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National Register: Etowah Historic District

roughly bounded by 5th St., Washington Ave., 11th St., and Indiana Ave.

Photos of Etowah from Photo History Etowah

The early houses in the Etowah Historic District were built between 1907 and 1910 were of simple frame construction with little architectural ornamentation. Many were plain rectangular plans, although there were also a large number built in the gable front and wing plan. The early houses are predominantly 1 or 1.5 stories, with brick foundations. Roofing was pressed metal tiles, or metal roll roofing. Few original roofs remain, most have been replaced with asphalt shingles.

Houses built after circa 1910 were built with more architectural ornamentation in the Bungalow or Colonial Revival styles. These houses are more elaborate than the earlier houses. Some earlier houses were remodeled into Colonial Revival or Bungalow styles by alterations to porches or the addition of details such as knee brace brackets.

The Colonial Revival houses in the district tend to be 1 or 1.5 story, have weatherboard siding, front porches with classical columns or square supports. They have wood door and window surrounds and corner boards. Many have transoms over the doors. The roofs vary between gable and hip, most originally had pressed metal shingles or rolled metal roofs, now most have asphalt shingle roofs. There are a few post 1946 Colonial Revival style houses.

The Bungalow style began appearing in Etowah circa 1915 and was the dominant style built in the 1920s. The Bungalows are 1 or 1.5 stories with weatherboard siding, front gable roofs, knee brace brackets, and exposed rafter tails. They have 2/3 or full front

porches. Porch columns are tapered posts on brick or stone columns. Roofs originally had wood or asbestos shingles, now they have asphalt shingles.

There are a number of currently vacant lots located within the district boundaries. Most of these lots originally had houses which were built prior to 1925. The houses were vacated after the railroad repair shops were closed and the division headquarters moved. During the 1930s many houses were abandoned because the owners left the community in search of work. The population of Etowah peaked in 1920 at over 4000 residents, this dropped to 3000 in the 1930s and 1940s. The houses which were abandoned were demolished by the city, or burned, and by 1950 these lots had become side yards to the remaining residences. The vacant lots do not detract from the district because they help explain the effects of the closing of the one industry, the railroad, in the community.

The buildings which contribute to the integrity of the district by age, architectural style or association with the early development of the community are marked as contributing resources (c). Those resources which are noncontributing (nc) to the integrity of the

district are not yet fifty years old or have been substantially altered.

The Etowah Historic District is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under criteria A and C for significance in industry, community planning and development, and architecture. The district represents the earliest phase of Etowah's development beginning in 1907 when construction on the railroad brought hundreds of people to the boggy farmland. The district contains the residential part of Etowah designed by Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Railroad Civil Engineers and plated in 1907. The residential development of the district followed the plan.

Etowah was designed by engineers with the L&N Railroad. Their names are currently unknown, as the did not sign the maps which were kept in Etowah, or the ones recorded at the McMinn County courthouse. The town was designed to have separate residential, commercial and industrial sections. The industrial area was located east of Tennessee Avenue. The commercial was located on the west side of Tennessee Avenue between Eleventh Street and Second Street. There was some commercial space on Ohio Avenue between Ninth Streets and Sixth Street. Residential development filled the rest of the plan.

The city blocks were 240 x 400 feet with north/south streets named after states, and East/West streets numbered. A 15 foot wide alley runs North/South through each block. Building lots are 50 feet wide by 120 feet deep.

The Etowah Historic District contains most of the residential areas designated in the original plat for Etowah registered in 1907. The original Addition, registered in 1908, contained the area north of Third Street, and Addition, registered in 1908, contained the area north of Third Street, and the Second Etowah Addition, registered in 1909, contained the area south of Eleventh Street. The areas between the district boundaries and the original plat boundaries were excluded from this nomination due to numerous

alterations which affected the integrity of the areas.

The original plat also contained areas for _ commercial and industrial development. The commercial development was originally located on the westside of Tennessee Avenue, some side streets extending from Tennessee Avenue, and parts of Ohio Avenue. These areas have been substantially altered since developed, and lack historic integrity. The industrial area was located east of Tennessee Avenue, and has been altered significantly due to the changing technology of the railroad industry. The industrial section does not have historic integrity.

Etowah was one of many communities created by the railroad industry in the United States. As railroads laid more track into areas which were not developed, and as they worked to make the industry more efficient, they created towns to house the workers. These towns were planned by engineers from the railroad incorporating the latest progressive community planning ideas. Some railroads kept possession of the towns while others sold workers the houses.

