The Louisville & Nashville Railroad Rowland Branch connected Fort Estill near Richmond, Kentucky to Lancaster, Rowland, and Stanford, operational from 1868 to 1934.
Construction and Operation
Responding to requests from residents in Lincoln, Garrard, and Madison counties in Kentucky, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) initiated the construction of a branch line in July 1867. 1 4 This railway would connect Rowland, east of Stanford, on its Lebanon Branch to Richmond, passing through Lancaster. The 33-mile Rowland Branch was ultimately completed on November 8, 1868, at a total cost of $750,000. Funding for the project came from the sale of $750,000 in Louisville & Nashville Railroad stock to citizens from the three counties the line passed through. Additionally, the land needed for the right-of-way and depot grounds was generously donated by the local community.
The first train ride on this new line was incredibly popular, resulting in an overcrowded train. 1 The situation became so cramped that passengers had to be placed on the cow-catcher by the time the train reached Lebanon. Onboard, passengers were treated to complimentary bottles of whiskey and wine, as well as samples of chewing tobacco and cigars. However, by the time the train arrived in Richmond, the inside of the coaches was left in a state of disarray.
‟When we reached Richmond, away late in the afternoon, the interior of the coaches were a wreck as the celebrants had practically all gotten drunk and then got mad and threw fried chicken and baked ham and butter and macaroni, pickles, etc., all over the cars, messing up everybody and everything aboard. Windows were smashed, seats broken, heads cracked and noses bloodied. There being then no restrictions about employes imbibing, the riot extended from the rear end to the cowcatcher, engineer, fireman, and brakeman all participating and not a few high officials of the Company.” 1
The Rowland Branch had stations at various locations including Rowland, Hyattsville, Point Leavell, Paint Lick, Silver Creek, and Duncannon. 3 Additionally, it featured three tunnels: the 490-foot Point Leavell Tunnel, the 654-foot Buck Creek (Spainhower) Tunnel, and the Silver Creek Tunnel. 4 The sobriquet “Old Henry” came into use as the designation for the first mixed train, and later for the entire route, in honor of its longtime engineer, Henry Lammers. 3 4 The Buck Creek Tunnel was later nicknamed the Spainhower Tunnel because a furniture maker by that name lived on top of it. 8
The Kentucky Central Railroad, which had built a line coming south from Cincinnati and aimed to expand its track beyond Richmond to connect with the L&N near Livingston, opted to lease the entire Rowland Branch. 4 This was primarily to gain control over the two-mile segment between Fort Estill and Richmond as part of its main line. This lease arrangement began on June 1, 1882, and persisted until December 1890, when the L&N took over the Kentucky Central.
For several years, the Rowland Branch had daily round-trip passenger train services between Louisville and Cincinnati. 4 Additionally, there was a local service that operated between Richmond and Stanford.
Traffic on a significant portion of the Rowland Branch ceased in 1932. 8 9 On December 1, 1933, authorities approved a petition to formally end operations on the 22.89-mile section between Lancaster and Fort Estill, which was granted on January 15, 1934. 4
Meanwhile, the eight-mile stretch from Lancaster to Rowland continued to operate. However, by the 1970s, traffic on this segment began to decline significantly. The line’s primary traffic source became the National Casket Company in Lancaster. 7 By 1976, there were proposals to abandon this section. 5 After reporting to the Interstate Commerce Commission that they had been operating just once a week over the past year, the railroad sought permission to abandon the branch. This request was approved, leading to the last train service between Lancaster and Rowland on January 24, 1979. 6
After the railroad tracks were removed to the east of Lancaster, certain sections between Point Leavell and Paint Lick were repurposed for automobile use. Motorists could drive through the Buck Creek Tunnel until the 1970s when it was closed because of rock falls and ice that would pile up in the winter because of a spring inside the tunnel. 8 The Point Leavell Tunnel remained open until circa 2006 when the construction of KY Route 52 forced its closure. 9 Other segments of the old railroad right-of-way were transformed by local landowners into farm roads or were converted into grazing land. 3
- Herr, Kincaid A. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad, 1850-1963, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2000, pp. 42–43.
- “Point Leavell, Kentucky.” Kentucky Atlas & Gazetteer, 2023.
- “Central Kentucky.” A Context of the Railroad Industry in Clark County and Statewide Kentucky, Corn Island Archaeology, 2016, pp. 110-111.
- Sulzer, Elmer Griffith. “The Route of Old Henry.” Ghost Railroads of Kentucky, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1998, pp. 71–72.
- “About 15 to discuss L&N railroad line.” Advocate-Messenger, 12 Mar. 1976, p. 14.
- “L&N run discontinued.” Messenger-Inquirer, 27 Jan. 1979, p. 3C.
- Sinclair, Ward “Remote, rural areas fear hardships if branch rail lines are abandoned.” Courier-Journal, 13 Jul. 1977, pp. A1-A4.
- Stevens, Vicki. “Old railroad tunnel is picturesque reminder of past.” Advocate-Messenger, 7 May 1997, p. A2.
- Crawford, Byron. “Tunnel reaches the end of the line.” Courier-Journal, 12 Aug. 2001, p. B3.