Historic Memphis Train Stations

        ...and the Memphis Street Railway

 

 


 

Early Railroads became important to the city of Memphis as a means of balancing commerce between land routes and the Mississippi steamboat traffic.  The trains totally reinforced the city's position as a major hub of trade.  The Memphis and Charleston Railroad, completed in 1857, was the first railroad in the US to link the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi River.  It ran from Memphis to Stevenson Alabama through the towns of Corinth, Mississippi and Huntsville, Alabama.   When the Civil War broke out in 1861, this railroad became strategically important as the only east-west railroad running through the Confederacy.  The Memphis and Little Rock Railroad, from 1854-1871, was the first railroad to operate in the state of Arkansas.   It also played a vital role for both Confederate

and Union forces and was under Union control until 1865.  Memphis built it's first grand train station in 1855 - at the corner of Calhoun and Main Streets.  This corner has been continuously used by the railroad for over 150 years.  Today two trains make daily stops at the renovated station that still exists on this famous corner.  By 1884 there were 8 RailRoad Depots in downtown Memphis.

 
 

Special Thanks to the Memphis Historical Railroad Pages  and The Memphis Public Library for information and various photos. 


 

Calhoun Street Station .  Calhoun and Main Streets

 

Calhoun St Station 1894     Calhoun - Rear  1894 Calhoun Station 1906 Calhoun Station 1906
 

The first depot in Memphis was constructed at Calhoun and Main by the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad around 1855.  But the ornate two story Calhoun Street Station, constructed by the Illinois Central Line, opened in 1888.  The single story portion that extended along the tracks was originally part of the earlier Mississippi and Tennessee shop complex and was built around 1874.  Over time, this station was variously known as Calhoun Street Station, Central Station, and Union Station.  The sign over the front arched doorway actually reads "Union Depot".  It was used by the Illinois Central line, Rock Island Line, Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Line among many others.  The Calhoun Station was demolished in 1912-13 to make room for the new Central Station. 

 
 

 
 

Poplar Street Station .  Poplar and Front Streets

 

Poplar  Station 1910

1920s

1950s

Poplar 1965

 

1925 aerial

1909 Poplar Street "Proposal" Poplar Station 1939                 Poplar Station Remains Today   
 

The Poplar Street Station opened in 1890 and just got smaller and smaller over many years.  The top part of the tower was removed in 1931.  The original imposing structure was demolished in 1939, but a smaller facility continued in use as a secondary station until the 1960s.  In later years it was a stop for only a few trains.  The station finally disappeared from public timetables in 1967.  This was the station that John Luther "Casey" Jones departed from in 1900 on his "ride to glory" (There is a historical marker at the corner of Front and Poplar).  Today the retaining wall of the small station building is still in place.

In 1909, the Tennessee Railroad Commission served notice that all stations would have to be brought into compliance with existing Jim Crow segregation laws ("separate, but equal").  Each station was instructed to submit plans.  The Poplar Street proposal called for using a portion of the present station but adding two  large additions to provide 6 waiting rooms, three each for black and white patrons.  None of these improvements were ever made.  Instead the railroads decided to build the new Central Station on the site of the old Calhoun Street Station.

 
 

 
 

Union Station .  Calhoun, Between Second and Third

Union Union Yard Union 1950s Union 1968

 

This station opened in 1912 and was operated by the Memphis Union Station Company.  The Southern Railway, Louisville and Nashville Railway, St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Railway Company, Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway companies used the station.  It's purpose was to provide a link for travel primarily between east and west.  The station was approximately two blocks east of the Calhoun Street Station (Central Station would be soon be built on that site.)  The architectural Beaux-Arts design of the station was a source of great pride in Memphis.  The main building was the largest stone structure in the city. 

After WWII, train traffic declined and studies indicated that only one station was now needed in Memphis.  The various railroads could never agree on which station, so Union Station continued in operation into the early 1960s.  In early 1964, the railroads finally announced that they would shift all their routes to Central Station.  In 1964 Union Station closed.  1965:  Memphis seeks injunctions to restore service at Union Station.  1966:  Limited service resumes at Union.  1967:  Announcement that Union will soon be demolished to build a Post Office.  1968:  Contents of Union Station sold at public auction.  1969:  Demolition of Union Station is complete and Memphis loses another of it's grand buildings.

