Tweetsie Trail History
The original East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (ET&WNC) Railroad was a broad-gauge railway of 5 feet (60 inches) as specified by the State of Tennessee. Work began in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1868 by the railroad’s president Eliiah Simerly. Two years later, with some funding from the State of Tennessee, rails had been laid 5 miles east towards Elizabethton and 15 miles of roadbed had been graded. By 1872, little progress had been made on the track, causing the railroad to default on loan payments to the state. It was later sold.
ln 1875, Ario Pardee and a group of Pennsylvania industrialists bought an iron ore mine at Cranberry, North Carolina, known as the Cranberry lron and Coal Company, and subsequently acquired the ET&WNC Railroad as a means of transporting smelted ore and timber products to larger railroads in Johnson City.
ln April 1881, work on a narrow gauge (3 ft.) railroad began and, by August, it opened to the public with one train running back and forth daily between Johnson City and Hampton. ln July 1882, the line opened from Johnson City to Cranberry, a distance of 34 track miles. Tennessee’s first major narrow gauge railroad, the ET&WNC, was officially completed and served the mountain communities and its industries faithfully until its last run in October 1950. The railroad was given the nickname “Tweetsie” by the people who saw — and heard the shrill sound from the whistles of its 10-wheel locomotives — daily from their mountain homes.