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National Register: Etowah Depot

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.

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