The archive of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N), with 255 linear feet in the University of Louisville University Archives and Records Center and an additional 600 vintage prints and original glass negatives in the Photographic Archives, yields information as broad as the industrialization of the New South and as specific as the shape of an inner bolt on the wheel assembly of a particular freight car. Each year hundreds of researchers, including historians, journalists, editors, museum curators, railroad enthusiasts, authors, and students, comb through minute books, financial records, annual reports, timetables, station lists, maps, architectural drawings, and much more. The documents and photographs provide a comprehensive record of the L&N Railroad, a transportation giant that positioned Louisville, Kentucky, at the center of North/South commerce in the decades following the Civil War.
Within the records of the L&N, the collection also offers annual reports and other historical evidence of numerous predecessor and subsidiary lines operating at various times beginning in 1836. These include the Atlanta and West Point Railroad Company; the Carolina, Clinchfield, and Ohio Railway; the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad; and the Monon Railroad. These smaller regional railroads, built before the concept of a national railroad system was even imagined, sometimes used distinctive track sizes. The L&N's annual reports document such historic actions as the 1886 decision of southern railroads to switch to the standard gauge track already used in the North.
The L&N archive has supported the work of scholars, including research on the roles of African-American railroad workers, relationships with shippers, suppliers and financiers, and economic development initiatives throughout the South. The rich files have offered detailed evidence for curators restoring historic rolling stock: locomotives, Pullman cars, and diesel engines. They have provided documentation for group projects such as the centennial celebration of Cornersville, Tennessee. The town, on the border with Kentucky, is one of many communities throughout the South that were founded or grew because of the L&N Railroad. From the 1920s through the 1970s the L&N Magazine, which is indexed by an in-house topical card file begun in the offices of the L&N and maintained in University Archives, included a 16-page section of employee news. Genealogists and scholars alike find such details invaluable, particularly since the collection does not include personnel records. More than 50 oral histories, recorded in the 1980s, include interviews of a range of employees, speaking from their perspectives as dining car waiters, telephone operators, or company president.
University of Louisville archivists are quick to mention their ongoing collaboration with volunteer Charles Castner, a former L&N Railroad public relations official. Castner, who even has a stretch of train track belonging to L&N's successor CSX bearing his name, is a local legend who is generous with his knowledge of the railroad and its archive. He is one of countless special collections volunteers whose significant expertise sometimes accompanies an archive or collection. An online finding aid to the L&N archive is available through the Kentuckiana Digital Library.
Collection Profile and Overview: Delinda Stephens Buie and Thomas L. Owen
Illustrations: Tom Fougerousse, Rachel I. Howard, and Amy Hanaford Purcell