The railroad industry has gone through many changes since the first train with its bulging smokestack came puffing into the low-lying area of east Pulaski. Those old wood-burning locomotives used a lot of wood, and much water, to keep them going. The water was easy to obtain because Peak Creek passed through the middle of the village. Off to the west of Randolph Avenue, the company established what they called a “Wooding Station” on Clark’s Summit where several men were kept busy cutting wood to be burned in powering the trains.
On the north side of the tracks, and west of Pepper’s Ferry Road, a water tank was constructed. From nearby Peak Creek, water was pumped into the tank to supply the thirsty locomotives with their bulging oversized smokestacks. In later years, the section of Pepper’s Ferry Road north of the railroad tracks would be called Randolph Avenue, and on the south side of the tracks it became Valley Road or Valley Street – names they carry to this day; and for the sake of clarity, names I will use.
On the north side of the tracks, and about 50 yards east of Randolph Avenue, a small frame freight and passenger station was built. In his early history of Pulaski, Dr. J. W. Keister, an early physician, drew a map of the village as he had found it in 1884. He showed the station on the map and described it as being a frame structure.
Around the water tank and the little station nearby, a little community was established, and it was appropriately named Martin’s Tank.
The street running along the south side of the tracks took the upbeat name of Commerce Street. In a few years, a thriving little village with stores, shops and hotels, all brought by the coming of the railroad and supporting coal, ore, and smelting industries, sprang up.
The first train into Martin’s Tank was pulled by Locomotive No. 12, carrying the name, “The Roanoke.” According to information gathered by Arthur M. Bixby Sr,, of Roanoke, the steam locomotive was a wood burner, and was the first to operate over tracks of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.
In the year 1872, the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was sold, and became the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio – the A. M. and O. for short.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, northern capitalists were investing heavily in southern coal and iron industries. In order to induce these people to come south, the Norfolk and Western executives in 1884, erected a large hotel at Martin’s Station.
The building was constructed on a parcel of land just south of the railroad tracks, and covered the entire city block between Commerce and First streets and Washington and Jefferson avenues.
They called the hotel Maple Shade Inn, and immediately planted maple trees across the lawn. An old 1891 map of the town shows a ramp or walkway, running southward from the railroad tracks, directly to the Inn. Dignitaries could step down from the train, and walk a half block directly to the Maple Shade Inn, for a clean room, fine meals and recreation on the spacious green lawn of the Inn.
While all this was taking place, the town was going through a period of rapid growth and a series of name changes.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and historian who lives in Pulaski.