Friday, May 23, 2014

Railroad Depots and a Luxury Rail Car…

It’s time for a change of pace.  I haven’t posted any railroad related blogs in some time.  Railroads and railroading were a couple of the topics that I’d originally planned to focus on…but to photograph depots and railroad equipment we would need to visit new locations.  While we’ve taken a couple of trips, most visits have been to areas that we’d covered before...hence very few new railroad related photos to post.

However, Laurie did take a few photos of an interesting rail car while we were in Palm Beach Florida…and we’ve taken a few photos of existing old time depots here in Knoxville Tennessee.  

The Louisville and Nashville Station is a former rail passenger station in Knoxville.  Like most old time depots, it’s located in the downtown area of the city.  The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, both for its architecture and its role in Knoxville’s transportation history.

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad completed a rail line running from Cincinnati to Atlanta in the early 1900s.  The company's Knoxville station was the city's largest it was considered by some the "finest" along the entire route.  It served as a passenger station until the railroad ceased passenger train service to Knoxville in 1968.  The building continued to house the company’s offices until 1975.  This L and N passenger station is referred to in several scenes in author James Agee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ‘A Death in the Family’.

The tracks that originally served this classic depot used to extend from the rail yard up to the rear of the building.  At this point in time, the tracks, rail yard and train sheds are long gone…

When the depot was operational, the main floor consisted of waiting rooms in the west wing, a dining room in the northeast corner tower, and a kitchen, lunch counter, and baggage areas in the south wing.  The waiting rooms included a general waiting room, a ladies' waiting room, (with a private entrance and an entrance from the general waiting room), on the northwest corner, and a "colored" waiting room on the southwest corner.  The colored waiting room, a relic of segregation, had a separate entrance. The second and third stories were used by Louisville and Nashville for offices and workspaces. 

The Louisville and Nashville Depot’s most recognizable feature is this tower topped by a pitched, clay-tiled roof with decorated dormers.  A smaller tower rises at the end of the west wing, giving the building its chateau-like appearance. A wrap-around veranda allows access to the main floor on the south side of the building. The north side of the west wing originally included frosted glass doors and glazed transoms, which have been restored.

The building has been refurbished and repurposed on several occasions since the railroad vacated the station in 1975.  It remained vacant following Louisville and Nashville’s departure until it was purchased by an investor in 1980.  In 1982, the station was renovated for use in Knoxville’s 1982 World's Fair.   Two restaurants were located in lower floors of the building, while the second floor offices were converted into meeting rooms for the fair's VIPs.

After 1985, 2 companies used the building as office space and for special events.  A restaurant that had suffered serious damage in a fire operated in the station from 2002 – 2004.  In 2010 Knox County remodeled the interior of the old depot so a magnet high school could take over the facility.  This STEM school (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) opened in August 2011 with 180 students.

This is the old Louisville and Nashville Freight Depot at 203 West Jackson in Knoxville’s ‘Old City’ area.  The one-story 20-bay brick freight depot was originally constructed ca. 1870.  In the late 1990s, this building was extensively renovated by its current occupant…

You’re right!  This classic building has nothing to do with railroading…but it is special!  Sullivan's Saloon, located at 100 E. Jackson in Knoxville's Old City, is a two-story Romanesque Revival building with some Queen Anne touches. 

The building was constructed by saloonkeeper Patrick Sullivan (1841–1925) in 1888.  Sullivan opened his saloon near the railyard just after the Civil War.  The building housed the saloon until 1907, when it was forced to close due to citywide Prohibition. Then the building was the home of “Patrick Sullivan's Steakhouse and Saloon” from 1988 to 2011.  Unfortunately Sullivan’s is now sitting empty… The building has been called the "best extant example of a downtown saloon in the southeastern United States”.

The Southern Railway Terminal is a former railway complex located at 306 West Depot Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The complex, which includes a passenger terminal and express depot adjacent to a large rail yard, was built in 1903 by the Southern Railway.  In 1985, the terminal complex, along with several dozen warehouses and storefronts in the adjacent ‘Old City’ and vicinity, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Southern Terminal and Warehouse Historic District.  The building originally included a clock tower.  However it was removed in 1945, apparently due to structural problems.

During the 1850s, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad and its predecessor lines, changed Knoxville from a small river town with a population of just over 2,000 people to one of the Southeast's major wholesaling centers.  Dozens of large warehouses were built along Jackson Avenue and adjacent streets, where small town merchants from across East Tennessee would purchase goods and supplies to resell at rural general stores.  In 1894, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad was absorbed by the Southern Railway.  Then, in 1982, Southern was absorbed by the Norfolk Southern Railway.

