By Mike Sparks
A new historical marker was placed in honor of the Bennett family that lost their lives in one of Smith County’s worst train accidents on April 24,1949
The unveiling of the marker took place on Sunday, July 7th at the railroad crossing which is located near the intersection of Lancaster Highway and Stewart’s Bend Lane in Lancaster.
The April 28, 1949 Carthage Courier headline read,
“Ten Killed When Train Strikes Truck; County’s Worst Tragedy.”
The Smith Countians, all residents of the Hogan’s Creek community, were returning from services at the Lancaster Church of God, located about three miles from where the accident occurred.
Lancaster Baptist Church
Witnesses said the heavily loaded farm truck pulled around another truck, onto the track and in the path of the fast, westbound traveling Tennessee Central freight train.
The historical marker has been a service project of the Leadership Opportunity of Smith County Class of 2018. The unveiling of the marker took place Sunday, July 7th at the railroad crossing which is located near the intersection of Lancaster Highway and Stewart’s Bend Lane in Lancaster. For more information, please contact the Smith County Chamber of Commerce.
(Audio news story by MTSU journalism student Tayla Courage)
The horrific accident happened at 9:35 that Sunday night when Bennett’s truck was crushed by a freight train about a half-mile east of Carthage Junction at the Gordonsville-Lancaster road crossing about two miles east of Gordonsville.
The westbound Tennessee Central freight No. 81 tragically collided with the heavily loaded farm truck just as it had pulled around another vehicle driven by the the Overstreet family and on the rail road track and into the direct direction of the locomotive.
The accident is thought to have been the worst accident in the history of Smith County, which claimed 10 lives of the Bennett family. The occupants of the truck included were Jesse Bennett, 50; his wife, Mattie Bell Bennett, 45; and their three sons: Jewell Bennett, 12, U.L. Bennett, 10, and Melvin Earl Bennett, 8.
The other family members who were killed included Bennett’s daughter, Little Mae Bennett Dickens, 24; her husband, Paulie Dickens, 24; and their daughter, Kathryn, 1; Jesse Bennett’s brother, W.E. “Connie” Bennett, 49; and Miss Linnie Gibbs, 17.
The only person to survive was the 11th passenger, Miss Ruth Robinson, 15. She was transported to McFarland Hospital in Lebanon where she
received treatment for a crushed pelvis bone and other injuries.
After the accident and a few days later, Gordonsville, whose population was 700, was overwhelmed as somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people attended the Tuesday afternoon mass funeral.
Jackie Preston was only 13 and an eyewitness to the terrible tragedy. Preston, now 82, whose a former chief deputy, general sessions judge and justce of the peace, recalls that horrific evening, saying,
“It was a tragic thing. One of the worst things that ever happened in this county that I can recall.”
“It’s so hard to imagine what a great loss this was to the families and community. Tennessee continues to strive to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again,” said Tennessee State Senator Mark Pody.
“Leaving the holler to go to town each day, this railroad crossing will now remind me and many others in Lancaster of the tragic event that took 10 family members from this community after a Sunday night church meeting. Thanks to Leadership 2018 of Smith County for finishing the task in telling the story of the most horrific train accident of its time with this TN Historical Marker,” said, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver.
(Editor’s Note: As I drove out to Gordonsville, Tennessee to attend the ceremony it was like going back in time. My hometown of Smyrna, which was once small, not as small as Gordo
nsville, but the times were much simpler years ago. We do have a railroad that runs through the middle of town. Our once small town rarely had any crime, we seldom heard any sirens or had any traffic in Smyrna like we do today. Sadly, a man was shot only three blocks from our home. I drove up Lancaster Highway out to where Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver resides, she called it the, “hollar.”
I went to Lancaster Baptist Church to get a few pictures and as I was leaving I thought of what times were like in 1949. I thought of what songs they may have sang, possibly “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art” or one of may favorite hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul.” I want to personally commend the Smith County Leadership Class of 2018 for their efforts to remember the Bennett family and that horrific night. Although the event that night was tragic it seems that something positive came out of it. A community came together to help one another. With so much strife in this world that is certainly something we need more of today, hopefully, it won’t take a traffic accident to bring folks together).