In the News
Paper Tells Columbia Depot History
Introduction by Jill Garrett article by Russ Musgrove
From The Daily Herald July 4, 1982
Introduction by Jill Garrett
When you are interested in the past, many nice things come your way.
The most recent one is a limited publication, a class anthology, entitled “Glimpses of History from Maury and Neighboring Counties.” It was compiled by the American history students of Lewis E Moore Jr., professor of science at CSCC.,
He asked his class to choose a topic pertaining to their county’s past and gave them “a wide range of subjects – a building, a street, a family, a church, a cemetery, a community, a business.”
He wrote in the introduction to the study: “There is a wealth of local historical data available which, if collected, may enrich students’ understandings of the immediate world around them.”
A copy of this anthology has been given to The Daily Herald with permission to use.
As the fate of the Columbia depot is up in the air, we will lead off with the article by Russ Musgrove on this once important part of the county’s history.
By Russ Musgrove
The Columbia Train Depot, and the trains associated with it, have made a definite change in Maury County history.
The Columbia Train Depot, and the trains associated with it, have made a definite change in Maury County history. The depot was originally called Union Station. The depot was the center of attention in the heyday of train travel. The commercial airlines and the superhighways have made passenger train service obsolete.
The depot is located in the Southwestern section of Columbia. Originally the depot was located on the outskirts of Columbia, but the town soon grew “to” the train depot.
The building is made of Bowling Green stone with a slate roof and has two stories, an attic, and at one time sported a shed for unloading passenger trains. The interior was grand for its time. The sinks in the restrooms are made of marble. The floors in the three waiting rooms are made of tiles arranged in patterns of contrasting colors. The one inch square tiles were hand laid.
The first floor contains the general waiting room, a negro waiting room, a ladies’ room, ticket office, express room, baggage room, and numerous toilets. The second floor was originally built as office space, but has been used as a private residence by Miss Elizabeth Gilbert and her family. Her father was the caretaker of the depot. Today the second floor is used for storage.
The first steps toward acquiring a new depot for Columbia were taken in February of 1902 by Major W. F. Whitthorne and John P. McGraw. Whitthorne and McGraw, both Columbia businessmen, persuaded the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to build a new depot and began buying the needed property. On March 3, 1902, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen met and discussed the proposal. The estimated cost was $75,000 and was not to cost the city more than $10,000. On June 24, 1902, work began on the depot which was then estimated to cost $200,000 but at no extra cost to the city. The extra cost was attributed to a new machine shop and a change in building materials.
Many grade crossing problems existed before 1902 and part of the budget went toward correcting them. Underpasses were built on several streets and a pedestrian underpass was built under the tracks. The underpass became known as the “rat-hole.”
William Howard Taft was at the depot in 1910, as was President Andrew Johnson some years before.
Life around the depot was very exciting. People from Columbia came to the depot on Sunday evenings to watch the passengers come and go. Several murders took place across the street at the Dimple Hotel. The hotel was known for drinking, brawling, and prostitution. On September 17, 1903, a man was mysteriously run over by a locomotive.
Many famous people came through Columbia by train. William Howard Taft was at the depot in 1910, as was President Andrew Johnson some years before. General Pershing, Buffalo Bill, and William Jennings Bryant also visited the depot at various times.
Another side of life at the depot was the hobos. A hobo is not a tramp. Hobos travel on trains and tramps travel on foot. The gobos would crawl under the train cars and travel from town to town as they pleased. There was a “hobo jungle” located at the “Y,” which was the stretch of track used for turning the trains around. The Central Lime and Cement Company is presently located there.
It is impossible to study the depot without studying the trains and the railroads running to and from Columbia. The Louisville and Nashville and the Louisville, Nashville and St. Louis were the main railroads running through Columbia. The first reported train to Columbia arrived on June 16, 1859.
Mail service and a Railway Express service operated in the railroad’s boom years. Mail could be sorted en route from town-to-town and dropped off at the depot. The Railway Express handled parcel service just as the United Parcel Service does today.
Most passenger service trains were pulled by steam locomotive, but in 1941 L&N bought their first diesel and by 1956 the last steamer had made its final trip. Diesel engines were faster and more efficient than the steam powered engines. By this time the railroads of America were declining. The last passenger train to run to Columbia was on December 7, 1954.
The end of a great era had come. Columbia and its depot were a part of that era, and the trains shaped many lives. As one long time employee of the Louisville and Nashville put it, “Back then, every boy wanted to grow up and be a railroader.”
Editors Note: Sources for Russ Musgrove’s paper include a 1902 Herald article, personal interviews with Jill Garrett and Elizabeth Gilbert, a 1972 “History of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad,” and the “Century Review of Maury County, 1807-1907.”
HillHistoricProperties.com exists to showcase the rich architecture and history in Columbia, Tennessee through highlighting properties owned by David and Debra Hill. Each property has gone through extensive preservation and restoration to become timeless landmarks of the community. Mr. and Mrs. Hill were presented with the Association of the Preservation of Tennessee Antiques (APTA) Virginia Alexander Volunteer of the Year Award in 2019 for their historic preservation efforts in Maury County.