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Railroad Museum Joins Johnson City’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations

Locally-focused showcase will highlight the legendary Tweetsie and other facets of railroading

Staff Reports

JOHNSON CITY — Model railroaders and historians will be interested in this. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Johnson City, the George L. Carter Railroad Museum at East Tennessee State University will host a special event each Saturday in January remembering the extensive role that railroads played in the area’s economic growth.

The legendary “Tweetsie,” formally named the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railway but given its nickname by people along the line, will be featured on the first day of these events, Saturday, Jan. 5. Vintage films will be shown Jan. 12 and 19, and the annual Tri-Cities Rails Remembrance Heritage Day on Jan. 26 will focus attention on the museum’s multiple model railroad exhibits.

“This location where the city now exists began as a small outpost named Johnson’s Depot,” says Heritage Days coordinator Geoff Stunkard. “It was the location of an early water tank for steam engines, and frankly Johnson City was always a railroad town. The ET&WNC terminated here and had its headquarters in town, while the Southern and the Clinchfield lines, both predecessors of today’s Norfolk Southern and CSX, respectively, maintained operations here.”

With the passing of the original narrow-gauge ET&WNC, a short distance was still operating into Elizabethton as a standard gauge line into the 21st century, and this right-of-way has since been converted into the popular Tweetsie Trail in recent years. However, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, the Carter Railroad Museum now hosts to one of the largest scale models ever attempted of this railroad line, which fills the majority of one exhibit hall.

Operating in HOn3 scale, its realistic mountain scenery and exclusive hand-built structures have been featured in national magazines, and it is considered a world-class example of scale detailing. Also on display in this room are original artifacts from this railroad, including the cast bronze sign removed from the original office building.

Also on display is a very accurate model of the long-gone Carnegie Iron Works steel operation that once resided in Johnson City, north of Broadway Avenue. It is in a larger Sn3 scale and accurately depicts this type of industrial operation. The original mill was torn down during the Great Depression. In addition, a child-friendly logging exhibit in G gauge large scale depicts facets and equipment once used in those operations.

Members of the both the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders club and the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society serve as hosts during public events at the museum.

Located in the Campus Center Building at ETSU, the Carter Railroad Museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and includes model railroad layouts, a children’s activity room, a nd ongoing programs. Heritage Day is held the last Saturday of each month. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome.

The Carter Railroad Museum can be identified by a flashing railroad-crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road onto Jack Vest Drive and continue east toward 176 Ross Drive, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign.

For more information, contact Dr. Fred Alsop at 423-439-6838 or alsopf@etsu.edu. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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