KINGSTON HISTORY: The ROME RAILROAD “Y”
by Larry Posey © 2016
After passing the attractive “Welcome to Historic Kingston” banner and entering this bucolic and rural village, visitors often ask “Where is the history.” Indeed one must mix a robust imagination with historical facts and folklore to appreciate the unfolding of long-ago events that took place in this small village. One site worth experiencing is the Rome Railroad “Y.” The “Y” is clearly discernible in an aerial view of the town.
You can also see it from the downtown business district when looking diagonally south-west across the present day CSX Railroad. Or, if you happen to be at the Kingston History Museum, look west across the ball field. There you will see an expansive level area inside of which are the weathered remnants of old curving tracks upon which once lay iron rails used by the former Rome Railroad. This area is referred to as the Rome Railroad “Y.” Sadly, the rails, cross ties, depot, section houses, and maintenance buildings that once occupied the “Y” have long been removed.
Two surviving artifacts of those historic days, however, can still be seen. One building, affectionately called the 1854 Rome Station Master’s House, still stands adjacent to the Railroad “Y.”
Close by are two concrete columns marking the old Rome Railroad entrance to the “Y.” It is hard to appreciate the drama and back breaking toil that occurred on this piece of real estate during the mid-nineteenth century.
Imagine this part of Kingston’s history told from the viewpoint of those living at the time. Transport yourself back in time to the year 1849. You find yourself in a tree-barren level field congested with men, construction equipment, and materials necessary for transforming the area into a railroad “Y” (or “WYE” using proper railroad terminology of that era). Rugged men are building a complicated rail system connecting the railroad running from Rome, Georgia along the northern banks of the Etowah River to the newly constructed Western and Atlantic (W.&A.) Railroad. The system is designed to enable trains coming from Rome to turn around without having to use a turnstile and to provide them with access to the W.&A. Railroad’s main line. Another group of workers outside the “Y” is extending the W.&A. Railroad main line beyond Kingston north toward Adairsville and on to Chattanooga. It is a noisy scene. Crew bosses are shouting orders and wagon masters are yelling commands and cracking whips to keep their teams on task. The clanging beat of workmen driving spikes to fasten rails onto roadbed crossties creates rhythms and tones that are almost musical.
Within a few months’ time, man-made structures begin to emerge from the tree-barren level field. A set of parallel iron tracks fastened to roughhewn crossties snakes through Kingston. This is referred to as the W.&A. Railroad main line running between Atlanta and Chattanooga. A train depot constructed of limestone blocks sits beside the main line with yard/side tracks on each side running alongside the main line. It is identical to one built at Cass Station. Two sets of additional tracks connect the Rome Railroad to the W.&A. Railroad mainline by means of a series of switches. One set on the eastern side of the depot provides easy access to Atlanta. The second set giving access to Chattanooga on the western side. Both sets curve back toward Rome connecting to the Rome Railroad main line just beyond the 1854 Rome Station Masters House.
Your thoughtful reflection is interrupted by a passerby telling you that around 100 people live in the village and asks you if you are looking for work. Construction foremen are hard pressed for laborers. Some families have names like Martin and Vincent and reflect migrations to Kingston from Huguenot communities in South Carolina. Quickly jump to 1852. You have made your home here and joined a population that has increased to 1169 residents. Within a period of three years you witness a surge in home, business, and warehouse construction due to demand for laborers to operate the Rome Railroad “Y” switching yard, to maintain local sections of the rail lines, and to cope with increased commercial functions associated with handling agricultural and manufactured goods. Kingston has become a vibrant town.
This time, fast forward 10 years to April 12, 1862. The streets are muddy from an early morning spring rain. Store merchants are washing down the wooden sidewalk. One merchant is cursing the local rounder who, after imbibing at several of the many saloons, likes to show off by riding his horse on the sidewalks breaking a few boards and leaving evidence of horse traffic along the way. The relative quiet is broken by sounds of shrill train and caboose whistles, clanging bells, and puffing steam engines causing bystanders to turn their attention to an unusual amount of train traffic for this time of morning.
