SMOKY MOUNTAIN RAILROAD
Remembering “The Old Slow & Easy” in Sevierville, Tennessee.
“The Old Slow & Easy” exhibit, located at the Sevierville Visitor Center, showcases the Smoky Mountain Railroad. Viewing the exhibit is free and it will be open until late spring of 2022.
“The exhibit initially opened on January 9th because in 1910 that’s when the first train arrived in Sevierville,” says Carroll McMahan, Sevier County Historian. The train line, which was officially named the Sevierville, Knoxville and Eastern Railway and later the Smoky Mountain Railroad, rolled between Knoxville and Sevierville for 51 years before ending its run in 1961.
The train earned the nickname “The Old Slow & Easy” since it was notoriously behind schedule: “It averaged 25 miles per hour because there were so many stops between Knoxville and Sevierville,” says McMahan. But when the line operated, it was possible to travel by rail from Sevierville to Knoxville and then connect to almost anywhere in the U.S.
“The original idea was that the train would go all the way across the Smokies to North Carolina, but that never did materialize,” says McMahan. Blame poor timing: The train arrived in the area just as automobiles were gaining popularity and becoming more common.
In addition to passengers, the train serviced multiple Smoky Mountain-based industries including lumber companies and the Stokely Brothers Canning Company.
Tracks ran through Sevierville past Pigeon Forge and halfway to Gatlinburg, but never reached Newfound Gap as originally planned. Though no tracks remain in place today, some of the original tracks that have long been buried under Bruce Street in Historic Downtown Sevierville are being excavated.
“One reason this exhibit is important is that there’s so little left to see,” says McMahan. For example, neither of the two original stations, built in 1910 and 1916, remain standing. “It’s an obscure part of history that ended 58 decades ago, so few people have firsthand memories of it.” Even though the train hasn't run for many years, a renewed interest in the Sevierville, Knoxville & Eastern was sparked by historic downtown Sevierville's recently completed streetscape renovations. The new downtown design incorporates replica rails that run the length of Bruce Street, as well as public art created from original portions of the train's track. It is also possible to see one lingering train car (#107), however: It stands at the Pigeon Forge entrance to Dollywood (turn left onto Dollywood Lane from the Parkway).
The exhibit at the Sevierville Visitors Center will tell the story of the Sevierville, Knoxville and Eastern Railway with historic facts, archival photos, artifacts, and a fictional passenger’s diary account set in 1920. Interactive areas include a selfie station and an option to write and share your own railroad memories.
The all-new exhibit, “The Old Slow & Easy,” will be open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sevierville Visitor Center located at 3099 Winfield Dunn Parkway in Kodak, Tennessee, just 1.5 miles from I-40 Exit 407. There is no admission fee.
Related Fun in Sevierville…
Delve into more transportation history at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation, Tennessee’s official repository and archive of aviation history. Displays include vintage aircraft, engines, and military vehicles. The museum is the only place in the U.S. that boasts two airworthy P-47 Thunderbolts—less than a dozen of these World War II planes still fly in the world! Climb into an A-4 Skyhawk Cockpit for a pilot’s-eye view of flying. Other historic artifacts focus on military flight, including uniforms, aircraft models, memorabilia, and photographs. A “Wave Wall” offers a timeline of aviation history milestones starting before the Wright Brothers.
Dig into local history at the Sevier County Heritage Museum in Historic Downtown Sevierville. Founded in 1794, Sevier County’s diverse and engaging history ranges from the Eastern Woodland Native Americans to living legend Dolly Parton. The museum, founded in 1995, is located inside a Colonial Revival-style building that was completed in 1940 by an African-American construction company and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Displays include ancient artifacts from Native Americans and first settlers, items from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, excavated portions of track from The Old Slow & Easy, and more.