The Railroad at Lula

In the late 19th century, railroads were being built all across the United States and the Mississippi Delta was no exception.  After the Mississippi Delta levee systems were improved and more people started moving into the area to clear the forests and create farm land, railroads quickly followed.  Thousands of families used this mode of travel to move into the Delta to start their lives anew.  Large corporations also quickly got involved and mergers and buyouts of different rail links occurred.  In 1870, the Memphis & Vicksburg Railway company was the first to come through the area that eventually would become Lula.  This company along with several others was consolidated to form the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railway by C.P. Huntington in 1884. This was the company that operated the first line through Lula and made the decision to build the first Lula depot on the farm owned by Eugene Lyndsley.   It was sold to the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad on October 24, 1892. The Y&MV operated as part of the Illinois Central Railroad Company until officially merged into Illinois Central in 1946.  Lula was formed at a railway crossroads. The post office was established on September 16, 1884 and the town was incorporated on February 24, 1890. Hundreds of workers lived around the area as the tracks were laid down.  Because of the business at the Lula Depot, the railroad employed a number of people in town. The picture below is of Lula Depot in 1894.


Lula was located at mile post 56.4 from Memphis. Hamlin was located at 52.8 and operated as a flag station for a short time.  Dundee was just above that and a depot along with a cotton plant and mail crane were found there. To the west was Danforth and Powell on the way to Trotters Point.

Lula Railway map

On January 18, 1891, the Mississippi Valley route of the LNO & T inaugurated double daily train service between Memphis, TN and Helena, Arkansas. Service was provided via car transfer ferry across the Mississippi River between Trotters Point and Helena. The picture below is a train coming up from the S.S. Pelican.  The Pelican operated for nearly 30 years transporting trains across the Mississippi River between Lula and Helena.

PELICAN disembark

Schedule (First) –    Memphis- leave 9:15 am.    Helena- arrive 1:00 pm; Return- Helena- leave 1:10 pm.  Memphis-arrive 5:10 pm.        Schedule (Second)-   Helena- leave 6:30 am.   Memphis- arrive 10:15 am;   Return-    Memphis- leave 3:45 pm.  Helena – arrive 7:20 pm.

All of these trains would have to go through the Lula Station on the way to Helena.  Other  trains ran north and south without going to Helena.  The Delta Express was part of the “Mainline of America.” The picture below was taken in 1917.


In 1960, the rail line to Helena was discontinued after a trestle burned and the Helena Bridge opened.  The popularity of passenger trains started to decline as automobiles and trucking took over. The picture below was taken in 1968.


Illinois Central began to turn all passenger services over to Amtrak and soon the Lula Depot closed.   Eventually it was torn down. The 1985 Stagger’s Act deregulated railroads and Illinois Central began to get rid of unprofitable lines.  It sold the portion of the railroad between Lula and Clarksdale to Gulf & Ohio Railways of Knoxville, TN  and the line started operating as the Mississippi Delta Railroad. The rest of the rail line from Memphis to Vicksburg was abandoned and removed by 1990.  The Gulf & Ohio sold the Mississippi Delta Railroad to Coahoma County in 2001.  Mississippi Delta Railroad continues to operate the main line between Lula and Clarksdale along with two branch lines: Lula to Jonestown and Clarksdale to Swan Lake.  It stores railroad cars for other Railroad companies while they wait for freight and many of these can be seen up and down the line. The company also hauls agricultural products.  Even though Lula has lost it’s depot and no major railroad runs through it, the town has been able to still have some rail service.  In that regard, it has done more than many larger cities and towns in the Mississippi Delta have been able to do.

mississippi delta railroad.jpg

Please feel free to share your stories about the railroad in Lula.  I will gladly post them to the blog for everybody to share.  I’ve also decided to create a separate category for Lula and the area around Lula because of the popularity of the topic.  This will include Northern Coahoma County, Southern Tunica County, and Western Quitman County.  (Lula to Dundee; Lula to Birdie; Lula to Friars Point and Coahoma; Moon Lake; Lula to the River.) I hope this will be ok with everybody.  I still hope everybody checks in on the other categories though.  There are some great stories out there in My Delta.  Thanks everyone.  This new category will be “My Lula. ”

Sources: Mississippi Rails.      Memphis Station Evolution.    MDR History| Mississippi Delta Railroad



One thought

  1. Thank you for keeping this part of the Delta alive! I worked for the ICGRR as a locomotive engineer between 1973 and 1986, and the Clarksdale District was part of my overall seniority territory. I was assigned to the Tunica Road Switcher and Cleveland Local for about 5 years and our side trip to Jonestown was part of our work schedule. I have also written several articles on the “Pelican” and still do my PowerPoint presentation of the service between Lula and Helena, Arkansas.

    Liked by 1 person

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