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More on Johnson County’s Railroads

I wrote in a recent column about the railroads of Johnson County. I pointed out that there were two railroads that came into Johnson County and while those railroads were primarily to haul timber and iron and manganese ore, there were also passenger cars to accommodate travelers. In this column I want to expound on the subject a bit more.
With the coming of railroads, Johnson County became less isolated and was no doubt welcomed by its citizens. Just imagine how difficult travel was in the days before the automobile when the trusted horse provided the best method of travel. Riding horseback or riding a buggy, surrey, wagon or some other vehicle pulled by a horse or team of horses was much better and faster than walking, especially considering the road conditions of that time.
Highways and automobiles hadn’t reached Johnson County by the early 1900s. Therefore, the coming of the Iron Horse was a great occasion. The first train to arrive in Johnson County came to Old Butler, Tennessee. On Sunday, July 25, 1900, the citizens of Butler held a big picnic to celebrate the arrival of the first train to come to Johnson County soil. The railway was “The Virginia and Southwestern Railway.” Several prominent folks from Mountain City traveled to Butler to attend the affair. Travel from Mountain City to Butler was no small feat in those days.
That railroad came from Bristol through Bluff City and Elizabethton to Butler and on to Vaughtsville (later called Maymead). The line stopped at Vaughtsville. Unhappy that the line didn’t extend on to Mountain City, the county seat, on August 10, 1900, a number of Johnson County men visited the president of the railway to petition his company to extend the line on to Mountain City. Among those making the trip to Bristol were J. S. Mitchell, E. E. Butler, W. T. Smythe, H. T. D. Wills, J. A. Wilson, I. S. Rambo, R. E. Donnelly and R. A. Long. Their plea was successful and ultimately an extra five miles of track was laid to reach Mountain City. When that railroad was completed in Johnson County, the stations were Butler, Doe, Neva, Maymead, Shouns and Mountain City. The site of Mountain City’s station was in the area where Tri-State Growers, inc. is now located. That street is called Depot Street for a reason. A disastrous flood precipitated the abandonment of that railroad on August 27, 1941. A great deal of track was washed out and railroad officials chose not to rebuild.
The other railroad was built mainly to haul timber. It ran the 16 miles from Damascus, Virginia to Mountain City. T. W. Thayer Lumber Company organized the Laurel Railway on March 21, 1905. When timber and manganese ore were depleted, the little railroad ceased to operate in 1919 and the tracks were removed in 1924. The depot for that railroad was located near where Lois’ Restaurant is now. It was known as the Pea Vine Railroad.
So, there was a time in Mountain City that trains opened up a new experience for the folks. No doubt, it was exciting for people who had been so isolated, to travel to the big cities of Bristol and Elizabethton. Sadly, the sound of train whistles no longer pierce the air in Johnson County. But, looking back to a time when trains made daily trips out of Mountain City, is something to think about.