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Unicoi’s link to the Clinchfield Railroad

From older days, early Clinchfield passenger schedule dated 1909-1920 listed 68 stations. Please note, Unicoi, Tennessee. (Reprinted from the Jitterbug, June 2020. The magazine is published by the Carolina Clinchfield Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, A.R. Poteat, editor.)

Contributed by Martha Erwin

Dating back to the bygone era of the early 1900s, Unicoi, Tennessee, was a small rural East Tennessee unincorporated town. Unicoi began its formative railroad roots approximately around 1907 in connection with South & Western Railway Co. During that time, several pioneer residents of Unicoi sold prime parcels of land to the railroad to expand its rail system going through Unicoi.

At that time, widely known George L. Carter, a prominent industrialist, was president of the railroad. Carter’s railroad was being built chiefly to transport his coal from Southwest Virginia to the Southeast. In 1907, Mr. Carter’s general offices were located in the Carnegie Building, Johnson City, Tennessee.

The following year, a new charter was granted on March 31, 1908, in the name of Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway (formerly S&W Railway).

Meanwhile, the impact of a potential railroad coming to Unicoi was favored and welcomed by the community. Back then, news of a prospective railroad created much talk and excitement, as a railroad would boost economic growth, the economy and job opportunities.

One particular deed, dated April 22, 1907, was recorded in the office of the Register of Deeds, stating whereas, four tracks of land was conveyed to S&W Railway for the sum of $1 cash in hand-paid.

Thereafter, Unicoi became a vital link to the Clinchfield Railroad’s main line (milepost 128). Unicoi was recognized as the second highest point on the Clinchfield.

Scores of men from Unicoi were employed by the railroad. A small number of these old-time railroaders’ names were: Briggs, Ervin, Hawkins, Hopson, Horton, Linville, Phillips, Snider, Street and Wilson.

Construction of the Unicoi Railroad Station began during the early growth of the railroad. The frame structure was built with long rough board or planks designed vertically. Unicoi, the station’s name, was boldly stenciled with black flat paint on the end of the building. The railroad station was centrally located on Lee Street beside the railroad tracks.

Unicoi was totally dependent on the Clinchfield Railroad’s mail car for daily mail delivery. All postal services were delivered by rail, until CRR discontinued mail service in March 1951.

In those days, little traffic was observed, only a few cars, roads and highways. Most people preferred walking.

Several Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog mail-order houses were constructed in Unicoi. Sears’ instructions for its ready-to-assemble houses were specified to be shipped by rail. Two boxcars were required for each house delivery.

Unicoi was known as having a side track or siding for unloading coal. The side track was located a short distance at the back side of Wilson’s Grocery Store. The coal yard was operated by Neil Phillips.

Many years ago, Clinchfield trains made runs through Unicoi day and night. Among them were daily scheduled passenger cars making routine stops in Unicoi, coal hoppers piled high with coal, time freight cars loaded to capacity, plus mixed cars. Regular passenger services were discontinued in 1955.

Today, Unicoi continues to be a thriving community that is deeply steeped in heritage, history and preservation of the past. This article was compiled in an effort to rekindle long ago memories and the spirit of family railroading on the Clinchfiled Railroad from 1908 to 1983.