By on Jun 26 2023

Johnson City’s history and growth have a strong tie to the 3 railroads that converged here.  The East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad was the first line to travel through the area that would one day become Johnson City.  

Businessman Henry Johnson saw the great potential of this new railroad and bought property at the junction of the new rail line and the old stagecoach route.  He purchased a half-acre lot and built a railway depot, freight station and post office that also served as a hotel, restaurant, and store. This area quickly became known as Johnson’s Depot. 

As the area continued to grow, two more railroads would run through Johnson City.  The East Tennessee & Western North Carolina “Tweetsie” Railroad would eventually connect Johnson City to Boone, North Carolina.  The ET&WNC Railroad was built to a narrow gauge to deal with the restrictions of the Blue Ridge Mountain landscape.  The “Tweetsie” nickname came from the sound of the whistle echoing off the mountains.

The last railroad to make its way through Johnson City was the Carolina, Clinchfield, & Ohio Railway.  Billed at the time as “the costliest railroad in America”, it stretched from Elkhorn, Kentucky in the north to Spartanburg, South Carolina to the south.

These three railroads led to several periods of rapid growth for Johnson City.  With a population of just 685 people in 1880, that number quickly grew to over 12,000 by 1920.  That growth has only continued through the years. While trains no longer stop in Johnson City, you can still see their legacy in the many tracks that still traverse downtown, and the two depots that still remain.  The ET&WNC depot is now home to Yee-Haw Brewing and White Duck Taco, and the CC&O Depot is now home to Johnson City’s first ever Visitor Center.

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all events and recommendations in Johnson City!