The district is significant in industry because it represents the growth of the railroad in east Tennessee, especially in Etowah where the railroad was the primary source of employment. In the early twentieth century the L&N Railroad and the Southern Railroad were competing for business on the routes between Cincinnati and Atlanta. The L&N had an existing route through east Tennessee that went through the Hiwassee River Gorge. The gorge created problems because of a 1400 foot elevation difference between the banks of the river. To make the elevation change the Bald Mountain Loop had been

constructed in the 1880s. This route slowed trains on the L&N line. To make their route more efficient the L&N decided to move their main line west to avoid the gorge.

The L&N identified two sites in southeast Tennessee along the new line to build repair shops and place a division headquarters. One location considered by the railroad was at Tellico Junction (now Englewood, McMinn County), a textile town. The mill owners at Tellico Junction did not want to sell land to the railroad. The L&N then approached the Wetmore family about land near Delano, in Polk County. The family decided not to sell their farm because it was a favorite vacation spot. The railroad then found a location

between the two sites where the owners were willing to sell and the development of Etowah began.

The L&N moved its repair shops from Blue Ridge, Georgia (on the old line) to Etowah. This centralized operations. The old line continued to be used, because it served the copper mines and acid plants in the Copper Basin in southeast Polk County.

The L&N railroad operated in Etowah beginning in 1907. The repair shops performed repairs on the wooden cars used at the time. The railroad continued to expand in the 1910s adding workers to the repair shops and increasing the number of trains running through Etowah. By 1920 there were over 4000 people in Etowah, most of them dependent on the railroad their jobs. When World War I began the federal government took over the railroads, increased wages and safety, and shortened hours.

After World War I, when control of the railroads returned to the companies, they found their profits had decreased. To help improve the bottom line the companies cut wages and increased hours. Also during this time the railroads began to use steel cars, replacing wooden ones. In 1922 the railroads attempted to cut wages again, and this precipitated the nationwide shopmens' strike which began in July 1922. The workers in the Etowah shops joined the strike, and remained out for seven months.

In 1925, in a wave of consolidations, the Etowah and Knoxville divisions were

consolidated into one division based in Knoxville. This was a blow to Etowah, which was accustomed to the prestige of being division headquarters. Many in the town felt that it was being punished by the L&N for participating in the 1922 strike. Actually the move was part of an effort to increase efficiency on the part of the L&N, similar to the effort that had created Etowah years before.

Beginning in 1927 the L&N began laying off shop workers in the Etowah repairshops as more of its stock was steel. By 1932 all the workers in the Etowah shops were laid off or had been transferred elsewhere. The departure of the railroad crippled Etowah's economy since the railroad was the only industry in the town, and the major employer. Many people left Etowah after the shops closed. The loss of the L&N jobs, combined with the pressures of the Great Depression caused the two banks in the town to close. Many commercial establishments closed, and many people deserted their homes. Etowah did not begin to recover until the 1950s when other industries, primarily textile, began to come to town.

Etowah is significant to the architectural history of McMinn County because most of its housing was built in the twenty-five year period between 1905 and 1930, and because it is a large collection of workers housing. People could purchase land from the Real Estate division of the L&N Railroad, the Louisville Property Company. The railroad did not build any houses for workers in Etowah, all the commercial and residential development was done by individuals.

The houses were primarily built in two architectural styles, the Colonial Revival was dominant between 1910 and circa 1920, and the Bungalow was dominant in new construction after circa 1920. Because there was no attempt to segregate people by occupation, the housing and the detailing on housing is mixed throughout the district.

All the housing in the district is now single family, there are no duplexes.

Until the 1930s boarding houses were common in Etowah. There were several

large boarding houses (non-extant) near Tennessee Avenue outside of the

residential district, and many families had one or two boarders.

The Colonial Revival houses tend to have little architectural embellishment, and are frequently a cross of Queen Anne floor plans, forms, and wraparound porches with Colonial Revival detailing such as gable returns, classical columns, and transoms. This was a fairly common phenomenon in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the popularity of the Queen Anne declined.

The Bungalow style houses began appearing circa 1915 and was the most common style of house built after 1920. These houses tend to have much more detailing then the Colonial Revival houses. These details include knee brace brackets, exposed rafter ends, and massive porch supports on brick piers.

The other communities in McMinn County developed over a longer period than Etowah did, and therefore do not possess the architectural cohesiveness of Etowah. This makes Etowah distinct in the county.

The Etowah historic district has a unique history in McMinn County as a planned industrial community. It is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under criterion A for the growth and changes which the railroad industry which created it, and under community planning and development as a planned community which retains its historic features of its original plan. The district is also eligible under criterion C as a distinct group of architecturally related buildings that are good representations of the popular Bungalow and Colonial Revival styles.

The boundaries of the Etowah Historic District were drawn to encompass most of the residential properties in the original plat of Etowah registered in 1907. Areas with many vacant lots or buildings which have been substantially altered have been excluded.

The area contains a high number of historic buildings which retain integrity.


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