Johnson later established the first railroad depot for passenger and freight service in the area. In 1869, Johnson’s Depot became the incorporated city of Johnson City. Henry Johnson was easily elected the first mayor of the city that bears his name.
In 1909, a Johnson City resident completed the acquisition of a 242-mile railroad that ran straight across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Dante, Virginia, to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Six years later, the final 35 miles of George L. Carter’s railroad were completed to Elkhorn, Kentucky. The headquarters for the Clinchfield Railroad were based in Johnson City.
City historians say Carter’s railroad played a key role in shaping Johnson City’s destiny. The Clinchfield gave Johnson City access to its second trunk line (in addition to the Southern Railroad) with the ET&WNC being the connector line serving both larger railways.
According to johnsonsdepot.com, the “relationship of the three railway lines and the strategic location for regional commerce in the vicinity of Henry Johnson’s Depot resulted in another decade of growth. As was true with most of the legendary railroad builders, George L. Carter was developing towns and cities along his rail line.”
Carter (who was described in his 1936 obituary by the Washington Post as "the last Empire Builder”) developed Johnson City’s Tree Streets neighborhood and donated the land that would become East Tennessee State University. His home was located near the 120 acres he gave to help establish the East Tennessee Normal School.
It’s entirely fitting that a museum dedicated to the city’s railroad history would be located on the campus of ETSU. Model trains in magnificently detailed city and country settings can be seen at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum, which has attracted thousands of visitors from across the region since it opened almost a decade ago.
The museum’s model railroads are operated by volunteers from the Mountain Empire Model Railroader club. The trains are of three different gauges: HO scale, G scale and N scale.
These miniature replicas run through tunnels, across bridges, around towns and lakes and past various scenes of people living and working.
The museum, which is located at 113 Campus Center Building, is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.