The Louisville & Southern Railway Lexington to Lawrenceburg Division is an active and abandoned railroad in central Kentucky. At its centerpiece is Young’s High Bridge.
The Louisville, Harrodsburg & Virginia Railroad (LH&V) was incorporated in 1868 to construct a railroad between Louisville and Virginia via Harrodsburg, although no work was completed because of a lack of financing. 1 In 1882, the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago Railway (LNA&C) was chartered to challenge the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in its near-exclusive access to the eastern Kentucky coalfields. Noting the formation of the LNA&C, the LH&V was reorganized as the Louisville Southern Railroad (LS) and hired the LNA&C’s president, Bennett Young. 1
Construction commenced in 1884 between Louisville and Harrodsburg via Shelbyville and Lawrenceburg, which opened in 1888. 1 The railroad also built a spur to Burgin, where the LS connected to the Cincinnati Southern and acquired the Versailles & Midway Railroad to connect to Georgetown. Shortly after, the LS began the development of the Lexington to Lawrenceburg Division, a spur from Lawrenceburg to Lexington via Versailles, 1 which involved the erection of a bridge across the Kentucky River gorge at Tyrone.
The ground was broken for the new bridge on February 7, 1889, 3 and the first train crossed the new $200,000 Young’s High Bridge on August 21. 3 Named after William Bennett Henderson Young, then president of the Louisville Southern Railroad, 4 the crossing was the highest single-span cantilever structure in the world. 3 Although planned to be six inches higher than High Bridge, it ended up being 12 inches lower and couldn’t boast of being the highest bridge structure in the nation.
The East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railway later leased both the Cincinnati Southern and the LS, and all three were merged into the Southern Railway system in 1894. 1
Although the LS had high hopes for traffic on the Lexington to Lawrenceburg Division, passenger revenues dwindled with the advent and rise of the automobile leading to the termination of passenger operations on December 27, 1937. 2 Freight traffic, while never significant, remained steady until a derailment at the Tyrone Power Station led to the spur’s closure in 1979. 5 A runaway locomotive on the steep spur destroyed several coal cars.
The Southern Railway became a part of Norfolk Southern (NS) in 1980. With few customers remaining along the NS’s Lawrenceburg Division and with maintenance costs mounting on the aging Young’s High Bridge, the line between Lawrenceburg and Versailles was mothballed in November 1985. 2
In 1987, the Bluegrass Railroad Museum acquired 5½ miles of the former NS Lawrenceburg Division between the Young’s High Bridge and Versailles to run passenger excursion trains over the line. 5 6 There were informal talks between the museum and Wild Turkey Distillery about running excursion trains to the distillery, which would involve operating over the river crossing. Still, it would require strengthening the bridge to support heavy passenger cars. 7
The portion from Versailles to Lexington was sold to the Lexington & Ohio Railroad and later R.J. Corman Railroad, which comprises part of its Central Kentucky Lines division, while the section from Young’s High Bridge to Lawrenceburg was abandoned and sold to a scrapper in 2009, and rails on Young’s High Bridge and into Lawrenceburg were removed and sold for scrap.
The non-profit Tyrone Bridge & Railroad Company was formed in 2003 in an attempt to raise money to preserve the Young’s High Bridge as either a rail trail or as a westward extension of the Bluegrass Railroad Museum’s excursion. 2 4 The non-profit dissolved in 2011 without much action. 5
NS donated the bridge to the Young’s High Bridge Historical Society in July 2008, and Young’s Bridge Partners purchased the crossing for $105,000 in October 2012. 4 In January 2013, it was announced that the bridge would be partly converted for use as a base jumping center.
- Castner, Charles. The Encyclopedia of Louisville. “Louisville Southern Railroad.” University Press of Kentucky [Lexington], 2001.
- Powell, Tim. “Young’s High Bridge, Tyrone, Kentucky.” WorldTimZone. 2006.
- “A Tale of Two Cities.” Daily Leader [Lexington], 25 Aug. 1889, p. 1.
- Kocher, Greg. “Old Kentucky River railroad bridge will become bungee-jumping platform.” Herald-Leader [Lexington] 24 Feb. 2013.
- “Track Rehabilitation.” Bluegrass Railroad Museum. 18 Sept. 2007.
- “Young’s High Bridge.” Bluegrass Railroad Museum. 18 Sept. 2007.
- Crawford, Byron. “Kentucky bridge believed to be the last of its kind.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 10 Mar. 1989, p. 6.