Historic Structures

Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot, Harlan Kentucky

Date added: May 25, 2022 Categories: Kentucky Train Station

It was only after the Civil War that railroads began to open up the vast natural resources of Eastern Kentucky and end the isolation of this mountainous area. During the decade of the 1880s the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company began to move in this direction but it was not until after the turn of the twentieth century that their lines extended as far east as Harlan County, Kentucky.

In 1891 the Cumberland Valley Division of the L & N was opened with the completion of a line from Corbin, Kentucky to Norton, Virginia. As early as 1887, two mineralogists, Andrew S. McCreath and E.V. D'Invilliers, both from Philadelphia, had recommended the construction of a line into Harlan County. Some twenty years later, this was finally done. The President of the L & N at that time, Milton H. Smith, for years a political and economic power in Kentucky and other states, referred to the "monumental and continuing blunder of the C.V." which was the location of the line to Norton, by way of Middlesboro, Pennington, Big Stone Gap, etc., instead of by way of Harlan and Morris Gap.

It took approximately four years to complete the line into Harlan. The July 15, 1911, issue of the Middiesboro News-Record had this to say about the event:

The passenger train will run into Harlan, Monday, July 17. Though the station has not been completed and will not be entirely finished for 30 days, trains will come to the depot and temporary offices for the station forces will be established in the building. The Harlan station when completed will be one of the best among the smaller depots on the L & N system. W.J. Wilson, who was formerly cashier at Middlesboro freight office, will be agent at this place. He now has charge of the Company's interests at Baxter, the present shipping point for Harlan.

The first carload of coal to leave Harlan County was shipped from the Adrian Mine of the Old Wallins Creek Coal Company on August 25, 1911. This soon became a thriving enterprise increasing from 25,841 tons (roughly 600 cars) in 1911 to a total of 356,339 cars in 1928.

The two men who were undoubtedly responsible for the design and architectural style of the depot building at Harlan were two important engineers who were employed by the L & N. Both held the title of chief engineer at different times during their careers with the railroad. They were responsible for the establishment of a more-or-less standard design for depot buildings which was followed by the L & N from the early 1900s.

The first of these men was Richard Montfort (1854-1934) who was born in Ireland, and was first employed by the Louisville Bridge and Iron Co. In 1880 he entered the service of the L & N as bridge engineer. In 1883 he became resident engineer of the system and in 1887 was appointed the first chief engineer in the history of the company.

The second of these men was William Howard Courtenay (1858-1934), who became Assistant Engineer with the L & N in 1891 and in 1906 was appointed chief engineer to succeed Montfort. His chief contributions to the company was in the field of railroad bridges, many of which are still used today.

The L & N Railroad Depot served for many years as an important center for the company's activities in this area. When the company moved its chief shipping headquarters up the track and discontinued its passenger service, the danger that the old depot building would be destroyed was thought to be averted when the City of Harlan became its new owner.

The city demolished the depot in 1985.

Building Description

Constructed in 1911, the Harlan L & N Railroad Depot is located on River Street in downtown Harlan, Kentucky. To the west is Main Street, Harlan's major north- south axis, and north across Clover Fork are the city hall and the county courthouse. Harlan, with a population of 3,318 (1970 census), is the seat of Harlan County which is situated in extreme eastern Kentucky along the Virginia border.

Typical of the functional design of railroad stations of this period, the Harlan Depot is a long, narrow structure, approximately 400' x 50', paralleling the east-west L & N track. The building was planned as a combination passenger and freight depot. (The initial plan is the reverse of the L & N Railroad's plan C25513).

The freight room occupies the east section, the passenger waiting rooms are located in the west end, and the ticket office and baggage room are in the central portion. The structure rests on a brick foundation which is sheathed to a height of approximately three feet with vertical boards. Numerous windows, many of them paired, pierce the frame walls in the passenger section. Four additions increasing the capacity by 280 feet were made to the freight room between 1913 and 1918, and other minor additons and alterations took place in 1925. Composed of red tile, the roof is hipped in three sections covering the passenger waiting rooms and ticket office area, while a long gabled roof suffices the freight room. Modestly scalloped brackets support the roof overhang. Brick chimneys rise from the passenger and ticket office sections of the building. A wooden platform runs along the south side of the freight room, and a concrete platform bounds the north side of the passenger section.

The ceilings are thirteen feet in the office and waiting rooms. In the passenger area the narrow, beaded board wainscoting remains as do some of the original wooden benches. The suspended light fixtures are intact as well.

The L & N Railroad ceased using the depot in the 1960s, and since that time the passenger and office sections have remained vacant. Several local businesses have used the freight area for storage. Although unused for several years, the depot is structurally sound and could be easily adapted to other uses. The City of Harlan now owns the depot and is in hopes of obtaining grant money for rehabilitation purposes. Tentative plans included using one section as a recreational facility for the elderly and converting the remaining space into offices. Apparently those plans fell though and the city demolished the depot in 1985.