 

Union - 1949 Last Train - 1964 Union Yard Aerial -1964
       

Union Waiting Room Union Waiting Room Union Lunch Room Union Waiting Room 1912
 

Waiting Room

Elvis at Union Station

1950 accident

Union  Demolition

    

 
 

Central Station .  545 S. Main, at Calhoun

 

Construction 1913 Central 1914 Central Board 1914 Waiting Room 1915
       
       

Aerial 1914

Central Yard 1914 Baggage Room 1964 Central Board 1964
 

This station was originally called Grand Central Station and opened in 1914.  It thrived during the era of the passenger train.  In fact, more than 50 times a day trains came and went from the station.  The station was owned by the Illinois Central Railroad but was also used by a number of other railroads.  The success of this station led to rapid business development in the surrounding area.  Restaurants, shops, and hotels sprung up to accommodate travelers coming to and going from Memphis.  A notable business is the Arcade Restaurant, across the street from Central, which is still in operation. 

Throughout the 1960's, passenger trains declined in popularity and by the early 1970's Amtrak operated the only train running through Memphis.  Central Station was falling into disrepair.  In 1995, the Memphis Area Transit Authority purchased the station and by the end of 1999 had completed renovation on it.  Today, Memphis Central Station is used by Amtrak's City of New Orleans and is a stop on MATA's trolley line.  The upper floors of the station were converted into moderately priced apartments appropriately named Central Station Apartments.  There is also a banquet/reception hall in the station and on Saturdays, the "Farmer's Market" is held beneath the station's pavilion.  And there is one platform still in daily use.

 

Central - 2006 Central - 2006 Central - 2006 Central - 2006
 

Vintage - Platform Central - 1964 Central - Yard

Central - WW1 photo    

 

 Toilets

 Waiting Room

 To Platforms

Hudson Hall

 

The new Memphis Railroad and Trolley Museum opened inside the downtown Central Station in 2012.  This museum spotlights Memphis' rail history, including the street railway system.  It will be developed and run by the Memphis Society of Model Railroaders, a 75 member, 50 year old organization of train enthusiasts.  A highlight of the museum will be a developing miniature model of Memphis with running trains and trolleys.

     
 

 
 

Other Stations  

 

Most Memphians are aware that the city at one time had two large train stations - Union and Central Stations.  Fewer Memphians know about the Calhoun Street Station and the Poplar Street Station.  Virtually none know about the "other stations" around town.  These ranged from actual stations with ticket agents and waiting rooms to a covered stop on the side of the track where you could flag down the train.  As was common in the outlying areas around Memphis, neighborhoods and small towns often got their names from railway stations.

 

Memphis & Charleston Station

 

Wedding of the Waters:  On May 1 and 2, 1858 Memphis hosted an incredible 2-day gala known as the "Wedding of the Waters to celebrate the Memphis & Charleston Railroad as the first railroad to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi River.  This was the longest stretch of railroad in America at that time.  The occasion was so significant that a "Wedding of the Waters" was celebrated with water from the Atlantic Ocean being brought to pour into the Mississippi River.  During the Civil War, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad line was the most strategic and fought over transportation and supply lines in the South.

Wedding of the Waters

 
 

LN Terminal Station

Georgia Street

Buntyn Station

Buntyn Station

Normal Station

       

Germantown Station

Mineral Wells Station

         Lenox Station

       

Cordova Station          

Binghampton Station

Collierville Station

       
 

 

   

LN Terminal Sta. 1910

     
 

 

 

Memphis Street Railway

 

Lakeview-Traction Johnson Edwin Cox Circa 1900 Main-Madison
       

Suburbs Streetcar - Barn Main Street

Central Station - stop    

     

 

Memphis Street Railway Company was incorporated in 1895, as a consolidation of several railways.  In 1911, it was reported that the company's franchise with the city would expire in 1945.  This report stated that the company operated 51 miles of double track and 26 miles of single track, using 109 open cars, 69 semi-convertible cars, and 132 closed cars.  The company also operated a subsidiary - The Memphis and Lake View Railway, which was originally the Lave View Traction Co.  In 1931, the first trolley-bus was introduced.  In 1947 Streetcars were discontinued, in favor of trolley-buses.  In 1960 the trolley-bus operation ended.  In 1961, the Memphis Street Railway Company became the public owned Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA).  Today, a collection of vintage streetcars from Lisbon, Portugal and Brisbane, Australia have been restored to run as very successful heritage lines for visiting tourists.  Memphis really got it right on this one.

