Thousands of people visit the East Tennessee State University George L. Carter Railroad Museum each year.
Hundreds of model train fans or enthusiasts are expected for the museum’s fifth anniversary celebration scheduled for Saturday.
Around 500 people have been given personal invitations to the event but anyone is welcome to come, because “they’ve been the folks that the museum was built for and all our visitors from the area and well beyond have been great in coming to the museum on Saturdays,” said Fred Alsop, director of the museum.
According to ETSU, during the ceremony at the museum at 1 p.m., ETSU President Brian Noland will speak and rooms within the museum will be named for benefactors. The Ken Marsh room will be named for an avid railroad historian who has enabled the museum to create a room with a scale model of the Tweetsie railroad. The Rev. Howard Walker, of Joliet, Ill., has donated his collection of railroad publications and the room named for him will house the museum’s library. The main room with exhibits and railroad layouts will be named at the ceremony for a person vital to the museum’s existence.
A donor wall bearing the names of museum benefactors will be unveiled.
The ETSU Express, which was the inaugural model train run on the tracks when the museum opened on Nov. 17, 2007, will be operated again. The train has a coach for each president of the university and one for the school’s centennial, which was celebrated in 2011.
“So we’re going to have some pretty neat things going on as well as everything will be open,” Alsop said. “We’ve invited some local authors to come in that have written about railroads to sign their books. So we’re going to have a party.”
The public is invited to the free celebration. Light refreshments will be served.
Alsop said it seems almost impossible that five years has passed since the museum opened.
The museum began with about 2,400 square feet of space in the Campus Center Building. In that area, several model trains were set up that depicted scenes of life in rural Appalachia. Visitors watch as trains wind through mountain passes, over bridges, through tunnels and into towns. Now more than 5,000 square feet of space is available for the replica trains.
A large portion of this new space is being dedicated to the most complete replica ever created of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, also known as the Tweetsie.
The Tweetsie line was constructed in the late 1800s. The Tweetsie tracks are mostly gone now, having ceased operation in the middle of the 20th century, but when it was active the line ran from Johnson City to Cranberry, N.C., first and was later extended to Boone, N.C. The distance from Johnson City to Cranberry by these rails was around 35 miles.
This portion of the museum should be operational by the end of the year.
Despite being open only on Saturdays, there are an average of 2,000 visitors to the museum each year.
“Every month when we do a special heritage day commemorating a particular railroad or a particular region where railroading was important we get lots of visitors coming in, so we have really enjoyed the support,” Alsop said. “And in a region of Southern Appalachia that was very dependent on railroads and railroads were very important, we’re still seeing that as people come back to our railroad museum.”
The Carter Railroad Museum, located at 100 Ross Drive, is open Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and will be open those hours Saturday. Admission is free. The museum can be identified by a flashing railroad crossing signal over the back entrance to the Campus Center Building.