The 24-mile Perryville Branch of the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway was a segment of a proposed trunkline that would extend from Memphis through Jackson, Perryville, Centerville, Nashville, on to Knoxville. It was built by the Tennessee Midland Railway Company, an organization which was incorporated December 29, 1886.
During 1888 and 1889, the TM constructed 135.6 miles of track, connecting Memphis with Perryville on the west bank of the Tennessee River, and some grading was done beyond Perryville in the direction of Nashville. The building of the railroad in Henderson County was promoted by Judge W. W. Murray of Huntingdon and Josial Petterson of Memphis. Henderson subscribed the sum of $75,000 to aid in the construction. With the completion of the route, trains started operating without a break in schedule between Memphis and Perryville.
In the meantime another line of rail, that of the Paducah, Tennessee & Alabama Railroad, was under construction. As was often the case with railroads of this period, both the TM and the PT&A went into receivership, and between November 1, 1893, and December 14, 1895, they were operated by W.L. Huse and John Overton Jr. as receivers. On the latter date, both railroads were sold at foreclosure and purchased by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
Thus, with the acquisition of the Tennessee Midland, and the Paducah, Tennessee & Alabama, the L&N had a continuous line of track from Paducah, Kentucky, to Memphis, with a branch from Lexington to Perryville. With such an alignment, the latter branch became removed from consideration as an eventual part of mainline trackage.
Almost immediately, these newly acquired properties were leased for 99 years to the L&N-controlled Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway. Before the days of improved roads and automobiles, the trains on the Branch made connections at Perryville with numerous mail and freight boats. Perryville was an important point of interchange for heavy tonnage of freight and passengers to and from river landings up and down the Tennessee River. In the early days of the Branch, there was considerable movement of timber and milled lumber, cotton, cottonseed, poultry and other farm products. Virtually all of the manufactured articles required by people of the area come in by rail.
The Perryville Branch was responsible for a number of towns springing up along its line in Henderson and Decatur counties. Among them, Warren’s Bluff, Chesterfield, Darden, Beacon, Parsons, and of course, Perryville, the terminus. Chesterfield was named in honor of Lord Chesterfield. Darden was named for Miles Darden, who was said to be the world’s largest man, weighing about 1,000 pounds!
Beacon was named for the Decatur County Beacon which was established and edited by W.V. Berry. Parsons, the largest community on the line as well as the largest in Decatur County, was named for the Parsons family; and Perryville was named for Perry County.
A well-patronized passenger train was known to some as the “Hot Shot”, and to others as the “Cannonball”, and its mail-baggage car and two coaches were usually filled with traffic. An important revenue item was the train’s headend (mail and express) business.
Numbers 230 and 233 ran daily; 231 and 232 daily except Sundays. All of these trains made good connections at Lexington with those of the Paducah-Memphis line. But with the coming of the gasoline highway vehicle, attrition of this service set in. By 1930, the service consisted of a single trip of a mixed train, daily except Sunday.
At Lexington there was a continuous train order station, standard clock, bulletin board, and registering station. There was a water tank and train order station (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at Parsons. At Perryville three was an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. train order station. Passenger trains were limited to 30 miles per hour, and mixed and freight trains to 25 miles per hour.
Typical of similar branch lines was the decline of the Perryville segment. Freight traffic included 645 cars handled on the branch in 1931; in 1935, the number was 389, many of which contained low revenue items. Net operating deficits were rung up for every year between 1931 and 1935, ranging from $45,337 to $20,631. Passenger revenues were $907 in 1931; $526 in 1935.
On February 10, 1936, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, owner, and the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, lessee, applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the 24.14-mile Branch. Protests were filed, hearings were held, and on September 14 of the same year, the requested permission was granted, effective 30 days later.
Actual operation of the Branch ended on October 31. The last run of the mixed train was overflowing with passengers wanting to enjoy their last opportunity to ride the Branch. The final train crew on the Perryville Branch consisted of P.H. Dentson, passenger conductor; W.H. Hodges and W.M. Garvey, brakemen; W.H. Lindenfield, engineer; A.R. Attaway, freight conductor; and U.G. Hearne, baggage man. All were transferred to the NC&StL’s main line.
Abandonment of the Branch, while a blow to communities along the line, was tempered somewhat by the presence of a new paved highway (No. 20) and the Alvin C. York Bridge across the Tennessee River at Perryville, which was opened to traffic July 5, 1931, thus providing truck and automobile outlets to both Nashville and Memphis.
The country surrounding Perryville Branch was hilly, and, as to be expected, 10.84 miles of the 24-mile line were on curves, the maximum curvature being in the neighborhood of 5°. There were 21 trestle structures, only three of which were of modern construction.
From the book Ghost Railroads of Tennessee (Indianapolis: Vane A. Jones Co., 1975)