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?

Finding Nemo in Tennessee

Join me on a short trip to find Nemo… We’ve all seen or heard of the Disney movie “Finding Nemo” before, right? Well, all joking aside, there is a unique destination in Tennessee called Nemo and it is very much worth the time to see. It is located in Morgan County just a short drive from the town of Wartburg. I have frequented this place for several years and it is easily one of my favorite places to watch trains (known as railfanning). Some people visit for the swimming and water activities in the Emory River, while others enjoy taking their Jeeps through the abandoned railroad tunnels and along the areas numerous primitive roads. If you’re like me, however, then it’s all about the history and trains!

Nemo is along the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) mainline, which extends from Cincinnati, OH to Chattanooga, TN. It is also part of what was nicknamed the Rathole Division of the former Southern Railway. If you know anything about this area, then you can understand how it earned that name. There are plenty of ratholes, or tunnels, to be found. More used to exist, but many were daylighted or bypassed to allow for larger trains and improved efficiency. Today, Norfolk Southern operates this very active line and it’s not uncommon to see several trains pass by within an hour timespan. I personally enjoy setting up my camera and a fold-up chair near the newer Tunnel 24 and just watch trains all day. This is especially true during fall when the weather is cooler and there’s some nice color in the gorge. It’s the best!

Regardless of the reason for visiting, there’s something for everyone at Nemo. Take a look through my photos and then plan your trip.

This is the old Tunnel 24 at Nemo which was bored in 1878 and currently abandoned. The tunnel was bypassed by a larger one during the 1960’s (“new” Tunnel 24) located within walking distance. Adventurous people enjoy taking their Jeeps through the old tunnel. I’ve been once, but it’s been a long time ago. While it was very fascinating experience, it was also a bit creepy.
Concrete marker with the tunnel number (24) just above the south portal.
This preserved steel truss bridge was rebuilt after the flood of 1929. It parallels the modern-day road bridge and is used by hikers to view the Emory River from above.
Another view of the steel walking bridge at Nemo from the Emory River level.
Any way you look at it, it’s “steel chaos.” LOL This picture turned out great in my opinion. There’s just something appealing about the disorder and craziness from this view.
The cool water of the Emory River beckons you on a hot summer day! It’s no wonder why so many people enjoy Nemo for the water.
Beautiful wildflowers can be found in abundance. Nemo is close to the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, which offers miles of dirt roads and trails through the mountains.
This orange daylily is one of my favorite flower types. I always look forward to the time of the year when they can be found blooming in abundance.