The major obstacle that had to be overcome to enable profitable coal mining on the Cumberland Plateau was a means to transport the coal to markets for sale.
In the early part of 1888, the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad acquired charter rights to the railroad and in March of that same year, completed the six-and-one-half-mile spur connecting Bon Air at the town of DeRossett, which was a railroad section town, to Sparta. The link provided a direct route from the mines to the Nashville and Chattanooga coal markets.
Mining operations increased, the population grew and new mining towns developed to serve the newly opened mines. The railroad company in turn enlarged its operations by constructing lines to serve the new mines and towns. In 1904, tracks were extended over five miles from the switch at DeRossett to Ravenscroft and another seven-mile spur connected Eastland to the DeRossett-Ravenscroft line.
From their earliest days, Bon Air, Ravenscroft, Eastland, and Clifty were linked to each other at DeRossett and to the outside world by the railroad.
Two passenger trains consisting of two coaches and a baggage car traveled daily from Sparta through DeRossett where the switch was made directing trains to all four coal towns. Numerous freight trains delivered retail merchandise, mining supplies, mail, and payrolls to the towns and carried coal from the mines. As one old-timer put it, “no other way to get on the mountain except the train.”
The Bon Air Mountain Historical Society now operates a museum of the coal mining towns and industry in the last remaining “section house” located in DeRossett.