Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

The railroad once ruled in Mountain City

I have written in this column previously about the railroads and trains in Johnson County and Mountain City, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to mention it again. There are still folks around who were residences of Johnson County when rail service was an important part of the transportation choices county and city folks had. Too, perhaps there are folks who are newcomers to this area who might be interested in some history of the county in which they have chosen to live. I was born here in 1938, only two years before a cloud burst washed sections of tracks out from Mountain City to Elizabethton. That spelled doom for the line due to replacement of the tracks being deemed too expensive to replace.
While in my imagination I can see the trains and tracks that were very important to the citizens of the county and town. When the iron horse came it opened up this area so that folks could travel to other towns and cities and return the next day. Compared to walking, riding a horse or riding in a buggy or wagon, riding a train was a welcomed innovation for the folks. Of course, while the train hauled passengers, probably the main purpose was to haul timber and iron or manganese ore.
At one time there were two rail lines into Mountain City. One line came from Damascus, Virginia to Mountain City via some other stations along the way. It came to be called the Pea Vine Railroad. The Depot for that railway was about where Lois’s Restaurant is now located. Another line went from Mountain City through Butler, Tennessee; Elizabethton; and Bluff City to Bristol, Virginia. The depot for that line was located near where the Tri-State Growers, Inc. is located. I remember hearing my grandmother tell about riding the train to Elizabethton to visit her brother. I suppose riding a train was an exciting experience at that time.
The first train to come to Johnson County came to Butler (old Butler, the town that was inundated by the waters of Watauga Lake) on Sunday, July 25, 1900. A great celebration of the occasion was held in Butler and a number of folks from Mountain City traveled there to the celebration. The line was later extended to Vaughtsville (Maymead). Not content with having the railroad end at Vaughtsville, a number of men from Mountain City visited the railway president George L. Carter and were successful in persuading him to extend the line to Mountain City and soon the tracks were extended to Mountain City. The passenger trains ran seven days a week and the freight trains ran each day except Sunday.
The Pea Vine Railroad came about when T. W. Thayer Lumber Company organized the Laurel Railway on March 21, 1905. That railroad was primarily for that lumber company’s own use, but it served three other lumber companies as well and also operators of manganese mines in the area. The train made two passengers trips per day but it was mainly a lumber railroad. With the decline of timber and manganese ore, the railroad ceased to operate in 1919. The tracks were removed in 1924.