Belt Line Railroad

Reached Lexington:  1889

Route:   Around northern Lexington

Corporate Names:

Belt Line Railway (1888 – 1895)

Chesapeake & Ohio (1895 – 1971)

Chessie System (1971 – 1986)

CSX Transportation (1986 – 2003)

R J Corman (2003 – Present)

The City Passenger Railway Company (later renamed the Passenger & Belt Line Company) was chartered by the Legislature on May 18, 1886.  In 1888, control passed to Lexington investors, headed by Charles H. Stoll.  Stoll was an attorney and major investor in the Kentucky Union Railway.  The Kentucky Union had planned to connect to the Cincinnati Southern in Lexington.  However, the Louisville & Nashville refused to allow the Kentucky Union to cross its track at grade in Lexington.  With the Kentucky Union located on the east end of Lexington, this refusal prevented the connection with the Cincinnati Railway on the west.

The street car’s charter empowered the company to operate streetcars in Lexington.  It also contained a provision that allowed freight traffic.  The company established three subsidiaries, the Belt Electric Line, the Belt Land Company, and the Belt Line Railway.  The Belt Electric Line operated the streetcar line.  The Belt Land Company owned property on the north side of Lexington, adjacent to the Belt Line’s track, being developed into industrial sites.

In 1889, the third subsidiary, the Belt Line Railway, extended its tracks from the end of the Kentucky Union, north around the center of the city.[1]  The funds for this expansion were advanced by the Kentucky Union, which purchased $55,000 in Belt Line bonds.  The Belt Line was authorized to issue $150,000 in first mortgage bonds, of which the $55,000 was outstanding.  The bonds were issued for thirty years, bearing interest of six percent.  The Kentucky Union also deeded the “Anderson and Berry” properties to the Belt Line – which allowed them to complete the loop.

In May 1890, the Kentucky Union formally leased the entire Belt Line Railway.  This lease was for a period of thirty years, with perpetual renewal options.  State law did not permit a railroad to own assets or stock in a streetcar company.  The railroad agreed to purchase $230,000 in new Belt Line bonds ($55,000 in prior issued bonds were converted into the new bonds, the remaining $175,000 was deferred).  These bonds were for thirty years, with six percent interest.  The Kentucky Union agreed to pay the interest on the bonds as annual rental and guarantee payment of principal and interest.  At maturity, the railroad would have use of the Belt Line at no additional expense.  The Kentucky Union also agreed to pay for any repairs or improvements, as well as all property taxes associated with the Belt Line.

The Kentucky Union also agreed to transfer freight cars around the Belt Line loop for $1 per car.  The standard rate was $2 per car.  This was to attract new industries to locate on the Belt Land Company’s property adjacent to the track.

The Belt Line profited from this deal – receiving $230,000 for a line that was estimated to cost significantly less than $100,000.  This arrangement also allowed the Kentucky Union to connect to the Cincinnati Southern by way of the city streets.[i]

In May 1890, the Kentucky Union Railroad began operating by way of the Belt Line and connecting with the other railroads.  The Kentucky Union finally secured its western terminal.[ii]

In February 1891, the Kentucky Union was placed in the hands of a receiver.  In late July 1891, the Belt Line notified the Kentucky Union that they were revoking the lease effective the Monday morning, July 27, 1891.  To enforce this revocation, the Belt Line marshaled a large work party on Saturday, July 25th, and began erecting a wooden fence across the junction.[2]

Captain James M. Phillips, Superintendent of the Kentucky Union, expected this action and telegraphed Kentucky Union’s Receiver Hamilton Kean in New York, “Reported here Stoll had brought engine from Belt and Southwestern.  Will attempt to seize the Belt Line today.”  In reply, he received, “Telegraph received.  Have force of men in reserve with determined leaders, who will act in case of your arrest.”  The Kentucky Union ran a train loaded with “volunteers” from the mountains into Lexington.  The two large armies of workers faced off across the newly erected wooden fence.  As the Belt Line worker dug a hole and set a post, a railroad worker immediately pulled up the post and refilled the hole.

