Remembering the 1917 Train Wreck: Hartley finishes book project

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By Stephen Thomas

SHEPHERDSVILLE - On December 20, 1917, the deadliest train accident in Kentucky history took place in Shepherdsville.

In 2007 a memorial service was held at the Bullitt County Courthouse, located near the wreck site, to commemorate the 90th anniversary. The Bullitt County History Museum featured a booklet about the 1917 event during the ceremony.

The History Museum has now released a complete book version of the 1917 Shepherdsville train derailment. Author and History Museum member Charles Hartley compiled more than two years of thorough research into one complete work, “The Train Wreck of Shepherdsville, Kentucky.”

The new book includes two previous releases by Hartley and the History Museum, the first discussing the wreck and the second focusing on those that lost their lives as a result.

New to the collection are copies of reports filed by the Kentucky State Railroad Commission and Interstate Commerce Commission, Hartley located both reports after his first work was released.

“We used that information to rewrite parts of the first section,” he said. “It discusses more about what happened and who was to blame.”

Both reports are included as appendages in the book, along with a report by the Bullitt County Grand Jury.

Other appendages in the new book include stories from newspapers and magazines, Court of Appeals records from L&N Railroad Company vs. Commonwealth of Kentucky, and L&N timetables from the day of the event.

Hartley also included two letters owned by Joe Brown, discovered by a family member following his death. The letters were presented to the History Museum.

The first letter was written by Brown’s sister, Mabel Brown Miller, three days before the wreck (Brown was in Texas at the time). The second letter was written by their mother, Laura Brown, shortly after the wreck.

“I used both letters to illustrate that before the accident life was just going on for everybody,” Hartley said. “The second letter, after the wreck, you get the terribleness that everyone felt at the time. It added a nice touch to the end (of the book).”

A few photographs were added to the new book that were not included in previous releases. Hartley said some photos were expanded in the book, allowing an easier view of details.

One of the new photographs was copied from a post card, depicting the old Shepherdsville Train Depot near current-day Highway 44. The wreck took place just south of the depot.

Hartley began research on the train wreck in 2007 when his wife, Betty, began updating a model of the scene first created by Lloyd “Hog” Mattingly. The model is currently on display in the second floor hall of the courthouse.

The model and Hartley’s first edition of the story were prepared to coincide with the 90th anniversary ceremony. Hartley decided to complete his second edition after meeting many of the victims’ descendants at the ceremony.

“They had a lot of information to offer, so we decided to do more,” he said.

Hartley dedicated the new book to Tom Pack, a local historian that collected much of the information used during the creation of the book.

The new edition is also dedicated to the families and descendants of the train wreck victims.

“The Train Wreck of Shepherdsville, Kentucky” is available for purchase at the History Museum, located in the front section of the Bullitt County Courthouse on S. Buckman Street. Books are $20, or $15 to members of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society. For more information call 921-0161 or go to www.bullittcountyhistory.org.