A freight train named the New York just pulled into Kingston from Chattanooga and stopped on the main line. A Rome Railroad mail train named the William R. Smith is parked on one of the spurs in the “Y” with the crew maintaining a full head of steam on the engine as they prepare a breakfast meal. Another train, the General, announces its arrival on the main line in the opposite direction from Kennesaw. It has braked to a slow crawl, seeing that the New York was also on the main line blocking any further movement north. Uriah Stevens, the Station Agent allows the New York to remain on the main line and orders the General to move forward and park on a side track placing the engine near the switch on the west end of the “Y.” By this time, a curious crowd has gathered on the street across from the depot. “Who is that tall feller climbing down from the General’s engine? He looks like a politician dressed in that long overcoat. It sure ain’t Fuller and his crew, and it ain’t a passenger train neither. Just look at the number of freight cars he is pulling.” exclaimed a bystander. “Here comes a railroad man. Maybe he can tell us what’s going on over there,” another of the group exclaimed.
According to the railroad man, the depot has lost telegraph service all the way to Atlanta and was not sure why that tall stranger instead of Fuller was on the General. The Station Agent knows that a big battle is going on around Chattanooga and that the New York and other trains are evacuating supplies out of Chattanooga for fear of their being captured by the Yankees. The well-dressed sharp talking man said his name was Andrews and that he had been ordered to transport a load of ammunition to General Beauregard in Corinth by way of Chattanooga. Because of lost telegraph communication, his story could not be confirmed. “Boys,” drawled the railroad man as he slowly pulled a plug of tobacco out of his pocket, “Uriah is awfully suspicious and has ordered the switch tender not to let the General back onto the main line.”
Despite Andrews vigorous protests, Uriah Stevens managed to delay the General in Kingston at least an hour when another freight train from Chattanooga pulled into Kingston – the caboose clearing the switch where the General was stopped on the west entrance from the “Y” to the W.&A. main line. As the train came to a complete stop, spectators looked on in amazement as Andrews sprang into action. He forcefully grabbed the switch key, opened the switch, and cleared the way for the General to reenter the main line to Chattanooga. The Yanks hiding in the cargo cars were on their way.
As the General pulled away from Kingston toward Adairsville, another engine, the Yonah, roared into town from the direction of Marietta. Also finding the main line blocked by the freight trains arriving from Chattanooga, the Yonah stopped and a young man jumped out of the cab yelling and running to a group milling around Uriah Stevens and the switch tender. After several minutes of animated conversation, the young man ran over to the Rome mail train. More animated conversation took place and suddenly the train crew and the young man jumped aboard the Rome mail train and with a full head of steam immediately chased after the General.
A local militiaman whose unit had been drilling in a field adjacent to the “Y” joined the locals, observing and trying to make sense of all the commotion. “Boys, the Yankees have just invaded Kingston,” exclaimed the militiaman who prided himself on being privy to classified war information. He concluded, “Those freight cars pulled by the General wuz full of Yankee soldiers. They stole the train at Big Shanty. They’ve been tearing up train tracks and telegraph lines. Bill Fuller is the man who was on the Yonah and has ‘bout run his legs off trying to catch up with his train that they stole. Lord knows what no good those Yankees are up to. Maybe Fuller and that mail train can stop them before they cause any more harm.” Indeed, Fuller did catch up with the General two miles north of Ringold (albeit using another commandeered train, the Texas) resulting in Andrews and his men scattering into the countryside where they were later captured.
The bizarre events that occurred on that day remained the talk of the town for the next two years. Although Kingston had been spared so far from the destructive effects of battle, it felt the war’s impact in other ways. Kingston became a stopover point for soldiers travelling between Rome, and Atlanta and the Chattanooga battlefields. Trains seldom ran at night because of potential road hazards and travelers (many whom were wounded soldiers) were forced to stay overnight in Kingston. The patriotic ladies in Kingston attended to the soldiers needs for rest, shelter and medical care.
Fast forward another two years. At four o’clock on Wednesday morning of May 18, 1864, barking dogs announce the arrival of an army approaching the town. Confederate troops belonging to Hardee’s Corps are marching in a thick fog down Hall Station Road from Adairsville to Kingston. They are a grimy bunch with smutty faces and uniforms reeking of smoke from many camp fires along the route. Although exhausted, they are in a jovial mood singing and boasting to weary-eyed residents who braved the early morning chill to greet their Southern boys that they were going to stop Sherman and return victorious within the week.
