As the railroad wound around the hills and through the dales of rural America in the second half of the 19th century, it gave birth to many small rural trade centers, known today as "railroad towns."
Lewisburg, in northeast Logan County, was one such town -- born in 1872 when the Owensboro and Nashville Railroad -- a division of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad -- surveyed a north-south route running the extent of Logan County.
Following the Civil War and with the first transcontinental railroad in progress, the north Logan citizenry had turned their efforts toward gaining a railroad route that would link them to the rest of the nation -- a nation that was rapidly being truly "united" by various railroad enterprises.
Eventually, the citizenry made their voices heard and, in 1872, a survey was made for a north-south railroad route from Owensboro to Russellville and onto Adairville. At Owensboro were other railroad connections to the north, and at Russellville one could connect with trains to the southwest and northwest.
When the proposed route of the survey bypassed the town of Henrysville by approximately one mile -- due to the hilly terrain and annual rising of the Elk Lick and Wolf Lick creeks from their banks -- the residents hurriedly moved the town to the site of the survey, where business lots were laid out fronting an earthen surfaced street, designated as Front Street. To the other side of the street was a large lot on which would stand the Lewisburg O. and N. Depot.
Work on the first span of the proposed railroad from Owensboro to Russellville began in Owensboro in 1872, and in rapid time the line was completed to Central City.
With two magnificent masonry bridge piers in place for the huge span across the Wolf Lick Creek -- just north of Lewisburg -- and the grading for the 30 miles of track through Logan County nearing completion, Lewisburg businessmen, in their anticipation, erected a private school at Lewisburg, where had been built several stores.
As though to spite the great welcome the town of Lewisburg was prepared to bestow on the first steam engine to come within view, the work on the O. and N. came to a standstill four miles north of Dunmor (another railroad town). Here, the company was stalled by the mammoth Union Ridge in Muhlenberg County, where they were faced with a choice between making a deep cut 700-feet-long and 300-feet deep or digging a twelve-foot high 700-feet-long tunnel. They chose to tunnel.
Because the long tunnel broke into an open space briefly before it again entered the ridge, the area was sometimes referred to as the "big tunnels" and eventually came to be known as Twin Tunnels. Following a period of several years, when all work had stopped on the proposed route, in 1879, work on the tunnel resumed, and much progress was made before the work again was halted.
In the meantime, train service between Owensboro and Central City ran daily and was much in demand, as the businessmen in Logan County borrowed money to pay interest on the railroad bonds in which they had invested and began to worry.
Thus, by 1881, with two churches, a school, a post office, a police judge, three dry goods stores, a drug store, two doctor offices, and a blacksmith shop, Lewisburg was a railroad town waiting for its railroad.
Although the historical 1877 Locke and Hunt map of Logan County's Hardison District depicts a railroad in place, and the 1880 Logan County Census speaks of Lewisburg residents living east of the "the railroad" and those living west of it, there was, in fact, no railroad in sight -- only a railroad bed, which had been graded years earlier.
Finally, in 1882, the Owensboro and Nashville Railroad Company was placed under new management, with R.S. Bevier in charge and the capable Captain Thomas H. McMichael appointed as principal engineer. McMichael had been one of the lead engineers when the first section of track was laid in 1872 and had won the confidence of the area citizenry. The two men made a commitment to complete the O. and N. railroad. By the end of the year, the rails had been laid from Central City to Drakesboro (another railroad town, first known as Ricedale,) bringing the line to within 15 miles north of Lewisburg.
In March of the following year, seemingly overnight, several large crews of workmen began arriving by passenger cars, which women and children in tow. After erecting temporary huts and shanties along the railroad bed at the site of the big tunnels "along the rugged edges of the half-finished cuts and by the steep sides of the rising fills," the men prepared to resume the work which had begun 10 years earlier.
Eventually, the workers would number near 400, and the men cutting and hauling the heavy crossties from north Logan's own hardwood forests would number approximately 200. This time, the work began at Russellville on March 13 and at Drakesboro on the 14. Within five months, the track was completed from Russellville to Lewisburg and a passenger coach and baggage car were put on and run from Russellville to Lewisburg daily, with the engine backing its way on the return trip to Russellville.
The steam-driven engines of this day could run as fast as 20 miles per hour - a tremendous improvement over the average five miles per hour by horseback over dusty roads, so it is most doubtful that any objection whatsoever was given to the ride backwards to Russellville.
The completion of this section of the track allowed the company to begin hauling crossties to the south side of Russellville and begin laying the track from there to Adairville.
