By Jamie Stewart Storey, [email protected]

(The Herald/ Submitted Photo)

The beginning construction of Douglas Dam. (The Herald/ Submitted Photo)

The railroad and railway systems have played an important part of the creation and history of South Knoxville, Seymour, Sevierville and the surrounding areas.

Once railways were constructed, businesses came in and setup train companies to utilize the newly built federal railways.

As important as the railway was to this area the first Great Depression had significant impacts upon the railways and the prosperity of this region.

“Times had changed and due to the severity of the Great Depression it changed the way in which railroads were being utilized,” said historian Ulys Cox. “ People as a whole did not have the money to travel by railcar and as the depression worsened so did the actual train companies. Many went out of business as factories were shutting down and the actual rail cars were either abandoned or were sold.”

The history of the railroad illustrates the trials and tribulations of this area. In the beginning of the train era,  several railroad construction companies were privately contracted to build tracks and depots.

In 1887 both Shook’s Gap and Chapman Hwy. in Bay’s Mountain opened along with Newell’s Station, which helped to create the area  now called Seymour.

Both Shook’s Gap and Newell’s Station sections of railway and depots were instrumental in the founding of the area.  The Smoky Mountain Railroad ran from Knoxville via Shook’s Gap and Seymour.  This railway route became known as the “Slow and Easy”.

By 1918 due to Civil War and World War I the railroad companies that used the railways were nationalized and placed under federal control . This included the KS&E railroad and was primarily done due to abandonment of trains by these train companies.

The federal government in 1942 once again opened the railway to haul bulk materials to build the hydroelectric dam under the guidance of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“Boom towns were common and have their own unique spin on history,” Cox said.  “There were several notorious characters that became interwoven within the actual history of the railroad.

Cox said one such example is a character by the name of Judge Bond Stewart, which is carried over into such books as Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree and Blood Meridian.

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s all passenger service ceased and forced the Midwest Steel Corporation to sell their railcars to a group of businessmen from Sevierville including A.J. King, J.E. Temple, J.B. Waters, Sr. James Atchley and several others.

The newly purchased railcar company suffered 55 derailments in 1960 throughout the months of January and April.  By 1961 the purchased line named Smoky Mountain Railroad ceased operation and is abandoned.

“Since the 1960’s all that is really ever brought up regarding the railways and railroads are claims by ‘heirs’,” Cox added. “I am contacted every so often by these so-called heirs and they typically take it fairly hard when I explain these former train companies were abandoned and became property of the federal railway system.”

As times changed and the interstate roadway systems developed the need for railroads were dramatically cut and had deep impacts upon trade and travel in the region.

“With fuel prices being as high as they are perhaps shipping and travel by train is the way to go at least through the South Eastern portions of this country,” Cox Suggested.  “The tracks are still here along with a number of abandoned railway cars. Why not use them and find out if the railroad can help with the revival of this area?”

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