and the Confederacy as the tides of war changed. Although the railroad suffered considerable damage during the war years, it emerged in surprisingly good financial condition. It was so well off, in fact, that at the close of the war, the L&N began expanding. Within a period of 30 years, through construction and acquisition of existing short railroads, the L&N extended its tracks to St. Louis in Missouri, Cincinnati in Ohio, Birmingham, and Mobile in Alabama, Pensacola in Florida, and New Orleans in Louisiana.
Memphis, Tennessee, was reached shortly after the close of the Civil War. By 1872, the L&N had obtained sufficient track in Tennessee and Alabama to begin running trains between Louisville and Montgomery, Alabama. The acquisition of two smaller railroads, which made the route possible, also helped to create Birmingham. The vast deposits of iron and coal in the vicinity played important roles in the city's formation, and the first commercial steel produced there was financed in part by the L&N.
It is appropriate here to mention L&N President Milton H. Smith, who served in that capacity for nearly 40 years, longer than any other chief executive. Smith went to work for the railroad as a local freight agent in Louisville, just after the Civil War. Within three years, he had advanced to general freight agent, eventually becoming vice president and traffic manager, and finally president in the 1880s. Under Smith, the L&N grew from a small local carrier into America's major railroad systems.
The railroad's entrance into the Gulf of Mexico ports came in 1881. A 140-mile rail line, including roughly nine miles of trestles and bridges, linked Mobile with New Orleans, but there was little contact with the outside world until the L&N extended its tracks to Mobile and then acquired the line into New Orleans. This acquisition enabled the railroad to extend its sphere of influence to international markets for agricultural products and goods manufactured in major cities along the L&N.
In 1881, the L&N began extending its Lebanon Branch (in Kentucky) across the Tennessee state line to Jellico. In 1891, a line was extended to Norton, Virginia, and another to Atlanta, Georgia. Between 1879 and 1881, through the purchase of track in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and Illinois, the L&N gained access to Western Kentucky's coalfields. In 1883, the L&N completed a 170-mile rail link from Pensacola to Chattahoochee, Florida. In all, 56 railroads were acquired, leased, or constructed during the 1880s and 1890s, as the L&N system began to take its final form.
One of the L&N's most important expansions came early in the 1900s when the railroad pushed its tracks deep into Hazard and Harlan's coalfields in eastern Kentucky. Acquisition in 1909 of two smaller lines and construction in 1911 and 1912 of more than 150 miles of track along the Cumberland River and the North Fork of the Kentucky River gave the L&N access to the landlocked bituminous coal riches of eastern Kentucky. In the preceding decades, the L&N built additional rail lines in eastern Kentucky, but in western Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, to help develop new coal production points.
The L&N and other railroads were called on to move unprecedented numbers of passengers and freight amounts during World War II. More than 90 percent of the nation's military equipment and supplies and 97 percent of all its troops rolled by rail to military bases and ports of embarkation. With dozens of online training camps and defense plants, L&N traffic soared, with 80 percent in freight traffic and more than 300 percent in passenger traffic. And yet, it is successful in handling those increases performed with comparatively little addition to power, rolling stock, or personnel. During World War II, some 6,900 L&N employees were furloughed to the armed forces.
The postwar years brought swift, striking changes to railroading, as the L&N, which purchased its first diesel in 1939, retired its last steam locomotive in 1957. The L&N introduced streamlined passenger service with the advent of The Humming Bird and The. Georgian, and gradually updated the equipment on such passenger trains as The Pan- American, The Piedmont Limited, The Crescent, The Azalean, The Dixie Flyer, The Flamingo, and The Southland. Other innovations included pushbutton electronic classification freight yards at major cities, computers, telecommunications, microwave transmission, hundreds of miles of continuously-welded rail, new signaling and centralized traffic dispatching systems, and thousands of special-purpose freight cars.
The first major expansion following World War II occurred in 1957 when the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, a subsidiary, was merged into the company. The NC&StL, some 1,200 miles long, connected Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.
In 1969, the L&N acquired a portion of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad between Evansville, Indiana, and Chicago, permitting it to enter that important midwestern rail center. That same year, a 131-mile segment of the Tennessee Central Railroad between Nashville and Crossville, Tennessee was purchased. In 1971, the 573-mile Monon Railroad was merged into the L&N system. It connected Louisville with Chicago and provided a valuable second entry into the Great Lakes area. By the end of 1971, the L&N operated more than 6,574 miles of track in 13 states.
L&N had 7 Divisions
1. Louisville Division 2. Corbin division
3. Atlanta Division 4. Mobile Division
5. Birmingham Division 6. Nashville Division
7. Evansville Division
However, during that year, the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, which had owned 35 percent of the L&N's stock for many years, bought the remainder of the outstanding shares. The L&N became the wholly-owned subsidiary of Seaboard Coast Line Industries. On December 31, 1982, the corporate entity known as the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company was officially merged into the Seaboard System Railroad, ending the L&N's 132-year existence under a single name. The Seaboard System quickly lost its own corporate identity as it and the Chessie System became CSX Transportation in 1986.
The name may now be gone, but thousands of miles of trackage still exist today, serving America's transportation needs under a different banner. They remain a tribute to one of the nation's premier railroads, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company.
This 1929 dining Car #2723 was one of the original 22, 36-seat dining cars built from 1921 to 1930, by American Car & Foundry in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The railcar is 83 feet long and weighs 183,000 pounds. Unlike the newer welded design, this heavyweight design was riveted. Dining cars built in this manner are easy to spot by the large rivets along the outside of the car.