At its peak, the Southern Railway Terminal was servicing 26 passenger trains daily!  With improved roads and the rise of automobile, passenger rail service declined.  After World War II, the Southern was operating 8 expresses and 12 local lines out of Knoxville.  By 1956, the local lines were gone and then most of the expresses were eliminated by the late 1960s.  The last regularly scheduled passenger train left the Southern Terminal in August of 1970.
The railroad rolling stock along the passenger boarding platform above belongs to the Old Smoky Railway Museum…

This smaller but equally spectacular structure is located right next to the Southern Railway’s Passenger Depot.  Both buildings were designed in the Classical Revival Style…with this structure being completed in 1907, 4 years after the passenger terminal was operating. 

The passenger terminal building is now used for office space and special events…such as the Winter Farmer’s Markets.  The express or freight depot is used as a meeting or event venue by a local caterer.

This is another view of the rolling stock owned by the Old Smoky Railway Museum.  These rail cars do provide a look of nostalgic authenticity to the Southern Railway Passenger Depot.  The Old Smoky Railroad Museum is a small museum with the actual display of railroad ephemera located in an RPO (Railway Post Office Car).  In addition to the RPO, several other historic railway cars and cabooses are on site.  Another plus is the fact that the depot and the Museum are right next to an active Norfolk Southern freight yard.

Club meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at 7PM in one of the rail cars on site.  To learn more about the Old Smoky Mountain Railway Museum, go to

Note: An RPO was a railroad car that was normally operated with passenger trains as a means to sort mail en route in order to speed delivery.  Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, many American railroads earned substantial revenues through contracts with the U.S. Post Office for carrying mail aboard high-speed passenger trains.  In fact, a number of companies maintained passenger routes where the financial losses from moving people were more than offset by the profits from transporting the mail.

Back to our winter break in Florida for just a moment… This is Henry Morrison Flagler’s private railcar.  It’s on display at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach Florida.  It’s protected from the weather as its on display in the museum’s new 8,100 square foot Pavilion.  This facility is adjacent to Whitehall, Flagler’s mansion which looks out over the Intracoastal Waterway. 

To learn about Whitehall and its Pavilion, see my previous posting regarding the Flagler Museum at for Monday, May 19, 2014.

Flagler's private railcar, Railcar No. 91, was built in 1886 by the Jackson and Sharp Company of Wilmington, Delaware.  The railcar was one of two private railcars that Flagler used to survey his railroad empire. Flagler traveled in this railcar back in 1912 along the Over-Sea Railroad over the Florida Keys in order to celebrate the completion of the Florida East Coast Railway all the way to Key West…a phenomenal engineering feat.

A newspaper article written at the time of its delivery to Flagler heralded this railcar as "A Palace on Wheels" and went on to praise the car's fine appointments such as its oak paneling and desk. The railcar was one of two private railcars Flagler used to survey his railroad empire.

Henry Flagler died in 1913.  In 1935, the Florida East Coast Railway sold Flagler's private railcar to the Georgia Northern Railroad and it was renamed the ‘Moultrie’.  By 1949 the Railcar had been sold again and was being used as housing for migrant farm workers in Virginia.  The Flagler Museum acquired Railcar No. 91 in 1959.

Henry Flagler’s private railcar has now been restored to its original appearance using documentation from the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian, the Delaware State Archives, and the Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware.  Visitors to the Flagler Museum and the Pavilion are able to tour Railcar No. 91's salon, master bedroom, master bathroom, guest quarters, and kitchen…all which are restored to their original splendor.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. What a wonderful array of lovely old rail stations. Henry Flagler's car is especially impressive. I like to imagine the fashions of the time and dresses the ladies wore on trains.

    In 1905 my grandfather rode the railroad to the end of the line to a dusty town in Arkansas, hired a hack and went in search of where he wanted to open his jewelry store in south Arkansas - so railroad stations have a special meaning for me.

  2. I ate in the L&N when it was a restaurant but never saw it as a RR station. We took an excursion ride from the Southern Depot several years ago. Thanks for the revisit and history.

  3. The 203 West Jackson Avenue Freight Depot was built ca. 1890 by either the East Tennessee Virginia & Georgia Railroad or the Southern Railway, not the L&N whose Freight Depot is adjacent to its Passenger Depot you show here.