Immediately south of the main campus at the University of Memphis sits a railroad line that serves as a way to port goods from the country's longest river to the nation’s capital.
Although most students might complain about the inconvenience it causes seemingly anytime they are running late for class, its history is rooted in being an integral part of the development of the city.
'The railroad track has enough importance of its own,” said Memphis historian Jimmy Ogle. “That track was the first to connect the Mississippi to the east coast. It was over 780 miles long at a time when most railroad were short tracks, usually only 100 miles at most.”
The railroad tracks were originally built in 1857. They connected the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean and were primarily used to haul inland cotton to the coast for trade with European countries. As the area developed due to the growth of the city and the presence of the West Tennessee Normal School, passenger cars became more abundant on the line.
“People used to use the passenger trains quite a bit,” said retired Norfolk Railroad employee Pete Craft. “I remember when the first diesel engine trains used that railroad. They were so fast and new people nicknamed them ‘Streamliners.’”
Along with streetcars that traced the streets, the railroad was the main form of transportation in the area. Shortly after World War II, the use of cars began to trump that of streetcars and train lines resulting in the once great passenger train not being needed in the same way.
“People during the war had made more money than in their entire lives,” said Memphis historian Wayne Dowdy. “They wanted to buy a car and a house so this area really developed.”
In 1949, Normal Station went out of service and was destroyed. After it no longer served passengers, the railway became a dedicated goods rail. The land in which the station stood still holds visual cues from its past. North of the tracks and south of U of M buildings Ellington Hall and Smith Hall, the outline for the old stop can still be seen.
Even though many would lob petty complaints at the train's location, it has been a huge catalyst for development both in the area and the city.
“Nowadays most people tend to think that it’s in their way,” Ogle said. “But it’s been there longer than Memphis, so really, we’re in its way.”