“All Aboard!” in Etowah

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!

L&N RR Etowah to Madisonville baggage claim tag

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.

Schedule of events for the Etowah Golden Jubilee found in the August 1956 L&N Employee Magazine
Souvenir ticket handed to passengers participating in the Etowah Golden Jubilee Picnic Excursion
Postmarked envelope from the Etowah Golden Jubilee

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!

Itinerary from the 1960 excursion. Note that Etowah is listed as a stop.

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!

This ticket, which appears to be unused, is for a trip that I have very little information on. I do know that it was a joint venture between the L&N and Southern Railway. I am hoping someone may recognize it and can provide more information

Have a great rest of your week!

Craig R.

Postcards of L&N’s “Old Line” Railroad

Hello everyone,

I know it has been a while since I last published a post on my blog. Let’s just say life has been rather crazy! I have certainly missed writing these posts for everyone to, hopefully, read and enjoy. Writing has always been a creative and relaxing outlet for me. Especially if it is about something I am interested in. Anyway, this particular blog consists of some scans of vintage postcards in my archives of the “Old Line” railroad. I hope you enjoy!

L&N workers at the Etowah, TN passenger station/ Atlanta Division headquarters (c. 1907)
Worker constructing a drainage canal at the L&N station in Etowah, TN (c. 1912)
The “Hiwassee Loop” around Bald Mountain near Farner, TN
Hiwassee River scenery along Louisville & Nashville’s “Old Line” in the Tennessee mountains
Turtletown, TN Depot (unknown year)
L&N RR Terminal on the Hiwassee River in Murphy, NC (unknown year)

Thank you for taking the time to read! Stay healthy and safe!

Craig R.

Etowah’s L&N Depot Today

If you have ever visited the small town of Etowah in east Tennessee, then you most likely recall the grandeur of the town’s iconic L&N Depot. It stands proud next to the CSX railyard with nearby Starr Mountain providing a picturesque backdrop. When traveling in any direction along Tennessee Avenue, the Depot and its well-maintained grounds are impossible to overlook. This historic building now serves as an informative museum, visitors center, and gathering place for community events. It is no surprise that thousands of people are drawn to this amazing and unique destination every year.

A self-guided tour of the Depot Museum is something you definitely want to include in your plans. As you explore the Depot’s many rooms and hear the creaking of the old wood floor beneath your feet, you will be taken back to a time before automobiles were commonplace and trains still ruled. All may be quiet and calm now, but, back in the day, this was far from the case. This Depot once bustled with life and a constant flow of people arriving and departing on passenger trains. The many informative exhibits found throughout the museum attractively explain the story of Etowah and, to be such a small town, there’s some incredible history waiting to be discovered here!

Museum exhibits take visitors back to Etowah’s early days.

In 1902, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N) was on a mission to locate and purchase enough land for a massive rail complex, including an elaborate passenger station, somewhere close to the convergence of the “Old” and “New” Line. According to a museum exhibit, finding suitable land was far more difficult for L&N than originally expected. Their preferred location was Tellico Junction, now known as Englewood, but citizens apparently opposed the plan and it was abandoned. Finally, in 1904, they acquired a sizeable amount of land just north of Wetmore. However, due to its location in the Cane Creek bottoms, the land was very boggy and presented a major challenge for L&N. Canals were built to drain excess water and fill dirt was hauled in from nearby mines to raise the site elevation more than 3 feet before any buildings could be erected.

Courtesy of Etowah Historical Commission.

After the land had been altered and deemed suitable for use, construction began on the passenger station in the newfound community of Etowah. Haywood York brought in his crew from Blue Ridge, GA to oversee this massive undertaking. In 1906, two years after work started, the depot was completed making it the first permanent structure in Etowah. This Victorian style station was designed with fifteen rooms across two levels. The first level housed the passenger station, which was originally segregated, and consisted of two waiting rooms, two tickets windows, an agent’s office, a snack bar, etc. The second level of the building contained many office spaces for L&N’s Atlanta Division Headquarters.

Wooden staircase leading to the second level, which housed L&N’s Atlanta Division Headquarters.

One of the many interesting features of the depot’s layout is the location of the staircase. While one would assume you access the second level from somewhere on the main level, that is not exactly the case here. A separate entrance and doorway was strategically designed from the outside leading to a beautiful, seemingly hidden, wooden staircase. The intent was to prevent passengers and the public from curiously wandering into the Atlanta Division Headquarters and interfering with the important tasks underway there. “How do I get upstairs?” is one of the most common questions asked by patrons to the museum today and creates an opportune time to explain the history.

Ten years after the completion of the depot, in 1916, L&N’s Atlanta Division Headquarters was growing rapidly and needed more office space. To meet their needs, a large addition was made to the front of the depot, which became the engineering department. Today, it is known as the Portico Room and this spacious area can be reserved for weddings, conferences, parties, etc.

Passenger train service was a fundamental part of the town’s existence for many decades. At one time, as many as 14 passenger trains stopped by Etowah in a single day. However, times changed and people became increasingly dependent on automobiles as their primary mode of transportation meaning fewer trains were needed. In 1968, the day many people had been expecting finally became a sad reality as L&N passenger trains rolled away from the Depot for the final time. This marked the end of an era that brought not only prosperity, but a way of life to Etowah and its people.

Original ticket window inside of the Etowah Depot.
L&N ticket claim coupon from the early 1900’s reading Etowah to Farner.

After passenger train service ceased in Etowah, the depot’s primary purpose became obsolete despite continuing to provide office space for railroad employees in the years to come. Finally, in 1974, L&N abandoned the depot entirely and the few remaining employees were relocated to another nearby location. Citizens grew concerned that the old depot, which was a monument to the town’s history, would quickly deteriorate without upkeep. In response, the City of Etowah formed the Etowah Historical Commission to assist in fundraising and oversee the restoration and preservation of the building. In 1981, three years after restoration began, the depot was again ready to serve the wonderful citizens of Etowah that cared about it so much.

If you are ever presented with the opportunity to visit this wonderful depot, I highly recommend that you do! Countless other depots along with all of the history and stories they had to offer have been lost because their value wasn’t appreciated or they had been neglected beyond repair. Thankfully, the people of Etowah cared enough about this gem and realized the potential hidden behind what it was becoming to not allow it to suffer the same fate as so many others.

L&N embossed doorknobs, like the one seen here, can be spotted throughout the Depot by the observant eye. What will you discover here?