Roan Mountain man’s dream: New life along the Tweetsie line
Published 8:17 am Thursday, September 25, 2014
A Roan Mountain man is trying to get historical recognition for a section of the Tweetsie railbed in that part of the county.
Edward Lee Johnson, who lives on Bear Cage Road, said the route between Hampton and Roan Mountain is one of its most historic stretches. Johnson, who hikes down to sections of the trail periodically, specifically called attention to one of the abandoned railroad bridges and the tunnels in the Doe River Gorge area, through which the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad traveled on its way to mines at Cranberry, N.C.
When the narrow gauge railroad was built, five wooden Howe truss bridges were built between Hampton and Cranberry, he said, one over the Little Doe River just south of Hampton, three in the Doe River Gorge and one at Shell Creek. “They are all gone, or impassible, except one in the Blevins Creek area,” Johnson added.
According to his research, all of the bridges were built in the early 1880s. Being subject to mountain weather, they were all in need of repairs by 1890 ad the bridges were rebuilt in 1891 and 1892. “The company then covered them in order to protect them from the elements,” Johnson said.
The covered bridges were safe from rain and snow, but they were vulnerable to floods.
Johnson said the “May Tide” of 1901 washed all of them away between Hampton and Cranberry, except for the bridge over the Little Doe. The washed-out spans were replaced with steel bridges the railroad bought second-hand.
The steel bridge at Blevins Creek below the Roan Mountain prison is one of only two steel bridges in use in Carter County. “However, further down the railroad ties on the other bridges have rotted, making them even impassable to hikers,” Johnson said.
“This is one of the most scenic parts of the Tweetsie Trail, especially in the fall,” he noted. “It’s also an important part of our history. Tweetsie is the only trail we ever had in Hampton and Roan Mountain.”
Johnson said he could remember riding the Tweetsie Railroad a couple of times to Newland and back to Johnson City as a young boy.
“It’s a reminder of times past, when mining iron ore was big business in these parts. The train imported the iron ore from Cranberry, N.C.,” he added.
“It was just a little mountain train, but it enjoyed good times, when it hauled freight and days when it was an excursion train,” Johnson reminisced.
He would like to see the route from Hampton to Roan Mountain restored and the bridges rebuilt.
“It would be costly, but I think it’s a part of our history worth keeping, and telling our children about,” Johnson said. “It’s no doubt one of the most scenic parts of the old Tweetsie Railroad.”
Right now, it’s a dream of Johnson’s, but his goal is to see the bridges restored and the old railroad bed remade into a trail.
“Everything started with a dream,” he said with a sigh.