727 Tennessee Ave, Etowah built in 1905
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad construction workers began erecting the Etowah
Depot in 1905, and completed the two-story, frame building the following year. The
36 X 140 foot, 15-room station, built at a cost of $13,000, was immediately acclaimed
as the finest station between Knoxville and Atlanta.
The floor plan of the building, while irregular, is roughly T shaped; the main section,
which has a northeast-southwest axis, forms the elongated crossbar and the porte-cochere, attached to the northwest wall, the vertical bar. Except for the southwest
room, with its full basement which houses the boiler room, the depot stands on eight to
nine-foot concrete piers resting on slate bedrock. The complex roof structure has both
hipped and pyramidal elements; the lines of the slate roof are further-broken by six
gable dormers, two brick chimney stacks, several metal stove flues, and finials. The
roof of the single-story wing on the northeast end of the station has a large overhang
supported by graceful brackets; this bracketed overhang continues completely around
the building between the first and second stories. The middle bay of the southeast
elevation projects onto the platform; this arrangement allowed the superintendent and
ticket agents to view up and down the main line. Except for bands of vertical boards
above and below the first floor windows, the building was clapboarded. The exterior,
originally painted slate gray trimmed with white, was decorated with continuous sills and
a plain, boxed cornice and decorative frieze. Some of the one-over-one windows still
retain the original textured glass lights.
The large, two-story porte-cochere is the most distinctive feature of the depot. Nine
concrete posts support the upper level and provide space for two lanes of vehicular
traffic and one for pedestrians. The lane openings are partially enclosed with wooden,
shallow basket arches and ornate imposts.
L & N's needs and priorities changed several times during the years, and the rooms in
the depot have had a variety of uses. The original floor plan for the first story provided for Negro, general, and ladies' waiting rooms and toilets, a lunchroom, agent's office, and two rooms for the Union News Company. The upper level had stationery and file rooms, a restroom, and bright, airy offices for the superintendent, trainmaster, dispatcher, roadmaster, and other railroad officials. The second floor was reached
by a staircase with turned balusters and carved and appliqued newels. Most of the rooms
have beaded board ceilings and walls with wainscoting, and hardwood floors. Several of
the rooms still have the fixtures for the large ceiling fans and the original radiators.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company (L.& N) began planning a new route in
1889 to connect Chicago with Atlanta; via Cincinnati, Lexington, and Knoxville. W.
Morris Harrison, an agent for the L & N subsidiary, the Louisville Property Company,
purchased 1, 454 acres in southeastern McMinn County for a depot and maintenance and
repair facilities; the railroad also planned to create a new town. The 320-acre bottom
land farm, formerly owned by William T. Peck, was selected for the railroad's purposes
and work commenced in April 1905. The complex, when completed in November of the
following year, included a turntable and roundhouse; engine and car repair shops;
passenger and freight depots; power plant; a sixty-six-room YMCA hotel and community
center; and fourteen freight and five repair tracks. L & N completed the main line in
April 1906, and the first train arrived from Cartersville, Georgia, in November of that
year. The Louisville Property Company laid out Etowah and sold town lots; by 1907 the
new railroad town boasted a population of more than 3,000. In 1924 a new machine shop
was built, and Etowah's population tripled.
The Etowah Depot was the key building in the railroad complex. .It housed the administrative offices of the superintendent of the Atlanta Division and of the master
mechanic of the Etowah yards and shops, as well as the passenger station for the community. The depot was the grandest building in the town. A traveler could alight from a carriage or automobile and board the train during a cloud burst and remain absolutely dry. The ticket counter and "grab-all" lunchroom were conveniently located and the waiting rooms reasonably comfortable. The L & N complied with the prevailing Jim Crow laws and provided segregated waiting rooms and toilets for blacks and whites. The railroad also showed concern for the comfort of unescorted ladies and the original design of the building included a separate ladies' waiting and restrooms.
The depot was the scene of a highly commendable program undertaken by the ladies of
Etowah. During both world wars the lunchroom was converted into a canteen for troops
stopping at the station. Thousands of service men were served free coffee and sandwiches almost around the clock.
In 1928, when the L & N started to convert its rolling stock from wood to steel, Etowah
began to decline and lose population. Three years later the Atlanta and Knoxville
divisions were combined with headquarters in the latter city. The prosperity of World
War II was but a brief respite. Still more shops closed when the line began phasing
out its steam locomotives for the more powerful and economical diesels. Finally, in
October 1974, the Etowah Depot was closed.
Partitions had been removed and others added to accommodate the building during the
transition from passenger to freight service and to meet the changing needs of the railroad. Although in need of painting, a sound roof, and other repairs, the building
appears structurally sound. The city of Etowah is attempting to purchase the depot from
the L & N and possibly using it as a, city hall or as a community center.