The Story of the Boom Day Mineral Railroad
Published in Landmarks Bulletin, 2008The mineral railroad came out to Mary Jane Weathers Williamson Payne and Joseph Payne’s land. A coal mine that was opened by the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company was named Payne Mines. It is believed that the village beside the mine, Lookout Village, was constructed on or very near the property the Paynes sold to the company. The deed is on file at the DeKalb County Courthouse, Book U, dated April 13, 1899. Information about the railroad follows:
Beginning January 20, 1890, and continuing throughout the year of 1891, regular train service ran between the City of Fort Payne and Lookout Mountain’s Moore Community. The train carried coal, freight, and passengers along a regularly scheduled route. In 1890, the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company published a 52–page book, “Fort Payne Illustrated.” The book’s purpose was to visually show fulfillment of the promises made in the companyx’s 1889 prospectus. On page 26 it said: “The Mineral Railroad is in operation.” Pages 30 and 32 said that “regular trains run from the city to Lookout Village and the line will ultimately be absorbed into the Fort Payne and Eastern Railroad”.
The Fort Payne and Eastern Railroad was intended to form a link in a railroad that would run from Guntersville, Alabama on the Tennessee River, to Port Royal, South Carolina, on the Atlantic Ocean. However, the only part of the line that was actually in operation was The Mineral Railroad.
The Railroad had sidings extending to all the coal mines and iron ore mines in the Fort Payne area. It also ran to Fort Payne Furnace Company; Bay State Furnace Company; Fort Payne Rolling Mill; and the coke ovens. The longest continuous line ran from the ridge west of Fort Payne to the coal mines near Moore Schoolhouse and the present–day Moore Schoolhouse Cemetery.
This line crossed over the Alabama Great Southern Railroad on a tall, wooden trestle. The trestle was built near the present–day Alabama Fan Club, near the junction of U.S. Highway 11 South, and Alabama Highway 35, south.
The railroad then made a wide curve to the south and east through Douglas and continued on the side of Lookout Mountain, east of all of Fort Payne’s avenues, and gradually climbed to the top of Beeson Gap. It roughly paralleled the route of today’s Alabama Highway 35, south, then up Lookout Mountain, but at a higher elevation.
When it encountered soft earth, it canyoned through those areas. Once, a train wreck occurred in one of the man–made canyons. Spectators flocked to the derailment. A photograph of the wreck shows a badge–wearing man on horseback among the spectators. The picture was taken about 3⁄4 of a mile down from the top of the mountain.
When the railroad reached the top of the mountain, another wooden trestle was constructed to cross the deep hollow. (There is now a house in the hollow.) Then it crossed present–day DeSoto State Parkway. Leroy Williamson helped remove the remnants of the railroad when the new parkway was constructed and paved [in the 1950s].
The railroad continued south, running near present–day Fort Payne Fire Station Three. There was some meandering about as it crisscrossed the old road (Beeson Gap Road) that has been replaced by Alabama Highway 35, south. Raymond Wright, from his produce stand on Pumpkin Center Road, can point out one meander as it crossed that road to the east and south of his house.
In 1889, the Rush family sold rights–of–way through four of their farms. Frederic D. Rush received $75.00 for an 80–foot strip across Lewis’ farm, purchased in 1859, and her 40 acres, homesteaded in 1891.
On April 13, 1899, Joseph Payne and his wife, Mary Jane Weathers Williamson Payne, sold one of their three 40s to the railroad, reserving about fifteen acres for Moore Schoolhouse and their peach orchard. They were paid $1,000.00. This deed is recorded in Book U in the Probate Office at the DeKalb County Courthouse.
Most of the coal was located in land sections 24, 25, and 26. These mines are sometimes referred to as Payne Mines and sometimes as Lookout Mines. It was near the mines that small wooden buildings were constructed for a depot, store, and housing. The cluster of buildings was called Lookout Village. On April 4, 1990, a U.S. Post Office was opened in the ville, according to a newspaper article in John Chamber’s book, As We Pass By.
Before the railroad reached Lookout Village, it had to cross a number of small streams. Stout culvert of hand–hewn limestone blocks were constructed for the streams to flow through. The culverts still stand today.
Many remains of the old railroad still stand in evidence. Rex Harrison has the remains of a wooden bridge across a stream south of his house. Quinnion Harrison has the railroad bed in his yard. Johnny Eberhart recently had to dig through a five–foot high railway bed to access a building site. Gerald Ballenger has the bed on his property. James W. Tipton has to cope with both the bed and culverts all the way across the pasture behind his house.
When Don Lucy and Sonny Keep were younger — in the early 1950s — they used a section of the bed for rifle practice because it was exactly straight behind Paul Keef’s house.
The terminus of the railroad was near the junction of Straight and Yellow Creeks. There is no evidence that the railroad ever crossed either stream, and it stopped before it had to cross Little River.
In all, counting the sidings to the mines and the factories in the valley, about 14 miles of track were laid. Horse–drawn earth–moving equipment was used to build the roadbed. The work began November 4, 1889, and the first train ran out to Lookout Village on January 20, 1890. The work was completed in less than three months.
The Mineral Railroad was built rapidly, but sturdily. It was built to last, but was only used for two years. Many artifacts remain on Lookout Mountain over 115 years later.
Research and information on the Mineral Railroad was compiled by Charles Rush, Leroy Williamson, James W. Tipton, and Gwendolyn Lucy. The sources they used were: A set of glass plate photograph negatives, interviews and field investigation. They are to be commended for the preservation of this important history.