This handcrafted TV Tray and stand features three cross-stitched scenes from the City of Huntsville’s Railroad History. The tray is removable from the stand, so it can also be used as a serving tray. Read below for the complete history of Huntsville’s railroad.
History of the Railway in Huntsville. Written before the opening of The Huntsville Depot Museum.
The Railway system has played a significant role in the history of the South and of Huntsville.
Bringing the railroad to this area meant bringing reliable transportation, not affected by road conditions or
poor weather. No longer would Huntsville be dependent on the Tennessee River to take cotton to the
market, or to bring goods to the city. The railroad brought to Huntsville the largest industry of the time
next to farming. The Machine Shop alone employed several hundred people.
There was cause for celebration when the first “Iron Horse” arrived from Decatur, Alabama on
October 13th 1855. By 1857 it was possible to travel by rail from Huntsville to Memphis, Tennessee in
13 hours, and to Nashville in 14 hours! The line from Charleston, S.C. to Memphis was completed in
1857. It was the longest connected system of railroads in the world at the time.
During the Civil War, the railway system became very important to both sides. The Memphis and
Charleston Railroad had been in full operation only 4 years at the onset of the war. The Federal Army
took possession of the line in Huntsville in April 1862, and continued to hold it for most of the war. At
the end of the war, the track was in terrible condition: much of it burned, rotted away, bridges destroyed.
With borrowed funds and hard work, the trains were running again in November 1865, though the bridge
in Decatur was not rebuilt until 1866. After continued financial difficulties, the Memphis and Charleston
lines were sold to the Southern Railway System in 1898.
The brick Freight Office was completed in 1856. The industrial buildings, a brick round house
with turntable, engine house, car shop, and machine shop were completed by 1859. Homes for employees
and a hotel were also built.
Today the Freight Building houses the offices of the Southern Railway System Freight Service.
The three-story unpainted brick passenger depot was completed in 1860. It had a carved stair-rail
slate roof, cast iron mantles, gas lights, and separate waiting rooms for men and women. At the
conclusion of the Civil War, the depot was returned to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad undamaged.
The Southern Railway System began extensive remodeling in 1912-13. Steam heat was added to
the Depot, electric lights, elegant oak furniture, and the chimneys were lowered to allow for the telegraph
lines. The Depot was at this time painted gold and green, the colors of the Southern Railroad Company.
The concrete platform, long train shed, and baggage express were adjacent to a garden with a fountain,
located beside the creek bank.
The Depot was painted red some time around 1925-1929.
Southern Railway discontinued passenger service to Huntsville in the late 1960’s, but continued
to use the building as their Freight Office until restoration began.
The Southern Railway Passenger Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on
September 10th, 1971, and was purchased by the city of Huntsville later that year.
The Depot was painted gold again in August of 1977. Since it was not possible to restore the
building to the original unpainted condition, it was returned to its first painted color. Interior work on the
flooring and stairs began in July 1979. The chimneys have now been raised again, with the exception of
one, which would still interfere with the wires that run along the tracks.
Plans for the Passenger Depot include using it as part of a Transportation Museum which will
provide Huntsville and its visitors with a clear understanding of the importance of the railroad in our