Railroad

While discussion about a railroad coming to the area had come and gone for several decades, it was not until June 1882 that the first railroad arrived. The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad built a line from Johnson City to Cranberry. The line’s purpose was to transport the iron ore coming out of the Cranberry Mines.

In 1896, the Camp brothers of Chicago began purchasing timber rights in the area, and soon conceived the idea of the Linville River Railroad. The line was to run out of Cranberry and into Pineola. The brothers ran out of funds before the line was laid, and the property was later acquired by William M. Ritter.

Ritter reconstituted the railroad as the Linville River Railway. The LRR was finished to the lumber mills in Pineola. "Over the years," one historian recorded, "logging tracks were thrown down across Red Bird Gap to Jonas Ridge and to Pine Bottom, Crossnore, Altamont, Mill Timber Creek, Wilson Creek, and down the Linville River as far as Linville Falls.... Log trains also operated over the Linville River Railway’s tracks from Newland, where timber was cut on Kentucky Creek and Sugar Mountain."

      In 1906, Ritter moved his main operations to Caldwell County, and the parent company of the ET & WNC RR started negotiations to purchase the LRR. This was accomplished in 1913. Another lumberman, William S. Whitting, was setting up a mill in Shull’s Mill, in Watauga County. In 1915, it was agreed upon that the LRR would be extended to Shull’s Mill. The LRR eventually reached Boone.

There were ten depots of flag stops in Avery County. The first stop was in Elk Park, then Cranberry, and on to Minneapolis. There was a shelter in Vale, and then the train made its way into Newland. Pineola was the official end of the track for a short time. A depot was constructed in Montezuma in 1904, and in Linville in 1917. There were two other flag stops before the train reached the Avery-Watauga county line. The first was Linville Gap, the highest spot served by a passenger train east of the Mississippi River. We now call this area Invrsheil. The other stop was Jestes Siding, just before this side of the county line.

A flood in 1940 washed out many of the bridges and tracks along the route of the Linville River Railway. The parent company went before the ICC and asked for permission to abandon the line. While local people spoke out against the proposal, the ICC agreed, and permission was granted in August 1941. Crews moved in, took up the remaining rails, and boxcars stranded at various points were loaded onto flatcars and trucked out of the area.

The ET&WNC RR continued to run into Elk Park and Cranberry during the World War II years. The last regular run was on October 16, 1950. Soon thereafter, the rails were pulled up and the little narrow-gauge railroad, called Tweetsie due to its shrill whistle, was just a memory.