Days of Opelika-Lafayette dummy line

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Special to the Opelika Observer

Just before the turn of the century, Opelika had two different “dummy lines.” A small portion of one of these dummy lines is still visible across from Northside School.

Actually, it was not properly a dummy line but a full guage short-line railroad.

In roughly 1895, LaFayette merchants became indignant over what they considered exorbitant railroad freight rates. The Western of Alabama Railroad was the only link between Opelika’s railroad junction and LaFayette. And, before the days of the Public Service Commission, railroads were prone to charge whatever freight rates they felt the traffic would bear.

The late Opelika clothier, A.S. Hollingsworth, who was a LaFayette businessman at that time, recalled, “Flour came from the huge milling center of Nashville, Tenn., in those days. It would cost about 10 cents to ship a barrel of flour from Nashville, Tenn., to Opelika. Then, from Opelika to LaFayette over the Central of Georgia, the freight cost rose to 20-30 cents a barrel.”

LaFayette businessmen met with the Western of Alabama president and told him that unless freight rates were reduced, they proposed to build a dummy line from Opelika to LaFayette. The railroad man dismissed their proposal as an idle threat, whereupon the group organized the LaFayette Railroad Company. The company president was G.C. McGehee, and the secretary-treasurer was J.C. Griffin, who would later become Hollingsworth’s father-in-law.

Their railroad paralleled the Central of Georgia tracks just about all the way to LaFayette. It entered Opelika about where 7th Street intersects North Railroad Avenue today. The ticket office was located at the corner of North 8th Street and First Avenue. G.E. Weber was the ticket agent.

The road operated profitably for about 10 years, during which, as Hollingsworth recalled, not one pound of freight was shipped to LaFayette over the Western of Alabama.

In 1909, after the Alabama Public Service Commission was instituted with the power to regulate freight rates, operators of the LaFayette Railroad Company realized there was no longer anything to be gained by competing with the Western of Alabama, so they sold out to them for the sum of $100,000, which represented a substantial profit to the stockholders.

Hollingsworth, who had worked for the LaFayette Railroad, found himself without a job. So he came to Opelika and, in partnership with Harry B. Norman, organized and operated what was one of the city’s leading clothing stores for many years, Hollingsworth and Norman, in the 100 block of South 8th Street.

Editor’s note: This story was based on materials from the Winston Smith T collection and papers provided to Henry Stern by Leonard Blanton.

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