Located near the base of Starr Mountain in east Tennessee is the small town of Etowah. For the folks who call this place home, there is so much to be proud of. One day, as I was waiting for the light to change at an intersection in downtown, a painting on the building across the street caught my attention. I’ve admired it countless times before, but this time I was more intrigued than usual. It’s a painting of a passenger train and reads “On a Train in Etowah, Tennessee.” This made me think about how different life was in Etowah’s early days. I can imagine the countless people waiting at the Depot to board a Louisville & Nashville Railroad passenger train. This is how most travel was accomplished before automobiles made their way into mainstream life.
Because the L&N provided their employees and family with passes for complimentary train travel, many Etowah citizens enjoyed frequent trips to destinations like Knoxville and Atlanta for entertainment and business. One of the most interesting stories I found involving train travel was on an information panel at the Etowah Depot Museum. It’s about a young woman who lived in Etowah and traveled around 300 miles round-trip multiple times per week to attend her college Chemistry class in Atlanta, Georgia. This situation was so unique that it was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records. Wow!
The L&N also hosted many special excursions through and out of Etowah over the years. One such excursion was on August 23, 1956 during the town’s 50th anniversary celebration, also known as the “Golden Jubilee.” This mammoth festival lasted a week and included a parade, special train excursion, historical exhibits, and numerous other events. Those participating in the train ride were treated to a picturesque trip along the “Old Line,” which was a very important part of the areas heritage. It follows the Hiwassee River through a narrow gorge before circling around the famous “Loop” at Bald Mountain. At the small community of Farner, the train stopped for a picnic lunch before continuing to Copperhill.
The “Round Th’ Mountain Spring Flower Excursion” train, sponsored by The Lions Club, on MaY 11, 1960 originated in Knoxville. However, Etowah was one of the designated stops along the route to Copperhill. As the name suggests, the trip’s purpose was to enjoy the colorful display of wildflowers in bloom along the hillsides. As it did in many cases, the L&N took advantage of the Old Line’s breathtaking mountain scenery and intriguing history. I would not have missed out on this opportunity!
In 1968, the last regular scheduled passenger train departed the Etowah station, marking the end of an era that had supported so much of the local economy. The passenger trains were a way of life that so many locals had been accustomed to. It makes me think of the song, one of my favorites actually, called “L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore.” If you visited Etowah today, you will still find the L&N Depot, now beautifully restored, which stands proudly as a testimony to the town’s rich history. The building is open to the public and features an informative museum and the local Chamber of Commerce. On select dates in the Spring and Fall, you can climb aboard the Hiwassee Rail Adventure, operated by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, for a scenic train ride you will not soon forget!
Have a great rest of your week!