Blue Grass Line
On March 22, 1913, a record-breaking crowd gathered on the square in Gallatin to witness the commemorative driving of the last spike in the rail line. Officials and directors of the road, the mayors of Nashville and Gallatin and other prominent government and business officials were present to witness the completion of a project that had begun 11 years before. (Katrina Cornwell/The News Examiner)
A piece of Sumner County history was recently unearthed as part of the $2.1 million project to revitalize Gallatin’s 200-year-old square.
Construction crews dug up a piece of the rail that provided the framework for an electric streetcar service that carried passengers from Gallatin and Hendersonville to and from Nashville.
Founded by forward-thinking transportation planners and local businessmen, the Nashville-Gallatin Interurban Railway Corporation was established in the early 1900s to bring an electric commuter rail line from Gallatin to Nashville. The service made its last run in 1932 when automobiles and buses became the preferred mode of transportation.
Its discovery comes at a time when state and local leaders are studying bus rapid transit, light rail and commuter rail as transportation options that could improve that same commute.
“We’re coming back full circle,” said Allen Haynes, curator of the Sumner County Museum. “It would be a whole lot less polluting. The initial cost would be expensive, but I guarantee you people would ride it.”
Discovery in focus
The piece of rail line that was uncovered helped to create the Y-shaped turnaround the streetcars would make in Gallatin before traveling back to Nashville.
The city of Gallatin will use the rail as part of an upcoming display in City Hall that will feature old and new pictures of the square as well as information about the streetcar line.
“After the display, the city is planning to donate the tracks to the museum so everybody can enjoy them and see what was there,” Haynes said.
Gallatin residents Joe Whitaker and Johnny Bradley helped to identify the pieces of the rail line before new concrete sidewalks were poured as part of the Streetscape work, he said.
“Joe found them and Johnny realized what they were,” Haynes said. “That’s why they were pretty much saved. They were taking the sidewalk up in front of antiques on Main. That’s where the Y went to Smith Street. It was a short, dead-end track. It was a Y for the turnaround. It was around the middle of Antiques on Main.”
A display at the museum explains how the interurban movement began across the country in the late 1800s on the heels of the electrification of street railways.
Advances in power-distribution technology permitted the transmission of electricity from the Ocoee River over greater distances than had previously been possible, Haynes explained.
When the Nashville-Gallatin Interurban route was completed in 1913, it traveled at approximately 50 miles per hour on 1,200 volts of electricity, Haynes said.
“You didn’t have to fool with stopping at gas stations. It was clean and quiet,” he said. “They could get up to speed fast with electricity. They could still do it relatively inexpensively and quiet and fast. It was a neat idea.”
There were 36 non-smoking and 16 smoking seats in the passenger car, and passengers had access to a restroom. The inside was cherry-colored mahogany. The floor in the bathroom was zinc metal, and the car ran with a 75-horsepower motor, Haynes said.
As a boy growing up in Gallatin during the 1920s, Hugh Love recalls when streetcars reigned as the preferred mode of transport in Sumner County.
“When it swayed from side to side, the older folks would say it made them seasick,” he said. “But for the children like me – who lived in the country and didn’t get out much – it was a thrill.”
Hendersonville native John Freed recalled paying a dime to ride the streetcar with his eight brothers and sisters from his family’s farm near Center Point Road to Hendersonville School, which was located near the present site of Kroger on West Main in the 1920s.
“In those days, you walked or rode a pony to school,” Freed said. “If got to ride the Interurban, you were a big dog.”
New transit options being studied
The commute between Gallatin and Nashville is the subject of an ongoing $1 million study about bus-rapid transit, commuter rail and light rail. The Nashville area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is spearheading the report, is expected to make its final recommendations public in the coming weeks.
Transportation, land use and economic policy are key focuses in the study, focusing on the communities along the corridor, including Gallatin, Hendersonville, Goodlettsville and Madison.
“It’s a good opportunity to have a dialogue and examine options like commuter rail, bus rapid transit and regional bus service,” Gallatin Community Development Director Jim Svoboda said. “We’ll be looking at all those options to manage mobility and congestion.
“The key is looking at how land use plays a role in the transportation decisions we make. If we’re not focused on that relationship, you can have sprawl and end up spending more money on roads.”
Michael Skipper, executive director of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said maps of possible stops and stations for bus-rapid transit, light rail and commuter rail are available on the organization’s Web site at nashvillempo.org/northeast.
A recommendation regarding three of the nine transportation alternatives being studied is forthcoming, Skipper said.
“The Northeast corridor study is still in progress,” he said. “We had a delay of a few months while we finalized our analytical tools. Our project Web site is up to date and includes an overview and maps of the various nine transit modes and alignments that are being evaluated.
“We are within a few weeks of announcing further study of three of those alternatives.
Following that announcement, we’ll have additional public workshops to seek input.
We are on schedule to have the final recommendations incorporated into the regional transportation plan, scheduled for adoption in early summer 2010