A miniature landscape of mountains and valleys stretches across the length of a spacious room in the Campus Center building at East Tennessee State University.
Small towns and sprawling metropolises sit in makeshift displays, and yards and yards of train tracks circumnavigate the room.
After 14 years on the ETSU campus, a museum showcasing Johnson City’s history with the local railroad system is looking for a new home.
Director Fred Alsop said the George L. Carter Railroad Museum has outgrown its space at ETSU, and with on-campus construction projects slated to occur sometime in the future, the museum is searching for new accommodations.
The museum has about 5,000 square feet of space, which Alsop said was more than enough room roughly 14 years ago. The museum, however, has continued to expand, and the membership of its affiliated railroad clubs have also grown dramatically.
“We’re just basically out of room,” he said, noting that the museum also has roughly 1,000 square feet of items in storage at ETSU’s Valleybrook campus.
Open one day a week on Saturdays, Alsop said, the museum typically sees about 8,000 visitors a year.
Aside from the miniature displays, the walls of the museum are also lined with a gallery of glass cases that contain railroad memorabilia. Space is also dedicated to a library full of books about the history of the local rail system and workshops where enthusiasts cut together small buildings and craft tiny, artificial trees.
Alsop has discussed the move with leaders at the city, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Johnson City Development Authority. He estimates the museum would need between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet to expand its layout and exhibits.
One of its exhibits houses the museum’s representation of the Tweetsie Railroad, which started in Johnson City and extended to Cranberry, North Carolina.
Commissioner Jenny Brock noted that conversations about the museum’s move have been going on for at least a few years. She broached the topic during a City Commission meeting after recently hearing from Alsop.
Brock said the museum is an asset to the community that reflects its history and could be a real destination if it were more accessible.
Alsop noted that there’s probably no city that is more connected to railroads than Johnson City.
“It owes its birth to a railroad,” he explained.
With the weather getting warmer, a number of new restaurants are opening up. These restaurateurs can sense the easing of mask-wearing and social distancing, and know that there are a bunch of hungry customers out there who are tired of eating their own cooking.
Good food and renewed, happy socializing with other people is the best (and only) remedy for “Interesting Times,” and folks like Brian and Kera Green of Bluff City’s Shallow Creek Grill are just the restaurateurs to provide it.
Shallow Creek Grill is located on a neck-snapper switchback called Bunker Hill Road. You travel 200 yards down Bunker Hill Road from its intersection with U.S. Highway 19E’s four-lane, occupying a former convenience store property. Inside is a spacious dining area seating 50 or so, with a cashier, takeout station and the line kitchen along the rear wall. Restrooms (clean & tidy) are found at the rear.
Though the gas pumps out front don’t work, the canned drinks cooler and snacks display inside does, should you need something for the road.
Having spotted Shallow Creek Grill on a Saturday visit to Bluff City, I’d asked my dining partner and our dine-around friend the Retiree to join me for an early supper. Owner Brian Green greeted us, saw to our seating, menus and drinks while informing us that the dinner special would be ready in half an hour if we wanted to wait.
Wanting a light supper, the three of us decided not to wait, and went ahead with our orders. I chose one of Shallow Creek’s bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich combos ($6.47) served “Creek” style, as in wrapped up in a flour tortilla, and served with a generous portion of Shallow Creek’s homemade, hand-cut French fries. “Creek-style” means “stuffed almost to bursting,” with crispy bacon, lettuce and diced tomato. I requested a slice of American cheese to test the tortilla’s resistance to overload. My BLT was very tasty, especially with a few ketchup-laden fries on the side.
The Retiree has been watching her weight, and decided that she’d have her cheeseburger and fries ($9.27) “Creek-style” as well. Brian’s wife Kera packed a flour tortilla for the Retiree just as full of cheeseburger and fixings as my BLT; making a very pleased Retiree in the process. Our friend found Kera had no trouble preparing some fresh home-cut fries without salt per the Retiree’s request.
My dining partner wanted her chicken sandwich ($8.97) “Classic-style,” as in “served on a bun,” and was pleased when Brian set a classic chicken breast sandwich adorned with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on a fresh burger-style bun in front of her. The chicken was quite fresh, properly seasoned, breaded and fried just right. The lettuce was crisp, as was the slice of tomato. Add some of those fresh, home-cut fries and a squirt of ketchup, and my dining partner was in business.
While we were having our supper, 5 o’clock rolled around, and the Saturday Night Dinner Special was on the menu. This Saturday’s special was a meatloaf platter with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a dinner roll, all for $9.99. Brian and Kera began taking phone orders for the special beginning at 5 o’clock, so I waited until there was a lull in the calls coming in to place a take-out order for myself and one for the Retiree.
I had my Saturday Night Dinner Special the following Sunday evening, and was very taken with how good the meatloaf was. The mashed potatoes were real mashed potatoes, though the gravy was just commissary grade. The green beans were just OK, while the dinner roll was instrumental handling the gravy. This is a very good meal for 10 bucks.
Shallow Creek Grill is well on its way to being a go-to eatery for the folks and businesses near U.S. 19E in northwestern Carter County. The food is excellent and tasty, and the service exemplary. The comfort and friendliness of the classic Mom n’ Pop restaurant is there; it just needs time to develop properly.
Be sure to check out Shallow Creek’s homemade desserts. Tempting the Retiree and my dining partner were a good looking and large chess bar ($1.99) and some homemade banana pudding ($2.49 a serving).
Good food and friendly folks at a well-situated location.
Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Washington County officials are applying for a $200,000 community development block grant to provide water to residents in the Taylor Bridge Road area.
County commissioners say the infrastructure grant is the first step in meeting their goal to extend water service to rural areas of Washington County. Commiss-ioners approved a resolution last week directing county Mayor Joe Grandy to apply for the CDBG funding through the First Tennessee Develop-ment District.
The requested $200,000 is the maximum amount available for the project under the grant program administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Washington County is expected to contribute $1,695,950 to the water line project.
Commissioner Bryan Davenport, who serves as chairman of the county’s Water Task Force, told his colleagues last week his panel hopes to have a prioritized list of other water projects for them to tackle in the near future.
Davenport has said members of the task force will be asked to make “data-driven decisions” on where the county should concentrate its limited resources for public water.
A 2019 engineering report prepared by Tysinger, Hampton & Partners Inc. found Washington County has 214 miles of roadway with no access to public water.
Davenport noted earlier this month that it is estimated to cost the county nearly $40 million to extend water service to all 359 projects listed in the engineering report.
Grandy has told task force members that they should name water line projects that are at the top of the list for funding, and to identify grants and other possible funding sources that could be used to address those needs.
The mayor said he has contacted rural development officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “start that process.”
Washington County officials are also looking to collaborate with the town of Jonesborough to create a seven-person county crew to help with the installation of water lines.
They say the infrastructure crew could help save county taxpayers money on installation and speed up work on pending projects, such as extending a water line on Greenwood Drive and providing service to the Taylor Bridge Road area.