Bullitt County History

Acorn Letter About Train Wreck at Bardstown Junction, 1860

A lady, identified only as Dora Acorn, was aboard the express train when it crashed into a freight train at Bardstown Junction in 1860. She wrote of her experience in a letter to a Nashville newspaper.

The following letter was printed in The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper, on 28 Aug 1860.

Correspondence of the Banner.
Trip over the L. & N. R. R. - Collision - Incidents
Nashville, Aug. 27th, 1860

Dear Banner: - Having a brief respite from travelling, I thought that perhaps a few lines from my pen would not be uninteresting, as I was numbered among the passengers of Saturday upon the unfortunate cars from Louisville to Nashville.

Our train left a little before 6 A.M. under most favorable auspices, with the necessary supply of a very important article, to be obtained of the gentlemanly ticket agent in the Depot, Mr. A. J. Fields.

We had proceeded 22 miles with no accidents but killing three cows, and frightening many more, when I noticed the whistle making an unusual noise for smooth, safe running. I then saw two men going towards the woods without hats, then a jolt, and two or three more were hastening for shady groves and cool retreats, one with a gash in his face, the other with a bloody hand.

The lady passengers were thrown out of their seats, the gentlemen awakened from business reveries and short naps.

A collision and danger of the boiler bursting rang through the cars, when every one hastened to the door.

Being once more upon terra firma, we were able to discover the source of our mishap, and the amount of injury done.

The accident was occasioned by the freight train being upon the main track, and the express in turning the curve at Bardstown Junction, moving at the rate of thirty-one miles per hour, could not stop in time to prevent a collision, nor before the express engine had climbed into the last car of the freight train, unroofing and demolishing it entirely. The next car was broken some but in running order. Both were loaded with grain.

No one was seriously injured but the Express Messenger* [Joseph Smithers]. His forehead and face were much lacerated in jumping from the cars, and striking upon the rocks and crossties. Some kind people in the vicinity took him into their house - when we left he was unable to bear any light in his room. The engineer [William Smith] jumped from the cars for fear of being scalded. He had reversed the engine - his remaining could benefit no one, consequently his jumping was nothing that would criminate him. The others that jumped would have been secure by remaining. The engine belonging to the Express train is a wreck. The cars were injured some.

My fellow-travelers in distress amused themselves in various ways. Some were walking about the woods, some administering to those who were injured, and others were playing cards. Misfortune affects different persons differently.

We were detained where the accident happened over three hours, when an engine and cars were obtained, which took us to Lebanon Junction. Here we were permitted to stop and refresh ourselves with something more substantial than broken cars, smashed engines and woodland scenes.

Before dinner a Bell and Everett speaker, who was present, improved the occasion by speaking to the people. The Bell and Everett party were in the majority, "and all went merry as a marriage bell."

[John Bell and Edward Everett represented the Constitutional Union Party in the 1860 Presidential election.]

Before 1 P.M. we were again moving towards Nashville, where we arrived in safety before 9 P.M., when the moon "was beaming upon the Cumberland, with a rich and lustrous light."

Blame can be attached to no one on account of our accident and detention, but the conductor of the freight train, who was out of his place, and very much in the way.

Too many thanks cannot be given to Mr. W. H. Taylor, the gentlemanly conductor of our Express train, to-day, and other employees upon the cars and road, for their kindness and attentions to the unfortunate passengers who were the recipients of their favors.

Before leaving Louisville I had anticipated a delightful trip through the picturesque and varied scenery of Kentucky, nor was a disappointed. Indescribable emotions passed through my mind, while being borne with nearly the speed of the wind, through mid-air, where nothing but placid streams and rocks were visible far below, or when thundering through the subterranean portions of the road, where pitchy darkness only was visible, and eternal night forever reigns, or in dense woods, where the winds roar and the storms wring branches of tall trees from their trunks, or the zephyr breezes sigh and kiss each other from "rosy morn" till dewy eve.

Hoping, Mr. Editor, that the kind parent who watches over us all, and in whose hands we are, may deal gently with you, I am, as ever, Your humble servant, Dora Acorn.

* The Adams Express was a mail and package delivery service established in 1839 by Alvin Adams in New England. By the time of the Civil War, it was delivering mail and packages throughout the eastern half of the United States.

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 27 Jan 2021 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/acorn_letter.html