Railroad Section House in Pewee Valley
A railroad section house was located at the corner of Mt. Mercy Drive and Houston Lane for over a century. Due to its seriously deteriorated condition, it was demolished by the Pewee Valley Fire Department ca. 2005. The photo above dates from 1974, when it was being used as a private home by Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Meyer. It appeared in "Pewee Valley: Land of the Little Colonel" published in 1974 by Katie S. Smith. The photo below was taken by historian Carolyn Brooks for the 1989 Pewee Valley nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Purpose of Railroad Section Houses
For many years, the railroads serving Pewee Valley maintained a section house on the east corner of Huston/Houston Lane and what is now Mt. Mercy Drive. Chapter III of "Buildings and Structures of American Railroads: A Reference Book for Railroad Managers, Superintendents, Master Mechanics, Engineers, Architects, and Students" published by J. Wiley & Sons in 1893 explains the purpose of and the construction techniques used for railroad section houses:
THE name "section house" on a railroad generally applies to the dwelling-houses supplied by the railroad company for the use of the men employed, more particularly on the track, as foremen or track hands. It is very essential that the men employed on trackwork live on their section,or as close to it as feasible, so as to be always on hand in case of emergencies and to avoid loss of time in going to and from their work. Where the route of a railroad does not pass through thickly-settled districts, a railroad company is forced, for the reasons mentioned, to build special houses, known as "section houses." The distinction between these and "dwelling-houses for employees" lies mainly in the different styles and sizes of the two, the section houses being usually much smaller and built on a cheaper scale than the dwelling-houses proper...
... The general requirements for a section house are that it be cheap and built to suit the local climatic conditions. There are two kinds in use, namely, one for the accommodation of one or more families and the other for a number of men. The section foreman and the married hands who have their families with them generally live in the first-mentioned style of house, while the single men or men without their families are expected to club together under one roof.
Section houses, probably in all cases, are frame structures, roofed with shingles or tin, and sheathed on the outside with upright boards or horizontal weather-boarding. According to the importance and the locality the exterior is more or less elaborate. The designs vary in the different sections of the country, and the influence of the prevailing types of farm-house architecture on the designs adopted for different localities is clearly perceptible. According to the fuel, large, old-fashioned chimneys for wood fires or brick and iron flues are used.
Included in the book is an example of a two-story section house for the L&N Railroad.
Pewee Valley's Section House
Although Pewee Valley's section house first appeared on the 1879 Beers & Lanagan atlas, it was actually in place and in use by 1870. Census records for that year show 14 railroad workers in addition to the family of railroad division boss Lilburne Miller residing in it. The section house was built on land previously owned by city father Henry Smith, according to the G.T. Bergmann's 1856 map of Jefferson County.
Nothing is known about the first section house built on the property by the Louisville, Cincinnati & Frankfort Railroad. The L&N Railroad replaced it in 1901, according to the "1901-1902 Annual Report of the Board of Directors of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company to the Stockholders."
The report shows that the L&N spent $1,352.48 on "Expenditures for a New Section House, etc., at Pewee Valley" and offset most of the "cost of the road" by selling the old section house for $24 (presumably for salvage) and a right of way to the Louisville, Anchorage & Pewee Valley Electric Railway for $1,200.
The section house was still owned by the L&N in 1939, when the W.P.A. Plat Map of Pewee Valley was published. The property, Tract 2685 on the map, measured 1.03 acres.
Some years later, the L&N sold off the property and it became a private residence.
Section House Property on ca. 1939 W.P.A. Map
The Section House in 1989 by Carolyn Brooks
Remnants of the Railroad Section House in 2017