Rare railroad history returns to Putnam County

COOKEVILLE – A rare piece of Putnam County railroad history has made its way home to the Cookeville Depot Museum.

“It’s one of a kind,” museum docent George Holmes said of the round, 150-pound cast iron Tennessee Central Railway sign that once marked the Putnam and Cumberland county line. “We’re so lucky that we were able to get it back here.”

The sign, 30 inches in diameter, is white with black letters that read “Putnam County Line” on one side and “Cumberland County Line” on the other. It was discovered in Moscow, Idaho.

“A very nice lady realized she had something a museum might want, so she did some research and eventually found us,” Holmes said. “We knew immediately we wanted to have it.”

The Idaho woman, Cynthia King, offered to donate the sign to the depot. She said her late father-in-law, I.W. King, had either bought it at surplus or saved it from being scrapped when he worked for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in the 1960s.

Museum staff members aren’t sure how old the sign is.

“But we do know the railroad track in that area was in use from 1890-1968,” Beth Thompson, Cookeville museums manager, said.

Friends of the Cookeville Depot provided the funds to ship the heavy sign to the museum from Idaho.

While they were at it, they were also able to obtain a second sign – a rusted railroad crossing sign shaped like an upside down guitar that reads “Danger, Look Out for Trains.” But the origin of that sign is unknown.

“It may have been on the Tennessee Central line, but we’re not sure,” Holmes said. “Its location may be lost to history.”

Both signs are on display at the Cookeville Depot Museum, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 116 W. Broad St. Admission is free. To learn more, call 931-528-8570.

Holmes said the depot is extremely fortunate to have the signs – especially the one that marked the Putnam County line.

“It was so far from home,” he said. “To have it here is a rare opportunity for us to preserve a piece of Tennessee Central and Putnam County history.”