In its beginning, the town, as many were in those years, was built along the railroad — stores, homes and businesses — all for the employees of the railroad.
In 1902, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was looking for a place to build a rail center halfway between Cincinnati and Atlanta. It would include a rail yard for crew changes and shops to build and repair boxcars.
It was a few years later in 1906, that the first planned community was built by the L&N Railroad. Populated by more than 2,000 people — all employed by L&N — a town was born.
“Etowah” by S. Durant Tullock tells the story of a hundred-year heritage in the series “Images of America.” In addition to the two-page introduction — a summary of history from the Civil War to the present — the book includes more than 200 photos, vintage and modern.
Chapters include: “In the Beginning,” “Boomtown,” “The L&N Railroad,” “Business and Industry,” “School Days,” “Sports, “African Americans,” and “People, Places and Things.” The 128-page book is a walk through history showing the development of the Tennessee town.
The first building constructed in the L&N’s new venture was the passenger depot in Etowah. It was built by a construction crew from Blue Ridge, Ga., with master carpenter Nathan York. The Victorian-style, 15-room building was built of yellow pine with bead-board walls and an elaborate staircase. In 1916, an addition was built to give more space for offices.
Employment was good as construction workers were needed to build shops and buildings. Etowah was incorporated in 1909 and by 1912, the population moving in found prospering businesses down Tennessee Avenue and Seventh and Ninth streets — still dirt. With a housing need for the railroad men moving in, a YMCA was build at a cost of $17,000 — a two-story building with six rooms, steam and electric heat and running water. The cost to stay at the YMCA was 25 cents. (The building was torn down in 1929.)
Boarding houses and hotels were built to take care of the families who came in with the railroad workers and so the community kept growing. A post office, banks and a drugstore were added and Etowah became a boomtown, experiencing industrial and business explosion. It now boasted its own weekly newspaper and movie theaters — and a funeral parlor.
Tullock traces the growth of the railroad town through a century, in hard times and in prosperous times. When entering the 1960s, transportation advances carried Etowah residents away to nearby larger cities for shopping and working, so Etowah put a plan into motion for revival. An industrial park was built and industries were recruited.
The city had a facelift with renovations of new brick sidewalks and vintage light fixtures in downtown. Again the L&N depot became the center of the new direction.
The Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association purchased the Old Line Railroad from Copperhill to Etowah and it became an excursion route through Cherokee National Forest and over the historic L&N loop, bringing more than 10,000 out-of-area visitors to the region. The depot shares the culture of the railroad and its influence with more than 43,000 visitors annually.
The photos in “Etowah” tell the story. They are priceless.
Tullock, a local businessman, teaches local history classes in area communities, “keeping history alive for future generations.” In the last 30 years, he has collected more than 6,000 photographs. He dedicates the book to his three sons, Brandon, Alex and Nicholas, to Sandra Shaw and to his father, Doug Tullock. This is a book you will want to make a part of your personal library and recommend to others.
“Etowah” will be released Aug. 12 in softcover, published by Arcadia Publishing, the leading publisher of local and regional history in the United States.
It will be available at area bookstores, independent retailers and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at 888-313-2665; or online: www.arcadiapublishing.com.