In the early 1880s the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC) built their narrow gauge line from Johnson City, TN through the mountains to reach a source of high-grade iron ore in Cranberry, NC. The Doe River Gorge provided passage through the first range but not without serious challenge. An entirely cut-and-fill route had to be blasted through the gorge above the rushing Doe River, hugging narrow ledges, squeezing through tight tunnels and crossing the river several times – an amazing civil engineering feat at the time.
The narrow gauge line opened to Cranberry on July 3, 1882 and began hauling the iron ore as well as passengers and other freight. Later, the line was extended to Boone, NC and served the region for many years as a faithful little train that endeared itself to its people, eventually earning the nickname “Tweetsie.”
The Doe River Gorge was the scenic centerpiece of a trip on the line. Special excursion trains would pause at Pardee Point in the heart of the gorge and passengers would disembark to take in the sheer cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the rushing river.*
I’ve been told that the wild rhododendron are amazing a little later in the spring, so I’m looking forward to a return trip through the gorge before we leave.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of railroad history (you can read more about it *HERE), and just a taste of a ride along the rails!