Founded in 1856 by Henry Johnson as a railroad station named “Johnson’s Depot,” the city quickly became the main corridor for visitors and the major railway hub for commerce and culture coming into the region. Over the years, Johnson City has consistently been one of the fastest growing cities in the region, while also retaining the spirit and hospitality the mountains inspire. The downtown area is rich with history, culture, and amazing amenities for guests.
In the 1850s, the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad Company began the construction of a railroad that would connect Knoxville, Tennessee, to Virginia. Henry Johnson bought property on the proposed path of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railway, a promising spot to start a new business. He built a store, a depot, a post office and a house on this small piece of valuable land, which was eventually named Johnson’s Depot.
By establishing a depot, Henry was able to provide a water tank for the trains and lodging for travelers. This was the first railroad depot in the area that served passengers. In 1869, Johnson’s Depot was incorporated by the State of Tennessee as Johnson City, Tennessee. Henry Johnson was the unanimous choice for the city’s first mayor.
A few years later, the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railroad was built, stretching from Johnson City into the mountains of North Carolina. The train was nicknamed “Tweetsie” for it’s loud whistle that echoed through the mountains. This is where the idea for the Tweetsie Trail originated. The Tweetsie Trail is a “rails to-trails” project, providing opportunities for walking, hiking, running, or biking on a relatively flat path in a beautiful, natural setting. Once completed, the 10-mile trail will be the longest rails-to-trails project in Tennessee.
The ET&V and ET&WNC railroads are now part of the Norfolk Southern Railway and run nearly 20,000 miles through the eastern United States, but their history holds a very special place in the heart of Johnson City. We are bringing life back to these abandoned railways and depots by bringing in businesses like Yee-Haw Brewing Co., which is located in one of the old depots here in downtown.