After a few minutes, a general melee started among the opposing groups.  Detective George Drake of the Kentucky Union was struck by John T. Shelby, one of the attorneys for the Belt Line, and Captain Phillips came to his aid.  The Belt Line with a larger number of workers ultimately held the battlefield and the railroad men retired back toward their train.  No one was seriously injured.  The local paper commented that the “Belt Line army is quite respectable in size, though largely composed of Colonels.”

Shortly afterward, the Fayette County Sheriff arrived to restore peace.  He arrested Shelby, Drake and Phillips and hauled them off to jail.  The Belt Line maintained an armed guard at the crossing for the next few days.  On Monday, July 27th, the Belt Line blockaded the crossing by pulling up roughly one hundred feet of track and derailing a locomotive, with several cars of flat iron.

The attorneys for the Kentucky Union immediately filed a motion with the Federal Court in Louisville (which oversaw the Kentucky Union receivership) to hold the Belt Line directors in contempt of court.  On Thursday, July 30, federal marshals served papers on Charles H. Stoll to appear in court the next Monday.

During the next week, the parties testified in Louisville to the events.  On August 5, 1891, the court ordered the Belt Line to return possession of the crossing to the railroad, finding that the Kentucky Union had possession of the property and that the Belt Line had no right to force possession without a court order.[iii]

In 1894, the reorganized Lexington & Eastern Railway notified the Belt Line Railway that they would not assume the lease made by the Kentucky Union.  In addition, they would also cease transferring the Belt’s cars.  The company justified their actions on the basis that the original lease was “not equitable, excessive and unreasonable” and that they were not a party to the lease.[iv]  The company also suspended the $10,500 payment due on the Belt Line’s bonds.  The company began using the Chesapeake & Ohio tracks from the city limits into Lexington.[v]

During 1894, the Belt Line defaulted on its bonds.  On January 1, 1895, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway purchased the Belt Line at public sale.

In 2003, the control of the Belt Line passed to R J Corman, when it assumed other CSX lines in Lexington.


Belt Line, 1938   <C&OHS>


[1] The “Lexington Belt Railroad” received permission from the Kentucky Railroad Commission around 1890 to build from Lexington to Valley View, where it would connect with the Richmond, Nicholasville, Irvine & Beattyville Railroad.  This connection was not built.

[2] The crossing was located at the home of famed jockey Isaac Murphy.  His home was located on Third Street, near the intersection with Winchester Pike.

[i] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, October 16, 1890, page 1, column 5 –6 and   Lexington Morning Transcript, Lexington, Kentucky, July 26, 1891, page 1, column 3.

[ii]  Winchester Democrat, September 18, 1889 and June 4, 1890.

[iii]  Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, October 16, 1890, page 1, column 5 – 6, July 26, 1891, page 1, column 1 - 3, July 28, 1891, page 1, column 1, July 29, 1891, page 1, column 3, July 31, 1891, page 1, column 1, August 2, 1891, page 1, column 1 – 3, August 6, 1891, page 4, column 3, July 12, 1892, page 1, column 2 and August 15, 1892, page 1, column 5 and Lexington Transcript, Lexington, Kentucky, August 2, 1890, page 4, column 2, July 26, 1891, page 1, column 3, July 28, 1891, page 4, column 3, July 29, 1891, page 3, column 3, July 30, 1891, page 1, column 3 – 4, July 31, 1891, page 8, column 4, August 1, 1891, page 1, column 4, August 2, 1891, page 1, column 3 – 6, August 6, 1891, page 1, column 6 and August 7, 1891, page 1, column 3.

[iv] Lexington Morning Transcript, Lexington, Kentucky, November 2, 1894, page 1, column 4 and November 3, 1894, page 8, column 4.

[v]  Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, November 2, 1894, page 5, column 1 - 3.

William M. Ambrose, Bluegrass Railway, Limestone Press, Lexington, 2009.