Memphis Branch Railroad

The Memphis Branch Railroad and Steamboat Company was chartered in 1839 with the goal of connecting the Coosa River at Rome with the new state railroad, the Western & Atlantic. It changed its name to the Rome Railroad Company in January, 1850, soon after completing a 20-mile rail line from Rome to the W&A at Kingston.

In 1868, a charter was acquired by a new Memphis Branch Railroad Company, which was consolidated with the Rome Railroad Company in 1870. Citing two 1871 issues of the Rome Courier, George W. Hilton1 observed that Rome envisioned itself as the junction of the branch to Memphis of a narrow-gauge New York-New Orleans air line. At the time, narrow-gauge lines were being promoted as less expensive to build and operate than broad-gauge railroads.

More savings would come from a lease of convict labor. Alex Lichtenstein2 noted the railroad's plans:

"Competition for the convicts was brisk...Another railroad firm applied for fifty convicts at $30 each 'to construct the Memphis Branch Rail Road running ...through what is believed to be a very rich coal region' near the Alabama line...."

"The entrepreneurs bidding for convict labor had calculated the benefit quite carefully. Alfred Shorter and Hugh Coltman, two of the directors of the Memphis Branch, also owned the Etna Iron Company, which had applied to lease convicts of its own to work the iron mines of Polk County."

Poors 1881 Manual reported that the Memphis Branch Railroad Company was sold on August 14, 1877 to William Phillips, president of the Marietta & North Georgia Railroad Company. At the time, Poors described the railroad as a narrow-gauge line with 5 miles of track laid between Rome and a point west, with 17 miles graded from Rome westward. According to Hilton, Phillips expressed his intention to take up the rails for use on his M&NG line. Other sources indicate that the road was purchased in 1877 by the Rome Railroad, which abandoned it in 1885. (See Rome & Decatur Railroad.)

1873 map (184K)

1 George W. Hilton. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.

2 Alex Lichtenstein. Twice the Work of Free Labor; the Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South. New York: Verso, 1996.


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