THAXTON, VIRGINIA -
A new Virginia Department of Historic Resources state marker along West Lynchburg Salem Turnpike in Bedford County that recognizes a tragedy long ago is the result of strong cooperation between the Commonwealth of Virginia and two Tennessee companies committed to preserving the memory of the Thaxton Switch Train Wreck of 1889.
The highway marker recalls a devastating train accident from Virginia history that claimed at least 18 lives. The commemorative sign, and an accompanying celebration of its installation, was jointly sponsored by Hardwick Clothes Inc. and Check Into Cash. Both companies are based in Cleveland, TN, where a monument stands honoring three local victims of the wreck – William Steed, John Hardwick and William Marshall.
Momentum to establish a permanent Virginia memorial began to build last year when Allan Jones, a philanthropist and Check Into Cash founder and CEO, realized none existed in the Old Dominion.
“The Thaxton crash has been called one of Cleveland's most infamous tragedies because three prominent citizens were killed, but those men are already recognized with our Cleveland memorial,” said Jones. “When I learned no historical marker had ever been placed here in Virginia to honor the other victims, I wanted to get this changed as soon as possible. The ceremony is for Virginia.”
Jones' attention was redrawn to the wreck in April 2014 when a car crashed into the memorial in Cleveland that was dedicated in 1890, one year after the tragic wreck. Further research led Jones to discover that the Cleveland men on board the train were bound for New York ahead of a planned international trip to Paris, France. That was a big deal in those days. In fact, a crowd of more than 2,000 people cheerily bade them bon voyage as the train departed. Cleveland citizens were understandably devastated when news arrived that the three men had been killed, and that only Steed's remains were recovered.
The train wreck happened on July 2, 1889. According to historic accounts, severe weather was a precipitating factor. A heavy storm flooded Wolf Creek in Bedford County. The resulting saturation destabilized an embankment known as Newman's Fill. It collapsed under the weight of the Norfolk & Western Passenger Train Number Two around 1:25 a.m. that fateful day, and the train careened into the void.
That event remains an important moment in the history of Cleveland, TN, which Mayor Tom Rowland refers to as “the best little big town in America.”
The “1889 Thaxton Train Wreck” marker located at 5013 West Lynchburg Salem Turnpike, also known as U.S. Route 460, sits just west of Thaxton, in Bedford County. The marker is sponsored by the Allan Jones Foundation, which covered the cost of the marker's manufacture. The sign was approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.