Today marks a new era in the history of Grainger county. Dirt was broken for the Morristown and Cumberland Gap railroad which starts at Morristown and intersects with the Knoxville and Cumberland Gap and Louisville railroad at Luttrell.
Early this morning all the people of Grainger county gave up the plane and harvest field for one day, and with wives, children, old men and young, all came to Rutledge to spend a day in celebrating the event of so much importance to this county. There was by estimate at least five thousand people present from Grainger and surrounding counties.
After the lapse of about forty years, this country realizes her mistake in refusing to aid public enterprises. A proposition was submitted to Grainger county to take stock in the East Tennessee and Virginia railroad, now the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia railroad. The opposition to the subscription told the people that the road must go up the Bean Station valley and the result was the road was not built up this beautiful valley.
It was too late after they discovered their mistake. They resolved that if another opportunity presented itself they would not let it pass. The people of this county have seen with counties grow and prosper and they have seen towns flourish and hence the great demonstration of today…
The vast crowd moved to a place about one fourth of a mile east of Rutledge to a beautiful grove where a stand had been erected and the ladies of Rutledge had in a beautiful manner decorated it with flowers. After music by the band, Mr. Lon Shields, in a few appropriate remarks introduced W S Dickson, the handsome young mayor of Morristown, who came to congratulate the people on securing a road and who was not jealous of the prosperity of his mother county.
General J G Martin, president of the road was next introduced and he made a splendid speech. He said he had asked the people of Grainger county in good faith for its subscription and the same had been given and he now on his part was going in good faith, build the road, just as fast as men and money could, from Morristown on to Luttrell and other points….
After speaking was over the vast crowd repaired to spot in a field a sort distance away where the ground was to be broken. There was drawn in the line three of the oldest citizens of Grainger county, Absalom Miller, 89, Jimmy James, 85 and Absolom Manley, 80. They had been chosen to break the dirt. Promptly at 3 o’clock, with pick raised, Jimmy James, said this was the proudest day of his life, he had been raised in Grainger county and to be called on in his old days to break dirt for a railroad company, was reaping of the desire of his life and he had but one other desire and that was to ride on the railroad.
At the end of Mr. James’ remarks, with breathless silence, these three old veterans drove their picks into the earth and there went up a tremendous shout from the crowd. After the dirt was broken the picks were handed over to J L Mitchell, J P Grant and J F Biddle, who were forty years old and they dug the earth. After them came three young men, twenty-one years old, who represented the bone and sinew of the county. Then came three young boys, ten years old, who represented the rising generation.
Thus it was the pick, was handed from old age to young hands. As the young boys took the picks the band struck up a beautiful piece of music and the air was rent with cheers. Mothers waved their handkerchiefs and strong men their hats. The boys turned the picks over to the contractors, who went to moving dirt in earnest.
The contract for the road is let and under construction from here to Morristown and will be completed just as soon as it can. The heaviest work is on the Morristown end. The grade from here to Luttrell is easy. The work for this end of the road is not yet let, but will be in a short time. It is expected that within twelve months from now the trains will be running on the road.
Knoxville Daily Journal — Thursday, July 10, 1890
Transcribed by Robert McGinnis and used by permission.