Original Name: “LL” branch of Louisville Southern (Lexington to Lawrenceburg)
Date Constructed: 1888-1889
Length: 24 miles
Location: The line runs through Fayette, Woodford, and Anderson counties.
Highlights: Starting behind Rupp Arena and the Newtown Pike Extension, beside Town Branch Creek and the James E. Pepper Distillery, travels through beautiful thoroughbred horse country, behind Keeneland Race Course, through the village of Pisgah, to Versailles, crossing the Kentucky River on a breathtaking1659 foot long, 280 foot high structure at Tyrone called Young’s High Bridge, passes beside the Wild Turkey Distillery and ends in Lawrenceburg.
Historic highlight: Hauled thoroughbred horses in specially equipped cars to Keeneland, Calumet, and King Ranch.
Current ownership and conditions: The western-most 3 miles were in service until recently for the Austin Nichols Distillery (Wild Turkey) from Lawrenceburg; Young’s High Bridge has been closed to train traffic since 1985; a 5.5 mile “middle stretch” from the bridge running to Versailles has been operated by the Bluegrass Railroad Museum since 1987. The eastern-most 15 miles from Versailles to Lexington is actively owned and operated by RJ Corman.
Below is a history created by Emmett Bell:
The Louisville Southern (LS) began construction of its new railroad in Louisville, and proceeded in a east-southeast direction through Jefferson, Shelby, and Anderson Counties, reaching Lawrenceburg in mid-1888. Late in the same year, surveyors began plotting out a tortuous route (compared to the rest of the railroad) from Lawrenceburg, eastward towards Lexington. The last 24 miles of the railroad would require two large bridges, including a 1659 foot long, 280 foot high structure over the Kentucky River at Tyrone, as well as numerous steep grades, cuts, and sharp curves. LS president Bennett Young hired the Union Bridge company of New York to build the Kentucky River bridge, which had required Congressional approval to construct, and to oversee the project personally. Young was a well known person during this time, and was a highly regarded hero from the Civil War. He had planned and led one of the northern most actions of the war, when his band of raiders robbed a bank in St. Albans Vermont. After the war, Young became active in Reform politics in Kentucky, and was named the president of the Louisville Southern because of his numerous successful business ventures and political actions.
As construction on the Kentucky River bridge (now named Young’s High Bridge) continued, track crews pushed the line steadily towards Versailles, and a connection with the Versailles And Midway (V&M), which built a line between those two cities, and a branch to Georgetown, in 1885. The LS Finally reached its goal in early August when it established a connection with the Cincinnati Southern (Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific) in Lexington. On August 21st, 1889 a special train departed Louisville and made it’s way to the east end of Young’s High Bridge, where the ceremonial last spike was driven, and then proceeded to Lexington with Federal, State, and local officials on board. The Louisville Southern was finally a reality.
Shortly after completion, the LS acquired the V&M, and began making improvements on the hastily constructed mainline. Not unlike many of the new railroads of this era, the LS started to suffer from financial woes, and ended up in receivership in the fall of 1889. The line was leased to the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago (MONON) on October 14, 1889, and this would prove to be the first of several different reorganizations of the railroad. After a stockholders revolt, the line came under the control of the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad (ETV&G), which was later absorbed by the Southern Railway in Kentucky, and finally the Southern Railway System.
The line prospered, with several scheduled passenger trains a day, and an ever increasing amount of freight traffic. The Southern Railway took over operations of the CNO&TP between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, and began running regular passenger trains between St. Louis, Louisville, Lexington and points South.
As traffic increased, the portion of the railroad between Lawrenceburg and Lexington began to be a bottleneck, with its uneven topography and curves, and the Southern began construction of a upgraded line from Lawrenceburg, south through Harrodsburg, to a point north of Danville (SJ Tower) where it connected to the CNO&TP. All passenger traffic, and most of the freight traffic was routed via the new “Lawrenceburg cut off”, and the 24 miles from Lawrenceburg to Lexington became the “LL” branch. Traffic remained moderate over the line for the next several decades, with large amounts of coal being brought to the Kentucky Utilities steam plant at Tyrone, and other local traffic for online customers. Thoroughbred race horses were also handled across the line in specially equipped cars, being moved in and out of the Keenland race track, and from Calumet and other horse farms near the railroad. A special spur and loading ramp was constructed at Kings Ranch (MP 20.0LL), behind Calumet Farm to serve this business.
In the early 1980’s, coal traffic began to decline, and was suspended in 1984. The loss of the coal business, plus the ever worsening condition of Young’s high Bridge and the track in general, forced the closing of the “middle” 5 1/2 miles of the branch. The last train crossed the bridge in August of 1985, bringing to a close 117 years of continuous service on the old LS.
The western 3 miles of the line were left intact to allow service to the Austin Nichol’s distillery (makers of Wild Turkey Bourbon Whiskey), and the out of service portion between the east end of the Kentucky River bridge and MP 9.0LL was sold to the Bluegrass Railroad Museum in 1987 for tourist train operations. Norfolk Southern still retained the eastern 14 miles between Versailles and Lexington to serve several customers in Versailles. NS train K-21 and K-22 made the trip to Versailles 5 days a week until the traffic levels became too low for NS to justify operation. The line was sold to Gulf And Ohio Railways, and on May 11th, 1996, a newly formed G&O subsidiary, the Lexington & Ohio Railroad began operation of the line.
History compiled and written by Emmett Bell.