I recently explored two of the three disused tunnels on the former Louisville & Nashville Railroad Rowland Branch in central Kentucky: the Point Leavell Tunnel and the Buck Creek (Spainhower) Tunnel. I’m grateful to the local landowner for granting me access to the latter.
The Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Railroad’s Rowland Branch stands as a testament to an era when railroads were the heartbeats of American towns. Stretching across 33 miles, this line linked Stanford on the L&N’s Lebanon Branch to Richmond, passing through Lancaster.
Its establishment came in response to the pressing requests of residents from Lincoln, Garrard, and Madison counties in Kentucky. Work on this branch started in July 1867 and concluded in November 1868. Relatively unremarkable in construction, it featured tunnels like the 490-foot Point Leavell Tunnel, the 654-foot Buck Creek (Spainhower) Tunnel, and the Silver Creek Tunnel.
Financially, the Rowland Branch was a community effort that was made possible through the sale of $750,000 in L&N Railroad stock to citizens of the involved counties. Additionally, the lands for the right-of-way and depot grounds were donated by the community.
However, with the passage of time and shifts in transportation trends, the branch faced a decline. By 1934, a 23-mile section extending from Lancaster to Fort Estill was abandoned. The shorter eight-mile stretch from Rowland to Lancaster remained operational until 1979. Parts of the former track became routes for vehicles, even allowing drives through the Point Leavell and Buck Creek tunnels. Meanwhile, other sections were handed back to local landowners, with the tracks being removed.
Today, remnants of the Rowland Branch silently echo the lively past, evoking memories of the railroad’s golden era and the vibrant communities it connected.