In the 1920s, each fully stocked L&N dining car represented a sizeable investment of over $250,000. In 2020 dollars, that investment would be just shy of 4 million dollars.
This L&N diner was originally in service on the Pan American between Cincinnati and Memphis and had a complete kitchen. The kitchen remains as originally installed but is not currently operational.
The tables were set with heavy china, real silver, crystal, and linen. The food was the best the railroad could provide. Each dining car was stocked with approximately 1,000 napkins and 325 tablecloths.
The L&N dining car experience was known for its specialty of Old Hickory-Smoked Country Ham with red-eye gravy and grits, Seafood Platter and Seafood Gumbo, and passengers often stated that eating on a train was a wonderful experience.
With careful planning and utilization of personnel and equipment, more than two million meals were served on the L&N dining cars during WWII.
It is believed the original name of this car was The St. Louis Hotel, having been named for a famous hotel in New Orleans. The dining car was eventually converted to work-train service in the mid-1970s, being used for rail workers at major railroad construction projects and derailment sites.
Having worked for the L&N/CSX Railroad for many years, Prospect, Ky., residents Lynn and Bob Jones were always interested in anything about railroads. As a result of their love, they purchased this Dining Car. At some point, they changed the car's name from St. Louis Hotel to Strike the Gold after a Kentucky Derby winner in 1991. They used the car for entertainment purposes and initiated a major restoration of the car in 1991. It was during this restoration that the seating configuration was changed from 36 to 43 seats.
In 2011, the 1929 Dining Car was generously donated to the La Grange Railroad Museum by Bob & Lynn Jones of Prospect, Kentucky. We are incredibly grateful to Bob & Lynn Jones for their amazing gift.
The La Grange Railroad Museum is operated by the La Grange Railroad Museum Foundation, Inc.(formerly the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation), which was incorporated in 2006, as a 501(c)(3) corporation to promote and preserve the history of railroads and railroading in the Ohio Valley.
The La Grange Railroad Museum Steam Engine MEAFORD #2 was constructed by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorne in 1951-1952.
7745 worked shunting coal at the Meaford Power Station (pronounced MEFFORD) located on the River Trent near Stone in Staffordshire, England. It operated there from 1952 until 1970 when a diesel-powered engine replaced it.
Original Picture provided by Gerald Worland
Engine 7745 was then sold and sold and moved to the Boyne City Railroad in Grand Falls, Michigan.
Boyne City Railroad
Starting in 1935, the Boyne City Railroad operated 7.2 miles of track between Boyne City and Boyne Falls. It was always an independent railroad. At peak operations, they had 13 locomotives and 180 employees. The operation ended in 1978, the line was abandoned in 1982.
The Flying Duchess was sold and moved to the Tennessee Railway Museum in the early 1980s. During its stay at the Tennessee Railway Museum in Chattanooga, it was used in passenger museum operations for two to three years.
In 2000, the locomotive was sold first to Indiana and later to a scrap yard in Louisville, Ky. Some of the history and exact time-line are not entirely clear. But, for an extensive period of time, the engine was in a state of disrepair and neglect while resting in a weed-infested mess. Pictures of this time in its life are very telling in comparison to its current-day condition.
The engine sat in the mercer transportation yard for over 10 years and came dangerously close to being cut up for scrap.
Engine 7745 moved to La Grange on August 23, 2011.
The unloading of the 80-ton engine was quite a spectacle in La Grange.
The engine sits 20 feet from the CSX rails that run in the middle of Main Street in the business district.
After arrival, the engine was painted in a flat black.
In 2018, it was painted in its current colors by a team of craftsmen
at the reformatory in La Grange.
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In the past 106 years, the museum building has remained virtually unchanged from its original footprint.
Our visitors can locate a portion of one of the original passenger platforms at the building's original location. If you wish to see that platform, look on the track-side behind the 1929 Louisville & Nashville Dining Car and L&N Caboose.
The La Grange Railroad Museum building was originally built in 1914 about 100 feet from its current position. The drawing to the right is from the original drawings of the building.
The side-doors of the museum at each end of the building where passengers entered. Those end-doors and the track-side front door from the GENERAL WAITING ROOM no longer exist. The manual vent windows found over the remaining doors are still installed in the locations where the doors once stood.
The original building did not sit on a foundation. There were stairs on the back-side of the building that went to a lower furnace room below the COLORED WAITING ROOM. In 1992, when the building was moved about 100 feet to its current location, it was placed on a full basement with an additional two bathrooms, thus bringing the total bathroom count to six.
Sometime after the move, the largest bathroom in the GENERAL WAITING ROOM was converted to a kitchenette. In addition to the bathroom conversion, a set of stairs was installed, the LADIES WAITING ROOM providing access to the new lower level.
The museum building's lower level is devoted to model railroading for "older" and young kids alike.
The largest room's main display is for older kids, as it is the newer DCC system and associated controls.
If you were to place your train on the tracks and then make a complete circuit of the layout, your train would have traveled over 400 feet. Most "BIG" kids do not have a display this large.
The "kids" room features an 8 X 14-foot layout with three separate train track systems. This display's under the support system is being reconstructed for stability and safety. There will be 3 separate control stations for kids to operate trains on the conventional DC powered tracks when complete.
Also, there are two Thomas The Train type play tables for our 2-3-4-5-year-old visitors. Just a warning, once the little ones start playing there, it is a challenge to get them out any time soon.