L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore: Jean Ritchie and the Railroads of the Southern Appalachians
One hundred and fifty years ago, my ancestor Orrin O. Brown of Michigan, entered the military service of the United States in the great Civil War. I am following his diary these many years later as he marches with General Sherman to the sea. With his ride South on the rails from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, I read up on the important role railroads played in that conflict. And, I kept hearing in my mind Johnny Cash singing about the rise and fall of the old L&N.
It was Jean Ritchie who wrote that song. She was born into a family of folk balladeers in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Song catchers like Alan Lomax sought out her family in the early 20th century to document the long journey of common music from Europe to modern America. After World War II, Ritchie moved to New York City and fell into the folk scene there with the likes of Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie. Through the 1960s, her distinct playing style helped popularize the mountain dulcimer.
Jean Ritchie released The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore in 1965. She originally credited the song to Than Hall, her grandfather.
When Jean Ritchie was a young girl, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had a little passenger train that ran by the mouth of the Slabtown Holler in Viper, Kentucky, where the Ritchie Family lived. When the coal mines shut down, the passenger service along with the coal trains was discontinued. It was one of the first signs of hard times. The L And N Don’t Stop Here Anymore is a reflection of the period.
I came to know the song by way of Johnny Cash. I prefer this later sparser cut of the Unearthed sessions to the glitzier 1970s production:
In addition to a noted cover by Michelle Shocked in the 1980s, Kathy Mattea also released an excellent cover on her album of mining songs, Coal, in 2008.