Before I-65 made getting to Nashville a 30-minute drive from Franklin, the first major connection between the two cities was the Nashville-Franklin Interurban Railway.
In the late 19th century, the growing utilization of electricity led to more intercity travel from larger cities with streetcars and interurban railways. Streetcars first reached Nashville in 1889. In 1902, Franklin resident Henry Hunter Mayberry decided that his town needed a connection to Nashville. Two lines were built running north-south, the Nashville-Gallatin and what would become the Nashville-Franklin. A third line to Columbia was never be completed. The Nashville-Franklin line was an electrified rail line that gave an alternative to the unpaved roads and tollgates on Franklin Pike.
On Christmas Eve 1908, the line finally reached the Franklin Square. The first train arrived with two cars loaned by the Tennessee Central Railway, one being the TC’s president’s private car, The Cumberland. When the train arrived at 2:30, crowds cheered and whistles blew as a brass band played “Dixie”. Franklin mayor E.M. Perkins drove the golden spike. Judge Pollard, one of the leaders who helped to build the Interurban, declared at the ceremony “And someday, Franklin will reach out her strong arms and take in her chief suburb – the city of Nashville.”
Stations for the Interurban stopped at what is now Mallory Lane, Moores Lane, the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home, Ashlawn, Murray Lane, and the corner of Franklin Road and Old Hickory Boulevard. The Franklin terminus was located on the Square.
The tracks traveled out 3rd Avenue, then turned towards Nashville on Bridge Street. Once crossing the river, the Interurban went around Harlinsdale Farm. While the path of the Interurban was close to Franklin Pike, it was not a parallel route. The Interurban’s route crossed Franklin Pike twice to find the most level route with the easiest gradient. The first crossing was just south of Mallory Station Road, in front of where the Vanderbilt Legends Club clubhouse currently stands. The tracks crossed Moores Lane at the current Mooreland Estates neighborhood.
Tracks crossed Franklin Pike north of Calender Road, which is now Concord Road. One of the former Interurban stations, Hayesland, still stands in the Meadowlake subdivision across from the AT&T building in Brentwood. The former power station for the Interurban stood on what is now the Shell Station at Franklin Road and Old Hickory Boulevard. The tracks continued north towards the city limits, with a station in front of Franklin Road Academy, Kirkman, that is still standing today. The Nashville terminus was at Bransford Avenue and 8th Avenue South, where the line connected to the other Nashville streetcars.
Trains began running regularly in April of 1909. Passenger service began daily at 6 AM and trains left Franklin and Nashville every hour, on the hour. Cars ran until 11:30 at night, while an accommodation would be made for any riders who went to the theater in Nashville. No matter how late a show might run, the Interurban would wait for passengers with a ticket to the theater. While there were 20 listed stations along the line, passengers could flag down the train at any point along the line to board. Once on board, passengers could pull a brake cord, within a reasonable distance, to be let off at any point along the line.
Opposition to The Interurban
As with many big projects, the Nashville-Franklin Interurban would not be met without some opposition. The opposition was fourfold and included merchants in Franklin and Brentwood, the owners of large estates in Williamson County, the Louisville & Nashville railroad, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Merchants believed that the Interurban would hurt their business by allowing customers to travel easily to Nashville, which would be proven true. The L&N’s passenger service to Franklin would never be the same after the opening of the Interurban. The ladies of the UDC’s biggest complaint with the Interurban was that the tracks that circled the Confederate Monument were financed by a Northern bank. The owners of the Interurban would appeal to these ladies by offering them a free ride to the Hermitage.
The greatest opposition faced came from some of the larger estate owners, in particular James Caldwell. Caldwell’s estate was just south of Thompson Lane, near the site of modern day Caldwell Lane. Caldwell was vehemently opposed to the Franklin Interurban, which ran right through his property. Both wealthy and influential, Caldwell had previously challenged and been successful in keeping commercial development off of Franklin Road, which is why there is still no commercial development along Franklin Road north of Brentwood until you reach Melrose. Caldwell sued the Interurban, who then countersued Caldwell for condemnation. The case reached the Tennessee Supreme Court, who found in favor of the Interurban and allowed them to build across Caldwell’s land. However, the court humored Caldwell and made his driveway a public road, which required the Interurban to stop and have a conductor block the road while the train crossed. While the stop came to the chagrin of operators and passengers alike, the operators would have the last laugh, as they began to blow their whistle at the crossing every time they passed by.
The Interurban reached its peak in the mid 1920’s. Commuters to Nashville, students at Robertson Academy and Nashville colleges, and shoppers alike all took the Interurban into the capital city. From 1909-1926, ridership averaged 30,000 riders per month. After road improvements and paving between Nashville and Franklin, average ridership dropped by 10,000 per month. However, the Interurban never lost money. Beyond passenger service, the line also carried freight traffic. Center-cab electric locomotives hauled anything and everything from logs to livestock to bootleg liquor.
The End of The Interurban
In 1941, Nashville began replacing some of their streetcars with buses. Since the Nashville-Franklin Interurban used the same rails in the Nashville city limits, they would soon follow suit. Though the original interurban cars had been replaced in the 1920’s, the newer cars were replaced by buses. The final run of the interurban cars was on November 9, 1941. Freight service continued until March 1943, when the line would be abandoned. The rails would be removed and the metal would be donated to the war effort. The buses offered two routes from Franklin, one up Hillsboro Road through Grassland and one up Franklin Pike through Brentwood. The buses continued their operation into the 1960’s before ceasing as well.
While it has been 75 years since the sparks of the electric wiring and the squeal of metal wheels on rails interrupted the calm of Franklin’s Square, the Nashville-Franklin Interurban could give precedence for intercity commuter rail from Williamson County to Nashville. Even though there are no immediate plans to bring commuter trains south, the continued growth of the area might show regional planners the necessity for more public transportation. Luckily, these planners can look ahead by looking back at the success of the Nashville-Franklin Interurban line.
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