The Eastern Kentucky Railway had it beginning at about the time the Civil War was drawing to a close in 1865. At that time Nathaniel Thayer and a business partner, Horatio Hollis Hunnewell obtained a charter from the Kentucky Legislature on March 4, 1865. This was in order to purchase property in Eastern Kentucky believed to be rich in coal, timber, and iron. Thayer and Hunnewell began their business venture under the name "Argillite Mining and Manufacturing Company". The newly formed company also purposed to lock and dam the Little Sandy River at Argillite.
The company purchased 25,000 acres of land south of the Ohio River along present day route one and a portion or route two to Argillite in Greenup County. The company also amended the original charter in order to change the name from "Argillite Mining and Manufacturing Company" to "Kentucky Improvement Company" in December of 1865. Completion of the original track from
This proposed railway was one of many such railway ventures that came about as a result of investments from New Englanders such as Thayer and the Hunnewell families. Both invested and owned railroads located between Washington D.C. and Boston. Both invested in railroads in the Kansas City area and Illinois. Both are credited with bringing court tennis to the United States in 1876 and building a tennis court in Boston. We could refer to them as co-fathers of U.S. tennis!
Both men donated large sums of money to various charities and organizations. A number of buildings throughout the Boston area bare their names. As a result of their railroads in Missouri, there came to be cities such as Thayer, Missouri and Hunnewell, Missouri.
Nathaniel Thayer funded an exploration of South America in 1865 to 1866. Many new species of fish were discovered because of the "Thayer Expedition".
So these investors were not new to railroads. We can understand how the names Thayer and Hunnewell brought excitement to the Little Sandy River Valley!
In the year 1868 as President Andrew Johnson busied himself fighting impeachment proceedings, The Kentucky Improvement Company was busy extending its railroad south several miles and establishing a station at this railhead. It was named after Horatio Hollis Hunnewell's son, Walter Hunnewell. Walter by this time was involved with this as well as other investments for his father.
In order to get to Hunnewell, three tunnels came into being and many tons of dirt and rock were moved to make railroad bed. A depot was established at the Laurel general store halfway between Hunnewell and Argillite. Nearby were some cannel coal deposits in which the company set great store. However, in just one year the quality of this coal proved a disappointment and was almost used up. Two blast furnaces (part of one survives today) were acquired but they were almost immediately handicapped by lack of sufficient iron ore and coal.
A re-organization took place in 1870. The Kentucky Improvement Company deeded to the newly organized Eastern Kentucky Railway its railroad, two blast furnaces, and about 25,000 acres of ore, coal, and timber land.
Nathaniel Thayer, who had acquired the major portion of stock in the Eastern Kentucky Railway, became the first president and held that office until his death in 1883.
Thayer and Hunnewell's original plan was to extend the Eastern Kentucky Railway to a junction with the Southern Atlantic & Ohio at the breaks of the Big Sandy River in Pike County and to bridge the Ohio River at Riverton to connect with the Scioto Valley Railroad. The plan also called for constructing another railway from that point on the north bank of the Ohio River to Lake Erie.
The Eastern Kentucky Railway required raw materials in the form of ore, coal, and lumber in order to continue to build and hopefully make a profit. Where would it find the desired materials?
Grayson was at one time known as the Crossroads, but was renamed Grayson in 1838 after Colonel William Grayson, who owned a considerable amount of land in the area. Thirty-four years later, as the Indian Wars continued in the west, the Eastern Kentucky Railway added 10.37 miles of track to Grayson. Stops were added at Hopewell an
d two miles north of Grayson at Pactolus. Land values climbed, coal mines opened, mills were built, and investment possibilities were in all directions. The general offices of the Eastern Kentucky Railway remained at Riverton, but the shops were moved from Hunnewell to Grayson and enlarged.
The shops for the E.K.R.Y. were located right downtown.
The Grayson area would become and remain the center of business for the Eastern Kentucky Railway until the railway ceased in the late 1920s.
By 1874 the Eastern Kentucky Railway had been extended just over 11 miles to Willard. This came about as the result of an agreement with the owners of two blast furnaces in Ironton, Ohio. The iron manufacturer had access to large quantities of coal and iron ore deposits in the Willard area and beyond. There was an agreement stating that if the Eastern Kentucky Railway would extend to this area, payment would be received in the form of shipments of iron ore and coal. This agreement came to an end as a result of the poor quality of coal and iron ore required to produce profitable products for the blast furnaces. The Eastern Kentucky Railway filed a grievance due to this breach of contract and won in court. Payment came in the form of property that was rich in the lesser natural materials. A beginning a financial problems! Stops were also added at Vincent before Hitchins, Reedville before Willard, and Bellstrace before Webbville.
The United States saw the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. It was that same year when the Eastern Kentucky Railway was looking to make the company available to larger markets. In December of that year, the Elizabethtown, Lexington, and Big Sandy Railroad completed a line between Ashland and Lexington. It crossed the Eastern Kentucky Railway at a point that became known as Hitchins. In 1889, the Maysville and Big Sandy Railroad opened between Ashland and Cincinnati, crossing the Eastern Kentucky Railway at Riverton.
In 1889 the Eastern Kentucky Railway extended its track south under two miles to Webbville, the final limit of the railway's main track. Lumber was in great supply in the Webbville area and the Eastern Kentucky Railway needed all the business it could handle. Various types of businesses came about because of the railroad. Some residents of Webbville opened up their homes to railway workers, people could buy livestock, and even rent a mule for a trip to Blaine.
In 1909 the company had its first deficit. This caused the railway to cut it's schedule for the first time during it's history. The railway continued to loose more money than it made. On March 31, 1919 a suit was brought by the First National Bank of Greenup for a demand note of $2,000. The company went into bankruptcy. An application of abandonment was filed on June 1, 1926 to the Interstate Commerce Commission for the entire line. Track dismantling work began north of Grayson to Riverton. This was completed by May of 1927.