Federal troops arrived in Kingston the next day on the heels of Hardee’s Corps who had just crossed Two Run Creek east of town on the Cassville Road. The roar of artillery echoed across the town as the Federals fired parting shots at the retreating Confederates. After Federal scouts and Cavalry reported that Kingston was free of Confederate forces, Sherman’s army began setting up headquarters for a three-day stand down. Sherman ordered his Headquarters of the Military Division of the Mississippi to be set up in Kingston. Most of the units comprising his Army of the Tennessee set up camp near Kingston and in the surrounding area of Bartow County.
Numerous buildings in the vicinity of the “Y”, including the Rome Railroad’s 1854 Station Master’s House, are requisitioned for use by various staff elements of Sherman’s headquarters. Local folklore says that the Rome Station Masters House served as Sherman’s command post (CP). Here military orders and dispatches are received and transmitted from this newly painted white wooden structure that stands out among Kingston’s drab and war-weary residences. A nearby residence is occupied by staff elements responsible for conducting the Atlanta Campaign until May 23 at which time operations were transferred to forward command posts. A newly appointed staff element planning for the execution of Sherman’s “March to the Sea” is set up in another and more spacious structure.
Barely five months have gone by since the Federals occupied Kingston. It has been a troublesome time for Kingston residents. They have lost their freedom of movement among other inconveniences. Adding to the misery, residents awake to another rainy and soggy day on October 3rd, 1864. Rain has been coming down for several days and the road crews are complaining about the Federal Army’s strict orders to take measures preventing wet weather from undermining the railroad beds. They are unaware that Sherman had sent a dispatch to General Corse at Rome to move his entire division by rail from Rome to Kingston and switching to the W.&A. Railroad for movement to Allatoona Pass to reinforce the Federal garrison that was facing an imminent attack. The Federals had been using the Allatoona Pass as a staging area for provisions and ammunition transported by rail from Chattanooga to Sherman’s army battling for control of Atlanta. Confederate General Hood’s objective was to cut Sherman’s Chattanooga supply line to Atlanta at the Allatoona Pass.
The next day, disgruntled railroad crews were dispatched to repair a section of undermined road bed between Kingston and Rome that had caused derailment of at least 15 cars requested by General Corse. After the repair, an engine carefully pulled 20 cars into Rome – enough for only one brigade of 1,054 soldiers. Ignoring the potential hazards of travelling by rail at night, the train left Rome at around 8:30pm on October 4th and arrived at the Allatoona Pass garrison at 1:00am on October 5th, barely five and one-half hours before the Confederate bombardment of the garrison began at 6:30am. Fortunately for the Federals, the Kingston “Y” facilitated the movement of troops and equipment from Rome in a matter of hours that otherwise would have taken over a day of forced marching. The time saved allowed General Corse to improve the defenses of the lightly entrenched position at Allatoona and defeat the attacking Confederate forces.
A month has passed since elements of General Corse’s Division moved through Kingston. It is a cool and clear day on Wednesday, November 9th, 1864. Atlanta has fallen into the hands of Sherman’s Army. The Confederate Army is marching toward Savannah, Georgia with the Federals in pursuit. There is much excitement and activity in Kingston. Buildings occupied by Sherman’s headquarters’ staff are being evacuated; tents are struck and stowed in wagons parked throughout the town. Cameramen are busy taking pictures to record this site of momentous events. Images of mules hitched to supply wagons and artillery teams are depicted as restless in their traces and eager to move. At least two engines are shown with steam and smoke billowing from their stacks and pulling loaded cars toward Atlanta. The 1854 Station Master’s House stands out among all other surrounding buildings. It is the only building painted white and has a U.S. Army tent erected next to it. Serving as a command post, it would be the last headquarters’ building to close before Sherman begins his “March to the Sea.”
General Sherman, in Special Field Orders Number 129 issued by the Headquarters, Military Division of the Mississippi, in the Field at Kingston, Georgia, dated November 9, 1864 describes the mission and operational authority given to Sherman’s four Army Corps in their infamous “March to the Sea.” It is the last of Sherman’s dispatches from Kingston. Local folklore surmises that the orders were dispatched and telegraphed from the Rome Station Masters’ 1854 House.
Christmas came and went and finally the war ended. Kingston was occupied a second time by Federal troops. This time the guns are silent and soldiers are seen working alongside civilian laborers in the Railroad “Y.” They are busy distributing relief supplies to refugees and transporting displaced persons and residents in Northwest Georgia left destitute by the ravages of war.
