Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad

Reached Lexington:   1872

Route:  Lexington to Mt. Sterling

Corporate Names:

Lexington & Big Sandy (1852 – 1869)

Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy (1869 – 1881)

Newport News & Mississippi Valley (1881 – 1892)

Chesapeake & Ohio (1892 – 1971)

Chessie System (1971 – 1986)

CSX Transportation (1986 – 2003)

R J Corman (2003 – Present)

The Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad received its charter in September 1852.  The road was planned to connect Lexington with the Big Sandy River, near Catlettsburg.  The City of Lexington subscribed $150,000 toward the construction.[i]  From Lexington, the organizers included Robert Wickliffe, Thomas B. Megowan, D. C. Payne, Jacob Hughes and Thomas Hughes.

Between 1854 and 1857, twelve miles of track were completed from Ashland to Coalton (Mt. Savage).[1]  However, the Panic of 1857 caused the company to cease operations.

Only portions of the right-of-way were surveyed in Fayette County.  In 1860, the roadbed was sold at public auction for $60,000.[ii]

Lexington & Big Sandy Map – 1853

Lexington & Big Sandy Map – 1853

Lexington & Big Sandy Map – 1853

Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad:

In 1869 the Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad was organized as successor to the Lexington & Big Sandy.  The City of Lexington and County of Fayette both contributed another $250,000 each in capital for the road.[iii]  This company acquired portions of the old right-of-way from the Lexington & Big Sandy.  The final estimates from Lexington to Ashland totaled $2,600,000 or roughly $30,000 per mile.[iv]

On November 6, 1871, construction began at Scott’s Pond, on Winchester Road (at the city limits) toward Clark County.  The contractor was Hutson & Bibb.[v]  On December 16, 1871, the City of Lexington granted the railroad the right to build from the city limits into the city to the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad (later Louisville & Nashville) on Water Street at Patterson.[2]

On March 2, 1872, the first rail was laid on Water Street and by June the line was completed to Mt. Sterling, a distance of 33 miles.  The line was built to the standard gauge.  Construction stopped at Mt. Sterling due to lack of financing.  The road connected with the Kentucky Central Railway at Winchester.  The line was leased in June 1872 to the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad.  The revenues were divided two-thirds to the operating line and one-third to the track owners.[vi]

The company built a large combined passenger and freight depot along Water Street, adjacent to the downtown business district.  In addition, the company located a freight yard along Water Street and roundhouse on Drake Street (at Water).

In 1874, the railroad’s directors were James J. Tracy (President), John C. Breckinridge[3] (Vice President), Joseph P. Lloyd, Oliver H. Perry, A. L Reide, Woodruff Sutton, John Hillhouse, O. S. Tenny and George E. Graves.  Breckinridge, Tenny and Graves were from Lexington, while the rest were from New York City.[vii]

Newport News & Mississippi Valley Railroad:

In June 1879, the Newport News & Mississippi Valley Railroad (owned by Collis P. Huntington) began surveying to complete the central section.[viii]  During this period, Huntington gained full control of the Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy line.  During 1881, construction work began from Mt. Sterling to Mt. Savage.  In December 1881, the first train operated over the route from Ashland to Lexington, a distance of over 109 miles.[ix]

In December 1881, the Louisville & Nashville granted “trackage rights” to the company from Lexington to Louisville, along the “Old Road” route (the former Lexington & Ohio line).[x]  Over the next decade, the line operated, in conjunction with the Chesapeake & Ohio, as the Newport News & Mississippi Valley Railroad.  The Chesapeake & Ohio was also controlled by Huntington.

In 1882, the company built a two-story brick station on Water Street, behind the Phoenix Hotel, on the corner of South Limestone and Water Street.  The station was also used by the Kentucky Central (also controlled by Huntington) and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. 

Chesapeake & Ohio’s Fast Flying Virginian, at depot (left) behind Phoenix Hotel (right), circa 1890s   <Winfrey Adkins>

In 1889, the railroad inaugurated the Fast Flying Virginian (FFV), an overnight passenger service from Lexington to the Tidewater of Virginia and the national capital in Washington, D. C.  This train was commonly called the Flyer.  The Flyer reached the capital in 20 hours.

Enlargement of locomotive and depot   <Winfrey Adkins>

In February 1889, Huntington proposed relocating the Kentucky locomotive repair shop from Ashland to Lexington, in exchange for $25,000 and 25 acres.[xi]

In February 1892, the line was formally consolidated into the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.[xii]


[1] This portion was operated as the Lexington & Big Sandy (1856 – 1865), Lexington & Big Sandy  Eastern Division (1865 – 1880) and Ashland Coal & Iron Railroad (1880 – 1885).

[2] The city agreed to reimburse the railroad for two-thirds of the total costs, including damages and lost revenues in the event that the city would request the removal of these tracks.

[3] Breckinridge was a Lexington attorney, Vice President of the United States, Democratic nominee for President during the 1860 election and a Major General and Secretary of War for the Confederate States.  He was also one of the lobbyists for the Cincinnati Southern Railroad during the 1870s.


[i] Lexington Transcript, December 19, 1882, page 1, column 1.

[ii] Perrin, page 88 – 89.

[iii] Observer & Reporter, Lexington, July 17, 1869, page 3, column 2, January 6, 1871, page 4, column 2 and June 2, 1871, page 4, column 2 and Lexington Transcript, December 19, 1882, page 1, column 1.

[iv] Perrin, page 89 - 90 and Coleman, page 54.

[v] Lexington Press, November 4, 1871, page 4, column 2 and May 2, 1872, page 4, column 2.

[vi] Lexington Herald Leader, February 20, 1966 and Historical Sketch (Charles H. Bogart papers), page 18 - 19.

[vii] Poor, 1874-75, page 469 – 70.

[viii] Lexington Transcript, June 17, 1879, page 1, column3 and June 22, 1879, page 1, column 1.

[ix] Coleman, page 61 and Poor, 1868 – 69, page 125, 1874 – 75, page 489, 1881, page 459 and 462, 1882, page 490 and 494 – 95 and 1885, page 492 – 93 and 497 – 99.

[x] Lexington Daily Transcript, December 5, 1881.

[xi] Lexington Daily Transcript, February 20, 1889, page 1, column 3 and Lexington Leader, April 28, 1889, page 5, column 5, April 29, 1889, page 5, column 3, May 1, 1889, page 3, column 4 -5 and May 5, 1889, page 8, column 2.

[xii] Lexington Herald Leader, February 20, 1966.

[xiii] Bogart, Charles H., “C&O Steam at Lexington,” Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, C&O History, December 2003, page 3 - 8.

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