History of the Museum

In the Beginning...

Our story begins with James Abbott of Sevierville, Tennessee, a contract boilerman for the Bear Creek Junction Railroad in Robbinsville, North Carolina. Bear Creek planned to sell Shay 2147 for scrap, to raise funds for restoring Graham County Railroad Shay 1925 (since restored by the North Carolina Transportation Museum at the old Spencer Shops).

Abbott informed his friend George Morrison of Maryville, who at that time was operating a narrow gauge Shay (#7 from Ritter Lumber Company in Kentucky) on his own property. Morrison in turn contacted his friend Don Storie, also of Maryville. Together these men determined to save 2147 from the scrapper's torch.

Their efforts eventually resulted in an appeal to the Townsend Chamber of Commerce. Shay 2147 had particular historical significance to Townsend, as the last existing Shay to have run at the Little River Lumber Company. The Chamber authorized Storie to negotiate the purchase. Storie and Bob Hammond of Townsend organized a local group which managed, with corporate donations of materials, equipment and labor, to effect the cost-free shipment of 2147 over 200 miles from Robbinsville. Vulcan Materials company provided one of the lowboy tractor trailer rigs.

The locomotive was rolled onto its temporary track in Townsend at 8:45 pm on Sunday, November 28, 1982. The crew had worked for four hours in driving wind and rain to construct an unloading ramp. Transporting the oversized load on Thanksgiving weekend had required special permission from the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. 

Making it official...

The Chamber members and moving crew were greatly moved by the crowd of residents who met and waited through the rain for 2147 to roll home. In the final days before the move, Don Storie had been contacted by Charles Everett, owner of the old Walland Depot building, who wanted to donate the building, to be located with Shay 2147.

The Chamber and other interested persons had begun to explore the idea of a non-profit corporation to retire the capital costs concerned with the acquisition, and together with the unexpected gift of the depot, the spontaneous idea arose to create a local cultural heritage museum.

A meeting was held on November 30, 1982 at Blount National Bank in Townsend, and the not-for-profit Little River Railroad and Lumber Company, Inc. was organized. A Board of Directors and officers were elected. A charter was submitted and approved by the state of Tennessee, and the museum was in business.

A continuing effort...

The new museum later acquired the present property site, to which the Shay and the Depot were moved. A foundation had been built for the depot, a platform and steps were built, and new wiring was installed. The Shay was given a new coat of paint, and track was laid. New restrooms were built at the rear of the property, and lighting was installed for the grounds. An entrance from highway 321 was provided. A vintage L&N wooden caboose was donated and moved to the site from the Boy Scout camp at Norris Dam. 

Over the years, many gracious people have brought or sent memorabilia, tools, photos, papers and equipment to the museum. The collection has become extensive, and continues to grow. With a grant from the Tennessee Humanities Council in 1995, the depot building was further renovated with air conditioning, lighting and new paint. With help from the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University, all new exhibits were designed and installed in the depot, utilizing the collection of artifacts and photographs to tell the Little River story.

Since all the depot interior was required for the new exhibits, a separate gift shop was built adjoining, designed as a replica of the Elkmont Post Office. Later, an original setoff house (used by logging families in the camps) was donated and moved to the site, and two vintage flatcars were moved from the Alcoa plant by the Cherokee Millwright company.

In the year 2000, a TEA-21 grant application was submitted for funds to rework the exterior exhibits, and restore several of  our major pieces of equipment. (See Museum Projects for a summary, and the Site Plan to see the new design). Funding of the grant is expected in 2001.

The museum is entirely dependent on contributions from members and benefactors, and sales from our gift shop to fund its operation, while occasional grants provide for capital improvements. Every year, hundreds of school children learn about their heritage through special tours, and we have visitors drop in from all over the country.

We continue to solicit contributions of artifacts and photographs. Original photographic prints may be donated, but we can also copy the originals and return them to their owners. We know many families may still have items that should be saved and shared with future generations, and as the museum grows, people will appreciate that the museum provides a worthy repository for these treasures from the past.


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