TRAINS ONCE RAN THROUGH SEVIER COUNTRY
By Carroll McMahan”
“Sevierville no longer will be a dull little village, but will grow into a live city and her wheels and whistles will make the everlasting hills resound with a little sound of industry,” wrote Bill Montgomery in a prediction he published in the Montgomery Vindicator in December 1907.
In a special election held on December 14, 1907, to determine if Sevier County should subscribe for $150,000 stock in a railroad, 2008 Sevier County residents voted for the railroad, while only 555 voted against it.
The railroad was built by Revilo Construction which was owned by William J. Oliver, the chairman of the board of the Knoxville, Sevierville and Eastern Railroad. Other officers included C.S. McManus as president and E.G. Oates as secretary-treasurer.
The tracks were installed from Vestal Station in south Knoxville through the Boyd’s Creek valley to Sevierville. The railroad was commonly called the Slow Poke and Easy due to the slow speed of the train.
The railroad station at the head of Boyd’s Creek was originally called Latonia but was changed to Seymour in honor of Charles Seymour who was chief engineer and also helped construct the railroad.
Other stations included Pitner’s, Oak City, Burnett’s, Klondyke, Boyd’s Creek, McMahan’s, Ewing, and Revilo which was the name of William J. Oliver’s construction company and was Oliver spelled backwards.
Initially the tracks terminated one mile short of town on the farm of A.H. Love where a temporary station was constructed. The 1880 farmhouse survives today and is the home of J.S. and Iva Grace Eledge.
On Sunday afternoon January 9, 1910, a special train drawn by the engine “S.B. Luttrell” arrived at the temporary station, transporting William J. Oliver and a large number of Knoxville dignitaries. An excited crowd of more than 600 greeted the first arrival of the Knoxville, Sevierville and Eastern Railroad in Sevierville.
A few days after the historic arrival of the first train on the Love farm, the final half-mile of tracks to the town’s second and first permanent depot was completed.
The little station of frame construction featured brick chimneys, separate passenger and freight buildings and a split-level platform. Its signboard included ‘SEVIERVILLE’ along with mileages to Knoxville (“30.0”) and Sevierville (“0”).
The station was located on what is today named Kilby Street. An existing photograph gives a view of the depot’s construction, fixtures, diminutive size, and its first agent, T.J. Stafford standing beside his friend E.G. McAfee posing in front of the new terminal.
Amid a plethora of financial and legal wrangling, William J. Oliver announced his intention to extend the railroad from Sevierville to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and to the crest of the Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee/ North Carolina state line. The new extension was named Pigeon River Railroad.
McCookville station, 2 miles south of Pigeon Forge was as far as the tracks were ever built.
Crews constructed a non-motorized, man-powered locomotive turntable on the west side of Sevierville (located behind the present-day Walgreen’s.) They also took on the daunting task of building a trestle bridging the west prong of the Little Pigeon River, aligning its main track to run down the center of Bruce Street through Sevierville.
Because Sevierville shippers were located on the east side of the river, wagon and motor vehicle access to the 1910 depot was inconvenient from the very beginning. Therefore, the decision was made to construct a new depot on Bruce Street, just east of Murphy College (the present-day Sevier County Board of Education building) in 1917.
With its bay and dormer windows and a passenger waiting room on the right and freight storage on the left, the new depot had a more ornate, depot-like appearance than its predecessor across the river.
Once the third depot was shut down, the railroad’s Sevierville passenger and freight operations were moved back to the west side of the west prong and into an unpainted warehouse on present day Kilby Street.
The railroad changed ownership numerous times over years, as the line was never particularly profitable and struggled to stay afloat with as few as 300 carloads of freight being shipped annually out of Sevierville.
In 1950, the Smoky Mountain Railroad (as it was later named) terminated its passenger operations, but the warehouse continued to house the railroad’s Sevierville office and freight shed until all operations ceased in January of 1961.
While it never played a major role in Sevier County, there are some memorable public events associated with the railroad. One such occasion was on September 21, 1917, when eighty-eight men boarded the train for training at Camp Gordon, Georgia and service in World War I.
A large crowd including wives, mothers, and sweethearts of the future soldiers assembled on the courthouse lawn to bid them farewell. The young men were lined up, roll was called, and every man was present.
The Knoxville, Sevierville and Eastern Railroad sent two cars loaned by Southern Railway to Bruce Street beside the courthouse. Judge Ambrose Paine, chairman of the Selective Board gave the men some final instructions and they marched onboard amid the tearful goodbyes of relatives and friends.
World War II brought about the only notable period of profitability for the railroad, as the Tennessee Valley Authority initiated construction of Douglas Dam.
A branch line was constructed from Old Knoxville Highway to the dam site, and the railroad, which by then was called Smoky Mountain Railroad, hauled in most of the equipment and materials needed to construct the dam.
Once the dam was completed the railroad once again began to struggle and by 1946 the line was losing money. The stockholders applied for abandonment in 1947; however, the interstate Commerce Commission denied the request. The railroad continued for 15 more years.
Several of the Smoky Mountain Railroad’s former locomotives are still in existence. A notable example is steam locomotive # 107 which was sold to Rebel Railroad in 1961 for static display and is still displayed at the entrance to Dollywood on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge. The old locomotive is a reminder of a half century of railway service in Sevier County.