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East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad Historical Society



  • Existence: 1989-

The ET&WNC RR Historical Society, founded in 1989, is a non-profit organization that preserves the history of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, 1866-1983. Of particular historical interest is the narrow-gauge section of the line known as “Tweetsie,”1881-1950. The society also preserves materials relating to the Linville River Railway (LRRY), 1889-1941.

The ET& WNC RR Company was chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly on May 24, 1866, to build a 3-foot gauge line for the purpose of transporting iron ore from Cranberry, North Carolina. Lacking firm financial backing and management, the railroad failed and was abandoned in 1874. The Cranberry Iron and Coal Company (CIC) acquired the line in 1880. Construction of a 14.1 mile narrow-gauge track from Johnson City to Hampton, Tennessee, was completed August 22, 1881. An extension to Cranberry, North Carolina, was finished July 3, 1882. This narrow-gauge section was familiarly known as the “Stemwinder” or the “Narrow Gauge.” By the late 1930s, it came to be known as “Tweetsie.”

ET&WNC RR hauled iron ore from the Cranberry mine, pig iron from the forge, and lumber from the forests of western North Carolina. In 1913, CIC purchased the Linville River Railway, a line built in the 1890s specifically to haul lumber between Cranberry and Saginaw, North Carolina. The LRRY was extended in the following years to Boone, North Carolina. LRRY suffered heavily from a 1940 flood and eventually abandoned the rail line following Interstate Commerce Commission approval on March 22, 1941.

CIC became involved in motor transportation and established the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Motor Transportation Company as a subsidiary on December 17, 1926. Chartered to operate passenger buses in East Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina, the company expanded into the trucking business in 1928.

During World War II, ET&WNC RR was one of the major rail lines hauling freight and passengers throughout the region. With the end of the war, business declined. The narrow-gauge section known “Tweetsie” was abandoned in 1950. The last run was on October 16, 1950. ET&WNC RR maintained standard rail service between Johnson City and Elizabethton, serving the rayon plants in Elizabethton and other businesses along the line. In 1983, the ET&WNC RR became the East Tennessee Railway.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad Historical Society Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 500-AppMs 567
Arrangement This collection is divided into three series: Series 1: Historical File; Series 2: Maps and Drawings (Oversize); and Series 3: Audiovisual Materials that has two subseries: Subseries 1, Various Formats and Subseries 2, Photographs.