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Wolfe County's Railroads

Today, the sounds of train whistles and puffing steam engines remain only as memories to the old timers of Wolfe County. Once several railroads ran through Wolfe County, chugging up the hills and through the hollows. If you listen close on a clear, starry night, you might still hear their lonesome ghosts.

Kentucky Union Railroad

The first railroad to come to Wolfe County was the one built by the Kentucky Union Railroad Company in the late 1880's. Speculators, as early as the 1850's, wanted to build a railway to connect Lexington to the coal deposits of West Virginia. The project would not begin until 1886, when track was laid to Clay City in Powell County. The building of the line pushed eastward through present-day Natural Bridge State Park, where a tunnel was built. From here, the rail was built along the Graining Block Fork to the small community of Torrent in Wolfe County.

The dream of building the railway to West Virginia was given up, and it was decided to build to Jackson in Breathitt County. From this vantage point, the Eastern Kentucky coal could be accessed by the industries of Lexington. At Torrent, the rail builders turned away from the Graining Block Fork towards the Kentucky River. In order to proceed from Torrent, a tunnel had to be built through a hill that stood in the way.

According to local tradition, the tunnel was built solely by convict labor. Digging through the soft shale was risky business and, as the story goes, several of the more disobedient prisoners fell victim to rock slides either by convience or through consequence. Enough of the men died to warrant a graveyard on a nearby hill. The completed tunnel spanned 11, 100 feet in length and was the longest one on the entire line. From the Torrent tunnel, the rail was built down Walker's Creek to the North Fork of the Kentucky River and then on to Jackson.

Financial problems overwhelmed the Kentucky Union Railroad, and it was reorganized as the Lexington and Eastern Railroad (L&E) in 1894. A few years later, the L. Park Hotel was opened along the rail tracks at Torrent and showed promise as a resort hotel. Since no roads existed at the time, the railroad was the only means of visiting the Torrent area. The L & E Railroad took notice and promoted Torrent in order to attract tourists to ride their rail. Natural Bridge, at the time, did not have a hotel and visitors lodged at the L. Park Hotel at Torrent. Morning excursion trains took the tourists from Torrent to Natural Bridge and another brought them back in the evening. It proved to be a profitable enterprise for the Lexington and Eastern Railroad.

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad purchased the line in 1910. In 1926, the company sold its land in the area of Natural Bridge to the state, who made it into a state park. A good automobile road was built to the park, which prompted a decline in the railroad traffic. The L & N Railroad operated the line until its closure in 1942, when its tracks were taken up and melted into weaponry to fight the Germans and Japanese in World War II.

Several landmarks remain today to remind us of this railroad. The tunnel at Natural Bridge exists intact, but only the entrances of the Torrent tunnel remain. Since Highway 11 was built almost entirely on top of the railroad line, most of the evidence was destroyed. At few points along the highway, you can still see sections of the old railroad embankment and even more can be seen along Walker's Creek.

Additional railroad information is coming soon!