       

Main - Madison 1918 Main - 2004 Main - 2006 Main 1907
       

Car Barn - 1982           1913 Streetcar Map

Tokens

Transfers

Paper Token
 
Brill Magazine (below) was published in 1913.  This issue is devoted to the Streetcars of Memphis.
 

                       

                       

                       
 

 

Patterson Transfer Company

 

Patterson Warehouse 1940      Patterson Warehouse 1940 1875 Patterson Pass From Stage to Taxicab
       

Wagons          Stage Bus 1881 Patterson Pass
 

Patterson Transfer Company was formed in 1854 and literally purchased every stage coach in this territory.  In the days before the Civil War Patterson operated stage coaches to Nashville, Jackson and many points in Mississippi.  An ad at the time boasted "...52 hours to Nashville".  After the railroads extended their lines to Memphis, the stagecoaches were discontinued.  Buses then replaced the coaches and Patterson bought up all the buses.  When the auto came into general use, bringing the taxicab, Patterson entered that field also, eventually owning the Memphis Yellow Cab Company.  A Patterson bus or cab met every train that ever came to Memphis.  A major function was to transfer passengers from one train station to another.  Patterson stored their fleet of coaches, buses, autos in various old railroad "round houses" in the downtown area.   

   
     
 
 
       

  Vintage Memorabilia and Postcards of Train Stations and Streetcars ...

       
 

 

 

 

Union Postcard Union Postcard
Ticket

1922 Schedule

Union Postcard 1912

       

Union that was never built

Union Postcard Union Postcard Union Postcard
 

 

 

 

1907 Calhoun Postcard Calhoun - 1901 Ad Central Postcard Central Postcard
       

 

1949 Fares  -  Central Postcard

11928 Ticket Union 1912 Brochure Poplar Street Station
       

Union Postcard

Union Postcard

The "Memphis Special"

Central Postcard

       

Rare Cast-Brass Baggage Tag

Employee Badge

1932

MSR Tokens

MSR Button

 

 

 

 

Union Waiting Room PC

Central Bulldog

Central Bulldog

Union Postcard

 

1858 Tag

1876 Stock 1930 Trans 1860 pass Nut Pick 1877 Tokens
 
 

Central Paperweight 1892 Brotherhood Picnic 1904 Central Opens 1862 Railroad ticket
 
 

Union Station- Autos 1892 Union Depot 1901 Menu 1901 Menu
 
 

 

 

1870 Stock Receipt     1919 Memphis St. Railway
 
     
     
 
 

Special Thanks to the Memphis Historical Railroad Pages for information and various photos 


CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Memphis Public Library, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage, Tom Leatherwood Shelby County Register, Memphis Historical Railroad Pages, Joe Spake, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.

 

We do not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  We often find some great, un-credited photos and material on the Internet.  In addition we receive many unsolicited photos via email.  If we like the photos and material and they add to a particular page on this website, we do use them.  Should anyone write that we have a copyrighted photo or material posted, we will apologize for our mistake, and because the photo or material adds significantly to the page where it's located, we also ask to keep it in place and add credit for it, or if it's the owner's preference, we will remove it immediately.  We have only been asked to remove one, and that's because they wanted us to pay to use it.  We are 100 % non-profit volunteers and cannot pay.

Most Images displayed on this web site are the property of their respective photographers.  Please contact the photographer or owner, if you wish to obtain a reproduction of an image or if you wish to obtain permission to use an image elsewhere.

 

 

 

Please visit the website that sponsors this page