Oneida and Western Railroad
In the early 1900s, Pickett, Fentress and Scott counties along the Big South Fork Cumberland River in northern Tennessee were ripe with virgin, old-growth timber and vast coal pockets. Most of the land, however, was inaccessible due to the unforgiving terrain. The Stearns Coal and Lumber Company, based out of Kentucky, attempted to harvest the trees by initially dumping logs over a 400-foot-high cliff into the river below, but most of the logs sank as they waddled north into Kentucky.(1)
A mill was constructed in Stearns, Kentucky, and the Stearns Company began construction of the Kentucky and Tennessee Railroad from Stearns into the Big South Fork valley.(1)
Initial planning for a railroad in Tennessee into the valley began in the late-1800s. The The Tennessee Stave and Lumber Company was first developed as a logging railroad for Fentress and Scott Counties, although it was rather inconsequential.(2) The Jamestown Railroad Company was incorporated on October 29, 1912 by the Tennessee Coal and Lumber Company with the purpose of constructing a railroad from Glenmary to Jamestown.(1)(2)
A lawsuit was filed by the Stearns Company that stated the railroad was being constructed without legality.(1) In it, they stated that the railroad had no charter and therefore did not exist. A judge sided with the Stearns Company.
On August 5, 1913, the Jamestown Railroad Company issued a charter and amended the alignment. The railroad became known as the Oneida and Western Railroad Company (O&W), with a purpose of building a line from Oneida to Albany, Kentucky via Jamestown.(1)(2)(3)
Construction began on the O&W on November 4, 1913 (2) at the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway (Cincinnati Southern) at Oneida and was completed to the Big South Fork Cumberland River by June 1915 for a distance of 10.2 miles.(1) The line at that point consisted of six bridges, including the truss over the river. The railroad was extended west by five mile to Gernt on July 1, 1916,(2) and another three miles to Christian later that year. In 1918, the line added 6.8 miles to Stockton, with a terminus at East Jamestown in 1921. In all, the O&W stretched for 30 miles.
A rare surviving Whipple truss along the O&W, crossing the Big South Fork Cumberland River.
There were 12 stations along the route:
- Oneida, MP 0
- Verdun, MP 2
- Reed’s Station, MP 3
- Toomey, MP 6
- Speck, MP 13
- Potter, MP 14
- Gernt, MP 16
- Zenith, MP 17
- Christian, MP 19
- Briar Point, MP 20
- Hagemeyer, MP 21
- Stockton, MP 25
- East Jamestown, MP 30
In 1917, the Doss spur was built at Stockton into the valley to access vast timber quantities.(2) The spur lasted until 1925.
In 1920, to reflect the dwindling timber stands and the emphasis on coal, the Jamestown Railroad Company was rechristened as the Tennessee Lumber and Coal Company.(2)
The O&W sought to extend the railroad 7 miles from East Jamestown to Jamestown on June 9, 1930.(1) The Company requested the extension to allow it to retrieve larger timber stands further west. The new trackage was opened on December 10, 1930, leaving the line at 37.84 miles.
At its peak in 1922, the O&W featured up to three daily round trips, sans Sunday excursions.(1) But the advent of the automobile saw the passenger ridership decline between Jamestown and Oneida, a trip that would normally take 3.5 hours. Freight use similarly declined. By 1936, there were three daily round trips via motorcar.
In addition, the Great Depression softened coal sales, and the last of the virgin timber had been harvested.(2) The last profitable year for the O&W was in 1930, except for 1948.
In 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority proposed a dam along Wolf Creek, which would later form Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee and Kentucky. A Chicago construction firm, Crown-Healy, purchased the O&W and prepared to extend the line from Jamestown to Celina, near the dam site, to transport construction materials.(1) World War II, however, delayed the dam and Crown-Healy lost out the contract after new bids were taken in 1946.(2)
A segment of the O&W was partially constructed north along the eastern banks of the Big South Fork towards Leatherwood, but was not completed. From the end of the spur to Leatherwood existed a mule tram.
The Jewell Ridge Coal Company purchased the railroad in 1946, and intended to use the line to access new coal reserves along the Big South Fork, and to an active mine at Zenith.(1)(2) But the O&W continued to bleed due to a lack of investment along the railway, and faced mounting maintenance pressures. In 1953, despite the coal mining plans which were still under development, Jewell applied for abandonment of the O&W.
By this point, there were only two to three trains operating per week on the O&W.(2) The last train operated over the O&W on March 31, 1954.(1)(2)(3)
The O&W offices, located along U.S. Route 27 in Oneida, were later used by the Plateau Electric Cooperative.(1) The junction with the Cincinnati Southern later became home to a coal tipple and crusher yard. Today, the O&W west of Big South Fork to Jamestown is a combination hiking and horse trail; to the east, it is a dirt road that provides access to the river.
- Oneida & Western Railroad Big South Fork Cumberland River Bridge at Bridges & Tunnels
- Oneida & Western Railroad at FNB Chronicle, which contains many photographs and images of the line
- Griffith, Josetta. “The Oneida & Western Railroad.” FNB Chronicle 8.2 (Winter 1997): n. pag. Print.
- 2. Duke, Jason. “Oneida & Western Railroad.” Tennessee Coal Mining, Railroading & Logging in Cumberland, Fentress, Overton and Putnam Counties. N.p.: Turner Publishing, 2003. 59. Print.
- 3. “Scott County’s History.” Scott County. 22 Apr. 2010 Article.