North Carolina Railroads - East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad


Year Chartered or Incorporated

Year Line Operational

Year Service Ended

Original Starting Point

Original Ending Point





Johnson City, TN

Cranberry, NC
+ 1913 - Acquired the Linville River Railroad, extending this line to Pineola, NC.
+ 1866 - Company organized on May 24, 1866 under the laws of Tennessee. Re-organized on May 22, 1879 under a legislative Act approved on March 6, 1879.

1940 Route Map

Initially created to haul iron ore, this railroad enjoyed one of the most loyal following, not only among the locals but also among the many visitors to the Tennessee and North Carolina mountains traveled on this line.

Construction began in 1866 using 5' broad gauge track. Only a short section of grading was completed before the original company went bankrupt and was publicly auctioned for $20,000 to private interests. Construction did not recommence in earnest until 1879, and the line was reconfigured to be 3' narrow gauge track.

The most formidable obstacle to be overcome was, of course, the Blue Ridge Mountains, which no other railroad had yet been successful. From Hampton, Tennessee to Cranberry, North Carolina, the railroad climbed over 1,500 feet in elevation. In 1881, the line was finished from Johnson City, Tennessee to Cranberry, North Carolina, and construction costs exceeded $1 million.

The line was officially opened on July 3, 1882, with mixed passenger and freight traffic. In 1904, the railroad completed a section of track between Johnson City and Elizabethton that was dual gauge.

In 1913, the railroad acquired the Linville River Railroad, and extened this line to Pineola, NC, an additional fourteen (14) miles. Now, the track was only eight (8) miles from Boone, NC. In order to entice the ET&WNC to come to Boone, the locals raised $27,000 in bonds, and construction was completed in 1918. Now, the line was sixty-six (66) miles in length.

Like many other railroads of the time, the ET&WNC had many nicknames given to it - some flattering, some not. The earliest was the "Stemwinder," given by Shepherd M. Dugger in 1890 when he compared the punctuality and fined-tuned operation of the line to the "best jewelled stemwinder in the pocket of a millionaire."

A second nickname was given during the Great Depression and the abject poverty in much of the area served by the ET&WNC - "Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes." The railroad employees often replied with "Every Trip With No Complaints" or "Exquisite Trains and What Nice Conductors."

The most common nickname was simply - "Tweetsie." Many supposed that locals gave it this moniker, but it was actually visitors from the flatlands because of the shrill whistle in the mountain valleys.

The line was often plagued with flooding, and the line between Cranberry and Boone was the section most prone to flooding. In 1940, much of the track was destroyed and the company decided not to rebuild. Abandonment was approved on March 22, 1941.

The line from Johnson City to Cranberry remained operational. The narrow gauge locomotive #12 survives in an amusement park named "Tweetsie Railroad" near Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

From the 1st Annual Report of the North Carolina Railroad Commission, dated December 31, 1891:

Line of road, Johnson City, Tennessee, to Cranberry, NC, thirty-four miles. Total length of line in North Carolina, three (3) miles, all in Mitchell County. The road was chartered May, 1866; road opened July, 1882.

President----------------------------- Frank Firmstone--------------------- Philadelphia, Pa.
Secretary-Treasurer------------------- John S. Wise------------------------- Philadelphia, Pa.
General Superintendent---------------- C. H. Nimson ----------------------- Cranberry, NC.
Auditor-------------------------------- Wallace Hahn----------------------- Cranberry, NC.

Click Here for old photos and more history of the ET&WNC Railroad. 
Click Here for more information on the Tweetsie Railroad and its history.

Towns on Route:

NC/TN State Line

Elk Park (1883)

Cranberry Forge > Cranberry (1884)

Minneapolis (1892)

Vale (1905)

Newland (1912)

Montezuma (1891)

Saginaw (1899) > Pineola (1914)



Shulls Mills


The Sixth Annual Report of the North Carolina Corporation Commission for the Year Ending December 31, 1904, with Compilations from Railroad Returns for the Year Ending June 30, 1904, includes the route of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, including mileage:

Stations in Order (3 miles in NC - as of 1904):

TN/NC State Line
Johnson City, TN

The Thirteenth Annual Report of the North Carolina Commission for the Year Ending December 31, 1911, with Compilations from Railroad Returns for the Year Ending June 30, 1911, includes the route of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad:

Towns on Route (3 miles):
TN/NC State Line
Elk Park

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