Railroads on Bon Air Mountain

The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway was a railway company operating in the southern United States in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.  It began as the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad which was chartered in Nashville, Tennessee on December 11, 1845.  The Nashville & Chattanooga Railway, predecessor to the NC & St. L Railway, was organized in 1848 by a group of prominent Nashville, Tennessee businessmen.  It took nine years to complete the 150 miles of line between Nashville and Chattanooga. The task of constructing the railroad was made more difficult by the steep elevations of the Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau.

General George G. Dibrell was president of the Southwestern Railroad, which connected Sparta with the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad at Tullahoma.  Under the direction of General Dibrell, the Southwestern Railroad purchased a charter in 1875 for the railroad connecting Sparta to Bon Air.   In the early part of 1888, the NC and St L Railroad acquired the Bon Air charter rights and completed the six and one half mile spur connecting from Bon Air to Sparta in March, 1888.  The Bon Air Coal, Land and Lumber Company mined and shipped its first coal in 1888. 

Two passenger trains made daily round trips from Sparta to all four mining towns.  A train timetable published by the White County Favorite on April 16, 1909, gave Sparta departure times 8:00 AM and 2:25 PM and arrival times 12:20 PM and 5:55 PM.  Mail arrived daily via train at the Bon Air Depot at the base of Bon Air Mountain and the incline car and was used to transport the mail to the plateau where it was picked up by local residents.

The rails were maintained by workers referred to as “sections hands” who laid and maintained the railroad tracks.  The section hands lived in houses called section houses.  A railway section house is a building or house-like structure located near or next to a section of railroad used for housing railroad workers.

The DeRossett Railroad Section House is now the location of the Bon Air Mountain Historical Society Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.