Although the train depot built by the W.&A. RR survived the war, it took a natural disaster to bring it down. Early Monday morning on December 12, 1892, a fire of unknown origin destroyed the structure. The intense heat caused walls made of limestone blocks to crumble. The wooden desks, telegraph tables and safe were destroyed. Most of the records and freight, however, were saved. A wooden depot was built to replace it. Ironically this depot burned in July 1974. Broken concrete surrounding a depression in the ground marks the spot where these depots once stood.
The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway (N.C.& St.L.) acquired the Rome Railroad (including the Kingston “Y”) on December 31, 1896. The deed was recorded on January 8, 1897 in deed book “CCC,” page 96, in the Office of the Superior Court Clerk of Floyd County,Georgia.
Economic changes occurring in the early 1900’s and continuing through the 1940’s adversely impacted the Rome Railroad and its “Y” in Kingston. The construction of additional railroads through Rome and the improvement of road networks in northwest Georgia created new avenues for the shipment of commercial goods. The “Y” became less important as a trans-shipment center and relied on passenger service as their main source of revenue.
On Friday, January 15, 1943, a hearing conducted by a Mr. Swiggart was held in Rome, Georgia before the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission on the application of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway asking for permission to abandon its Rome Branch extending from Kingston to Rome, Georgia. The hearing lasted all day and included numerous witnesses and petitions. The questioning became testy at times as illustrated by the following excerpt:
Q (Mr. Swiggart) Describe your train movement between Rome and Kingston.
A (Mr. Burke) It is a mixed train.
Q Is it one engine and one freight car and one passenger car, or how many?
A My recollection is that the passenger car is –
Mr. Swiggart: You do not know what it is, do you, Mr. Burke?
Mr Burke: No sir.
Mr. Swiggart: If you do not know, just say so.
Mr Burke: No, I do not know.
The Commission’s decision sealed the fate of those nostalgic train rides to Rome along the scenic Etowah River in passenger cars furnished with wine velvet seats, kerosene lamps and pot-bellied stoves. It approved the N.C.&St.L. Railway’s application to abandon its railroad rights of way along the Etowah River between Kingston and Rome; reserving the Railroad “Y” area in Kingston for use as a railroad maintenance staging area. With the introduction of mechanical railway maintenance equipment in the 1950”s, however, the area of the Railroad “Y” property became less important as a staging area and gave way to more passive activities in picnic areas, walking trails and children’s playgrounds.
CSX Transportation Company subsequently purchased the “Y” property from the N.C.& St.L. Railway. On January 28, 2004, CSX Transportation Company deeded the Railroad “Y” (with certain easements) to the City of Kingston. The “Y” is listed in the National Register as a contributing property in the Etowah Valley Historic District. This property has also been included in Bartow County’s list of endangered historic sites.
This example of early railroad technology and its history will become a lost memory without due vigilance and protection from the ravages of time. As the saying goes “If you forget your past, you will have no future worth remembering.”
This article was originally published as part of an EVHS event celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in Bartow County. For a more complete account of the historical narrative described in this article, the reader is encouraged to access the following publications:
Bonds, Russel S. (2007), Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor. Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, LLC.
Cunyus, Lucy J. (1989). History of Bartow County, Georgia Formerly Cass. Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc.
Head, Joe F. (1997). The General: The Great Locomotive Dispute. Cartersville, GA: Bartow History Center.
Howard, F. (1905). In and Out of the Lines. New York: The Neal Publishing Company. (Reprinted copies can be purchased from the Etowah Valley Historical Society.)
Mulinix, Martha H. (1992). We Remember Kingston . . . Woman’s History Club & Others, Marietta: Marietta Quick Copy Center, Inc. (Reprinted copies can be purchased from the Etowah Valley Historical Society.)
Scaife, William R. (1995). Allatoona Pass: A Needless Effusion of Blood. (Private printing. (Copies can be purchased from the Etowah Valley Historical Society.)
Transcript of Stenographer’s Minutes before the Interstate Commerce Commission, Finance Document 14017, application of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway for permission to abandon its Rome Branch extending from Kingston to Rome, Georgia, January 15, 1943. (A copy is on file in the Kingston History Museum.)
The Courant American, (December 15, 1992) Cartersville, GA. (Microfilm copy is on file in the Etowah Valley Historical Society.)