Johnson City Press: Johnson's Depot: the little residence that started it all

Johnson's Depot: the little residence that started it all

Tanner Cook • Jan 7, 2019 at 10:35 AM

Johnson City was and still is a bustling town that is centered around the railroad. The small town that started out as a village of 600 at the founding and grew to be one of the largest cities in Tennessee by 1930 with over 25,000 residents.

One of the primary landmarks for the folks on the train arriving in the city was Johnson’s Depot — which today no longer stands — but is described to be along Market Street near the intersection next to Fountain Square.

Johnson City’s founding father Henry Johnson bought a one-half acre piece of land in 1856 for a sum of fifty dollars and built a small residence that also served as a store. This would become what is known as “Johnson’s Depot.”

There was a water tank as well for the steam engines and the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad began to operate in 1857. Johnson wanted to the town to come to him and he was the first to see real potential in the area. 

The railroad first became operational between Bristol and Johnson’s Depot then expanded to Knoxville in 1858. It again expanded in the early nineteenth century to run all the way to Boone, N.C. and would become the ET&WNC railway. Today, the Tweetsie Trail runs along the old rail beds and goes all the way to Elizabethton.

There are still rail beds that run through the Doe River Gorge and up into Carter County through Roan Mountain. The railway’s next stop would have been in Cranberry, which is about a mile south of Elk Park, N.C. 

The railroad company at the time was not able to afford a station for Johnson’s Depot, even though it was a needed stopping point for trains on the way to Knoxville. Johnson — out of his own pocket — built the depot which served as both a place of business and a hotel at times. There was also a post office and a restaurant.

It didn’t matter to Johnson whether weary travelers paid or not, no person ever went away hungry or without a place to stop and rest.

After several years of operation, the town and its residents received the first charter from the state of Tennessee under the newly elected name of Johnson City on Dec. 1, 1869.

During the first city election on Jan. 3, 1870, the citizens unanimously elected Johnson as the first mayor.

It is impossible to measure how much the impact of the railroad had on the 600-person community of Johnson’s Depot in the late nineteenth century, but seeing as how the town nearly rose in population 42 times over in just 50 years, one could say the railway was the main drive for the boom.

Today, the railroad doesn’t play as vital of a role for the dependency of the city, but the roots can been seen throughout Johnson City.

What started out as a small half-acre of land bought for fifty dollars and had a building that played several different roles during its time sure was one of the wisest investments made in the Tri-Cities.

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