The Bullitt County History Museum

The Railroad Comes to Shepherdsville

The following article by Charles Hartley was published on 25 Sep 2016.

Shepherdsville Depot, circa 1909.

This coming Thursday (Sept. 29) through Saturday (Oct. 1) the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Historical Society will hold its convention at the Paroquet Springs Conference Centre in Shepherdsville, nearly 161 years after the railroad first reached this town. Details of the convention may be found online at

We've written about this historic railroad before, and about the terrible wreck that occurred at Shepherdsville in 1917; but today I want to spend some time sharing those very early days when the railroad first arrived in Shepherdsville.

Enthusiasm for the railroad was particularly strong in and around Shepherdsville even before its route was definitely known. In February 1851, a meeting was held in Shepherdsville to appoint delegates to attend a railroad meeting in Elizabethtown for the purpose of encouraging the railroad directors to lay the tracks through those two towns.

This well-attended Shepherdsville meeting was chaired by Abraham Field, a Shepherdsville businessman. The following people were appointed to draft a resolution expressing the sentiments of the gatherers: William R. Thompson, William Wilson, R. F. Samuels, Humphrey Samuels, John Anderson, and Charles Lee.

That resolution promoted Bullitt County, citing "the evenness of the ground over which it will pass, the immense amount of Locust and Cedar timber within her borders; her immense beds of iron ore, and the very eligible location for a bridge near Shepherdsville" as reasons why the tracks should pass through their county. It went on to suggest that following Clear Creek south of the Rolling Fork River would be the best way to ascend Muldraugh Hill to Elizabethtown. That same route is generally followed by Interstate 65 today.

This, of course is the route that the railroad selected. But it would take more than four years for the tracks to reach Salt River at Shepherdsville. Finally, on October 8, 1855, the first train arrived in Shepherdsville.

An unnamed reporter for The Louisville Daily Courier wrote about the excursion for the next day's paper, including the following comments.

"An excursion train was run, carrying the city authorities, members of the press, some of the railroad officers, and a number of citizens. We left the depot grounds at 10 o'clock. It did not require long to course over the intervening miles. The track was unusually smooth, the grades light, the curves almost nothing, and the locomotive swift and strong. We found the country chiefly forest, with here and there a clearing, a corn patch, and a primitive log-house. The swamps are dense, dark, and almost impenetrable. Some twelve miles out, and we approached the first range of Salt River Knobs.

"We were forty minutes running the eighteen miles to Shepherdsville, landing not exactly in the town, but in a grove of black jacks, with persimmon trees, covered with their fine fruit, scattered promiscuously about. It was the first day of the Circuit Court, and Judge Bullock was a passenger on the train, accompanied by Col. Thomas W. Riley, Capt. Rousseau, and other legal gentlemen. The streets were crowded with people, and the taverns, of which there were four or five, appeared to be busy.

"Court was engaged during our stay in trying a case of hog-stealing, in which Mr. E. S. Craig appeared for the Commonwealth, and Messrs. Phil. Lee, B. Hardin Helm and Chas. G. Wintersmith, for the defense. After reconnoitering the town, examining Salt River, looking in vain for those defeated politicians, who were presumed to wander up and down its banks, we turned back. We did not, however, resume our journey until a very fine collation had been served up by Col. Wm. Riddle, consisting of everything that is edible or imbibable. Col. Riddle, who is the efficient Vice President of the Nashville road, got up the excursion of yesterday, and to him the participants are in chief indebted for their enjoyment.

"So much for the excursion. Now for something concerning the road. We found it built in the most substantial manner and progressing as rapidly as the weather will allow. Salt River is already reached, and the erection of the bridge across that stream will be immediately commenced. It will take only three weeks to complete this structure, as the timbers are all in readiness, each marked for its place, the bolts and irons prepared, and nothing necessary but their being placed together."

He went on to declare the advantages the railroad would bring to Louisville, as the tracks were extended southward, and joined with spur lines that would penetrate to the "fine agricultural region" around New Haven.

Writing for the Louisville audience, he concluded, "Our citizens who are so deeply interested in the construction of this great enterprise should feel encouraged. The day when all their hopes in connection with its successful operation, is not far distant. Then for a further leap onward in the track of destiny for Louisville."

And so it was that the railroad completed the first step on its journey toward Nashville, a step that would have a tremendous impact on Bullitt County. While the railroad's impact locally is diminished today from days gone by, we are happy to welcome members and guests of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Historical Society to Shepherdsville this week.

Copyright 2016 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: