Tuscumbia, Courtland & Decatur Railroad

The shoals before the changes in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

By the 1830s, the Muscle Shoals were already obstacles of trade between the upper and lower Tennessee River. Keelboats with shallow drafts could brave the shoals, but this did not allow for the shipment of valuable commodities such as cotton. Decatur Landing, roughly forty-five miles from Tuscumbia Landing, was the start of dangerous waters.


Construction of the Muscle Shoals Canal began in the 1830s. However, this canal system did not solve the problems posed by the Muscle Shoals, as it only covered a portion of the Shoals and quickly filled with silt and rendered near-impassable soon after construction.

A drawing of the original carriages and locomotive of the railroad.

The first railroad west of the Appalachians, the original horse-drawn track of the Tuscumbia Railroad, traversed the 2.5 miles from Tuscumbia Landing to the town. The Tuscumbia Railway was extended by Congressional charter soon after to connect the landings at Decatur and Tuscumbia, passing through the town of Courtland. It was later incorporated into the Memphis and Charleston Railway, then Southern Railway, and now Norfolk Southern. The railroad helped to fuel massive cotton trade in the region and was more reliable than the canal system.


Tuscumbia Landing sits atop a bluff overlooking the confluence of Spring Creek and the Tennessee River. Naturally, this made offloading goods from train cars onto waiting boats difficult. However, the depot at the landing created a ramp to drop cargo down onto a pier below, the remains of which can still be seen at the bottom of the slope in the form of carved stone blocks in the water.

Images:

Shoals: TJ Campbell, The Upper Tennessee, 1932

Train: NPS