Historic Structures

Louisville, Henderson, and St. Louis Railroad Depot, Fordsville Kentucky

Date added: October 4, 2019 Categories: Kentucky Train Station Prairie School

The Louisville, Henderson, and St. Louis Depot in Fordsville was built in 1916 to replace the original 1890 depot built when the railroad was first operational. The Fordsville Depot is the only major depot remaining in Ohio County and one of the few in the surrounding area.

Fordsville, a small town in northeastern Ohio County, has a present population of about 580 (1980 census), considerably less than its early 20th century high of about 900. Ohio County, established in 1798, was very sparsely settled through the first half of the 19th century. Its citizens relied almost exclusively on agriculture, hunting and fishing, and its huge timber reserves for their living. Only Hartford, the county seat located approximately fifteen miles southwest of Fordsville, was a town of any size.

Fordsville is listed in the Kentucky State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1859 - 1860 as a "post village." In the 1877 version of Collin's History of Kentucky, Fordsville is mentioned along with a string of other Ohio County localities as either "railroad depots, villages or post offices." Clearly Fordsville did not develop extensively until two railroad lines were routed through the community in the late 1880s and early 1890s. After that, its growth was dramatic.

Ohio County's first railroad was the Elizabethtown and Paducah which began construction in Elizabethtown in 1869 and was completed to Paducah three years later. This line was part of the post-Civil War push in Kentucky to link the state's communities by rail from east to west. The principal stop of the Elizabethtown and Paducah in Ohio County was at the village of Beaver Dam, five miles from Hartford. This line eventually became part of the Illinois Central's southwestern Kentucky trackage and still operates as a freight line today.

In 1882, the Louisville, St. Louis, and Texas Railroad was chartered, principally with Owensboro backers, with plans to run along the Ohio River from Henderson, in Henderson County, to West Point, in Hardin County. Although construction on this line was not begun until 1886, it was the inspiration for two feeder lines that ran into Ohio County. Both these lines were routed through Fordsville.

The first feeder was the Owensboro, Falls of Rough, and Green River Railroad, chartered in 1882 and opened to Fordsville in 1889. This line, completed to Horse Branch in 1893, also became part of the Illinois Central system. The Fordsville to Horse Branch portion was abandoned in 1941.

As this line was being built, a second feeder planned from Irvington, near the Ohio River in Breckinridge County, to Fordsville was in the process of organization. This became the Louisville, Hardinsburg, and Western Railroad, chartered in 1888. Construction on the line was begun in Fordsville in 1890 and completed to Irvington in 1891. This railroad soon ran into financial difficulty and was rechartered in 1896 as the Louisville, Henderson and St. Louis Railroad.

The final addition to the Ohio County rail network was a connection from Ellmitch, just a few miles northeast of Fordsville on the Louisville, Henderson and St. Louis line, to Hartford and on to Madisonville in Hopkins County. This was completed in 1910 by the Madisonville, Hartford, and Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Louisville and Nashville. This line was built with the intention of creating a diagonal shortcut from Louisville to the western Kentucky coal fields. Unfortunately, the extremely poor condition of the Fordsville to Irvington track which had been cheaply constructed with sharp curves, steep inclines, and light rail made the venture unprofitable. This led to the abandonment of the Hartford-Fordsville-Irvington portion of the track in 1941.

In the early years of Ohio County's railroads, timber was the principal freight, particularly on the Louisville, Henderson, and St. Louis that served an extensive timber operation owned by Colonel Lafayette Green at nearby Falls of Rough. However, by about 1900 much of the area's forest had been depleted. The railroads also served the agricultural and commercial needs of the area, transporting in fertilizers, farm implements, household goods, and general manufactures and carrying out agricultural produce, principally tobacco, poultry, and stock. Passenger service was also important until the 1920s, after which reliable roads and the automobile began to draw travellers away from the trains.

In 1890 and 1893 two coal mines were established just outside Fordsville, and coal began to be shipped in limited quantities on the Louisville, Henderson, and St. Louis. In 1934, at a time when the line (by then owned by the L & N) was struggling to survive, oil was discovered near Oaks, a few miles northeast of Fordsville. Within a year, a substantial volume was being shipped out by rail. In 1939, however, a pipeline was completed which virtually ended the railroad transport of oil and led directly to the abandonment of the line two years later.

The railroads brought immediate growth and development to the county and, particularly, to Fordsville. By 1891, just two years after the first railroad had arrived, Fordsville had grown from a "post village" to a town of 300 people. Six years later its population had doubled to 600. According to Sanborn maps, it had risen to 900, probably an all time high, by 1915. In 1925 it had dropped back to 700.

The railroad allowed Fordsville, located in the northeast corner of this large county well away from the other county population center at Hartford and Beaver Dam, to become an important regional supply center for the surrounding agricultural area. A bank, the Fordsville Banking Company, opened in 1893; a second, the Bank of Fordsville, was established in 1906. A flour mill, a planing mill, a stockyard, two tobacco warehouses, and a chewing tobacco factory were all in place along the tracks near the depot by 1915. By 1925 about 25 store buildings were located along Main Street just south of the tracks.

The present Louisville, Henderson and St. Louis Depot, built in 1916 to replace the original wood-framed depot, was built at the height of the town's prosperity. It and three other replacement depots were built within about a year along the Fordsville Branch. No doubt the railroad was hoping to encourage passenger business in the last days before the automobile began to bite into its business.

Of the various types of resources directly associated with the Louisville, Henderson, and St. Louis Railroad almost all have disappeared since the line was abandoned in 1941. The track was dismantled shortly thereafter, and all the water towers and sheds along the track have disappeared. Only a very few depots remain as an extant property type. Of the eighteen station stops between Fordsville and Irvington only the depot at Fordsville and a freight depot at Irvington remain.

Fordsvilie's second depot, a wood-framed structure that served the Illinois Central line, was demolished in 1941 when the Illinois Central track into Fordsville was removed. The Hartford and Beaver Dam depots have been demolished since 1977. The only other remaining railroad-related structure in Ohio County is a small wood-framed shed that served as a station at Horse Branch.