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Western Railway of Alabama | Photo © 2022, www.abandonedalabama.com

Western Railway of Alabama

Location Class:
Built: c. 1860 | Abandoned: c. 1970
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

The Montgomery Railroad, later known as the Western Railway of Alabama, was one of the earliest railroads in the South. It was founded on January 20, 1832, with tracks being built from Montgomery, Alabama east to the Chattahoochee River at Columbus, Georgia.  

The Montgomery Railroad

The Montgomery Railroad Company was incorporated by many influential and successful planters, merchants, and industrialists in Montgomery including Thomas M. Cowles, General John ScottAbner McGeheeWilliam B. S. GilmerBenajah S. BibbCharles T. Pollard, John Goldthwaite, William Sayre, and P. D. Sayre, among many others. These investors contributed not only funding but also land in the construction of a track from Montgomery to Columbus, Georgia. The company ran into various financial troubles in the following years making it necessary for the company to mortgage for $50,000.

The railroad had not reached Franklin, Alabama, just 32.4 miles east of Montgomery until June 1840, earning a paltry $500 that year. Business was so bad that many of the investors decided to drop out wherein the company was leased by Abner McGehee. Due to more financial troubles, the railroad was sold under foreclosure on July 9, 1842. It was purchased by Charles T. Pollard and eight other men and reorganized as the Montgomery and West Point Railroad Company on February 13, 1843.

6efee7f3 1162 439f a122 6b07de5c3f5f Aerial WofA Shops 1950 01 08 Mtgy
Aerial view of the Western Railway of Alabama car shops in Montgomery, Alabama.

Montgomery and West Point Railroad

The company’s difficulties continued and by 1845, there were only five stockholders left—Abner McGehee, Charles T. Pollard, Thomas M. Cowles, Alfred V. Scott, and William Taylor. They sought aid from the state, securing a $116,000 loan by mortgaging their private property. With this funding, it was agreed that the best course of action in carrying work was to purchase eighty-four slaves from Virginia for $42,176.20. The railroad was finally completed to West Point on April 28, 1851. Three years later, the Atlanta and West Point Railroad was completed, connecting Montgomery to the East Coast.

By July 1852, the railroad operated daily, earning profits of up to $130,000 a year. This success though was relatively short-lived. During the Civil War, the railroad was raided in July 1864 by 2,500 Union cavalry troops under the command of Lovell Rousseau. Rousseau’s forces managed to destroy 30 miles of track, take and destroy a large number of supplies at Opelika, and burned the railroad stations and warehouses in Montgomery and West Point. In April 1865, James Wilson led an extraordinarily large force of 13,500 Union troops through Montgomery to Columbus, destroying the remaining rolling stock of the railroad as well as tracks, bridges, and warehouses along the way. The Montgomery and West Point Railroad filed for bankruptcy and merged with the Western Railway of Alabama in 1870, and continued to struggle during and after reconstruction.

Western Railway of Alabama

The Western Railway of Alabama was created as the Western Railroad of Alabama by Abner McGehee of the Montgomery & West Point Railroad in 1860. He designed it to bring shipments of cotton from Montgomery eastward to the factories, thus lengthening the Montgomery and West Point Railroad and creating the ”West Point Route”. When this line was completed in 1870, the Montgomery and West Point Railroad merged into the Western Railway of Alabama. It served Auburn and Opelika, connecting to the Central of Georgia line from Columbus, Georgia to Birmingham. Eventually, the service was expanded to carry passengers as well.

Montgomery’s centralized location between Selma and West Point made it a prime location to develop one of the most bustling railway production areas in Alabama, located one mile north of downtown. Their main factories and shops were built here, and in these shops, workers produced things like signs, furniture, railway parts, railway cars, and everything in between. They also served as a major railroad repair site for itself and for several small regional and lumber railroads as well. These shops were hailed as the largest in Alabama and the best equipped in the South.

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1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Montgomery, Alabama.

Although it was partially owned by the Central of Georgia around the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, it did not end up being owned by Norfolk Southern when that company came into existence due to the merger of the CofG’s parent, the Southern Railway, and the Norfolk & Western Railway. In the 1980s, the line and its sister railroads, the Atlanta and West Point Railroad and the Georgia Railroad became part of the Family Lines System, along with the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and the Clinchfield Railroad. The lines were all merged and renamed Seaboard System Railroad, which in 1986 merged with the Chessie System to become CSX Transportation.

Passenger service ceased on January 7, 1970, but the Western Railway of Alabama still sees regular freight service to this day.

Having sat abandoned for decades, Marjam Supply Company affiliated ELSAJA announced in 2017 that the shops and railyard in Montgomery would become an outdoor concert and event venue. The company bought the property with the intent of using it as a construction site, but due to the success of the downtown Taco Libre music and food event in 2016, the plans changed. In April 2017, Taco Libre was held at the old railyard, although many of the buildings were demolished due to safety issues. While there was hope that this was the beginning of its preservation, nothing has occurred at the old railyard since then.

Cover and Site Plan Western Railway of Alabama Montgomery Rail Shops 701 North Perry Street Montgomery Montgomery County AL HAER AL 186 sheet 1 of 14 1
Site plan for the Western Railway of Alabama Montgomery shops. Historic American Engineering Record; Drawn by Elisabeth Dubin. Click here for a larger view.

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