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  Memphis Historical Railroad Pages  and Memphis Public Library for information and 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



1909 Poplar Street "Proposal"



1925 aerial

Poplar Station 1939   Casey Jones Marker  Poplar Station ... 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.


Vintage - Platform Central - 1964 Central - Yard

Central - WW1 photo    


Central Station Hotel


In October 2019, The Central Station Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton,  opened in this grand, historic  old building on South Main Street.    The 123 room hotel consists of a high end retail restaurant and bar, a craft cocktail lobby bar and listening room, and over 8,000 square feet of meeting, event and retail space.  The Kemmons Wilson Companies transformed the site into this modern hotel.


Hotel exterior


Hotel details -  Photos by Central Station Hotel  . Click here to visit their website


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.  This museum was closed during the renovations for the hotel and has not reopened.



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 1907          1913 Streetcar Map

1945 Map (BIG file)



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
Union Postcard

Union Postcard 1912


Union that was never built

Union Postcard Union Postcard 1915 Union Postcard


Union Station - Snow





1907 Calhoun Postcard 1892 "Union Depot" Calhoun - 1901 Ad Poplar Postcard


1949 Fares  -  Central Postcard

Union Waiting Room PC Union 1912 Brochure 1876 Stock

Central Postcard

Central  Postcard

Central Postcard

The "Memphis Special"


Central Bulldog

Employee Badge


MSR Tokens

MSR Button





Vintage Brass Tag

Vintage Brass Tag


1870s Tag

1870s Tag

1860s Tag


1858 Tag

1916 Ad 1930 Trans Streetcar Paper Token 1877 Tokens

1860 pass

1862 Railroad ticket

1862 Railroad ticket

1892 Brotherhood Picnic


1928 Ticket

Vintage Ticket

1922 Schedule

1904 Central Opens

Central Paperweight


Frisco Line Sugar Bowl

Nut Pick City of Memphis Menu 1940s 1901 Menu 1901 Menu


1870 Stock Receipt   1883 Kansas-S.F-Mphs 1919 Memphis St. Railway

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




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The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

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