By the first of September, the Upton, Johnson and Co. of Louisville, which had been contracted to build an extensive bridge over the Wolf Lick Creek and bottoms, announced they had spanned the creek and were making good progress north toward the big tunnels. Telegraph poles were being distributed and the company announced that by the time the tunnels were finished, the telegraph line would be completed to Russellville. With the completion of the railroad now within sight, the town of Lewisburg began expanding, and a flouring mill was built.
The track between Lewisburg and Russellville was put into place so rapidly that it crossed the Greenville roadway five times. To the north of Lewisburg, however, progress was a different story, where once again, the contractors were experiencing tremendous difficulty with the "big tunnels." Because of frequent cave-ins and the tremendous amount of bracing involved, the work progressed at only five to 10 feet per day -- the walls of the tunnel required bracing every four feet with 12-inch timbers. Then an epidemic of smallpox broke out among the workers and proved difficult to control. New workers arriving immediately left, upon hearing of the disease. When the work did resume, there were more cave ins with one man being killed. The company began having problems getting men to work inside the tunnel, through which would run the final sections of steel railing to connect the towns of Owensboro and Russellville, a total distance of 75 miles.
The Russellville Herald-Enterprise and the Owensboro Messenger & Examiner reported almost weekly on the railroad's progress. Whereby few of the Russellville newspapers have survived, the Owensboro papers for this period are intact and often quote the Russellville paper for information on the progress on that end of the track.
The country between the big tunnels and Russellville was described in the Owensboro paper as "heretofore, almost inaccessible, and yet inhabited by a thrifty, industrious class of people." The Bowling Green Times reported the air of excitement: "The good citizens of Logan County are somewhat wrought up with expectation over the prospects of the O. and N. Railroad. It seems to be generally conceded that the road will be completed. Should this come to pass, there will be great rejoicing throughout the land. For nearly 10 years the over-burdened taxpayers of the county have paid, year after year, taxes to meet the interest on the county's bonds, issued in aid of the construction of this road, and during all that time have hopelessly seen the road bed used as a wagon road, and gradually going to destruction. Yet, like good citizens, they continued to pay." The writer may have added "and hoped and prayed."
Finally, in January of 1884, as the workmen continued to lay track on southward toward Adairville, the company pronounced the railroad from Owensboro to Russellville as completed. At last! Lewisburg and north Logan were connect to the rest of the nation for trade and travel.
With two round trip passenger trains daily from Owensboro to Russellville, the establishing of nearby Diamond Springs as a health resort and the opening of several mines to the north, the town of Lewisburg thrived. Hardwood lumber, railroad ties, and tobacco were the main goods shipped from the depot at Lewisburg; wheat and corn were other good cash crops for the area farmers, but were mostly sold locally, where they were ground into flour and meal and shipped out in that form. Even the housewives found a market in raising turkeys, which were shipped to distant markets by train.
But by the 1930s, the passenger train, which for many years ran two trips north and two south daily, began to lose passengers to the convenience of the automobile.
In February of 1941 -- the eve of World War II -- the passenger train made its final run, as the Greyhound Bus service arrived on the scene. Two daily freight trains continued to offer service to the area until 1978, when, across the nation, the trucking industry replaced many of the once longed-for rail cars. Finally, by the early 1980s, the railroad track at Lewisburg was taken up and the depot taken down. Lewisburg was once again a railroad town without a railroad.
But the Louisville and Nashville Railroad had served the town well for 100 years. The train not only broadened markets for the Lewisburg citizenry, it furnished transportation to and from the town, and, in many cases, provided the only available means for young people to continue their educations from the various one-room elementary neighborhood schools to the high school at Lewisburg.
Young couples particularly enjoyed the convenience of travel into Tennessee, where they could purchase a marriage license and legally marry in one day, as opposed to in-state, where there was a three day waiting period. Toward the end of the Victorian era, it became popular for a wedding couple to invite friends to enjoy the train ride into Tennessee, act as witnesses to the marriage and enjoy a picnic luncheon under a shade tree, before boarding the train home and announce the marriage.
The train also made available industry to provide jobs for area citizenry. For example, the equipment and products to build the huge power plant at Paradise, where many local citizens have found excellent employment, was mostly brought in by rail, during the 1950s.
And today, Logan Aluminum, the world's most modern rolling mill which located approximately four miles south of Lewisburg in 1980, bringing many good jobs to the area, makes use of several miles of the historic O. and N. railroad daily.