In the 1850s, the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad Company began the construction of a railroad that would connect Knoxville, Tennessee, to Virginia. Henry Johnson bought property on the proposed path of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railway, a promising spot to start a new business. He built a store, a depot, a post office and a house on this small piece of valuable land, which was eventually named Johnson’s Depot.
By establishing a depot, Henry was able to provide a water tank for the trains and lodging for travelers. This was the first railroad depot in the area that served passengers. In 1869, Johnson’s Depot was incorporated by the State of Tennessee as Johnson City, Tennessee. Henry Johnson was the unanimous choice for the city’s first mayor.
A few years later, the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railroad was built, stretching from Johnson City into the mountains of North Carolina. The train was nicknamed “Tweetsie” for it’s loud whistle that echoed through the mountains.
The ET&V and ET&WNC railroads are now part of the Norfolk Southern Railway and run nearly 20,000 miles through the eastern United States, but their history holds a very special place in the heart of Johnson City. – From DowntownJC.com
The Experience – coming in early 2024
A special place to tell the history of our community through the lens of the railroad. To highlight the entrepreneurial spirit of the men and women in the 1850s who realized the opportunity the presence of the railroad brought. Because of them, we are who we are – and that’s worth sharing. – Jenny Brock – Board Member, Mayor Emeritus and Commissioner, Johnson City, TN
The mission of the Johnson City Railroad Experience is to provide a dynamic destination that tells the story of our region through the lens of its railroads. Through historical collections, educational exhibits, and immersive experiences, we aim to educate, inspire, and bring joy to individuals of all ages and backgrounds.
We are committed to preserving and expanding the history of our railroads, their vital role in the origin of Johnson City, and their immense impact on the Appalachian Highlands. The museum stands as a beacon of positivity, providing space for visitors to experience both the nostalgia of the past and the challenges of the future. Above all, we intend to be an integral part of the community, a place where stories converge, memories are made, and the spirit of exploration thrives.
by Jenny Brock – Board Member, Mayor Emeritus and Commissioner, Johnson City, TN
For the last few years, a dedicated group of advocates have been in search of an off ETSU campus location to move the George L. Carter Railroad Museum. We have looked at many buildings in downtown Johnson City and all were in various states of disrepair. But each time we analyzed the task of turning that building into a museum. Remodeling costs, parking, and location were the three main drivers that ruled a building in or out. Every location was ruled out until a few months ago when we toured the Property Experts building on the corner of 207 Boone/King St. just west of King Common’s Park. The owner of the building is Sam Taylor. The building – move in ready; parking – over 100 spaces; and the location – two blocks from the original site of entrepreneur Henry Johnson’s 1850s water tank in downtown, checked all the boxes. Now, we must commit as a community that the value of the railroad museum can become a valued destination for families, visitors, and schools, while becoming a cornerstone location to tell our history.
But we also believe the history of Johnson City is not just told in a museum, it is a commitment from city leaders, educational institutions, business leaders and it’s citizens to intentionally preserve and share our heritage, be inspired by the spirit of the entrepreneurship that was the core of the city’s growth and ensure that new people moving to our city are grounded in our history, not theirs.
A city can grow in wealth and population, but its unique heritage, is what sets it apart from other cities and adds to a resident’s quality of life. The City of Johnson City would not be here but for the railroads and forward-thinking entrepreneurs. They took a risk, and at least, our generation should ensure we celebrate, learn and drive growth from the residues of their tenacity. Without protecting our culture by telling the stories of our history, a city becomes just “vanilla” or our culture bends to the ways of others.
The Johnson City Railroad Experience, in its new location, will not only be a visible destination to tell our story through the history and lens of the railroad in Johnson City, but also will celebrate the amazing entrepreneurs who laid the foundation of Johnson City. Among these, Henry Johnson and George L. Carter rise to the top. Let us tell their story and more.