Historical Transportation Timeline and Key Events
for Johnson City, Tennessee Area

by

Ron McCarley, Johnson City Public Works Department
Alan Bridwell, Johnson City MPO

[ 1700s ] [ 1800s ] [ 1900-1950 ] [ 1950-2000 ]  [ 2000-2010 ]  

1700s

Jonesborugh - Tennessee's Oldest Town

 

1700
First roads in area were buffalo trails or Indian trails, widened with axes to permit wagons.
1777
Johnson City area settled and founded in 1777 by North Carolina grants, primarily to Young, Jones, Tipton, Jobe, Denton, and O'Neill families.  The community was first known as Blue Plum.  In response to Great Britain's attempts to arm Indian tribes against the American Revolution, the North Carolina legislature passed an Act encouraging settlement to the west by militia and volunteer members.
1778
Washington County created by North Carolina and it consisted of the entire territory of the present State of Tennessee.  A land office was set up, with each family head receiving 640 acres + 100 for his wife + 100 acres for each child.  
1779
Cherokee Road was the first road in the county.    
1796
State of Tennessee created.  State law allowed overseers to appoint citizens to work on road projects, similar to today's jury duty.  

 


1800s

Henry Johnson's Depot - 1860s
1801
Responding to Governor John Sevier, The General Assembly appointed commissioners for road building purposes.
 
1807
Overseers provided with road building materials.  
1817
Meeting held in Blountville to promote a navigation company to enhance transportation.  East Tennessee almost entirely dependent upon overland trade from Richmond and beyond by 6-horse team wagons.  
1821
State of Tennessee created 3 classes of public roads:  First Class - 30 foot wide stage road,  Second Class - 12 feet wide, and Third Class - wide enough for a horse and rider.  Roads were notched to indicate class (First class = 3 notches).
 
1825
Great Stage Road from Nashville to Winston-Salem, North Carolina opened through Johnson City as the City's first road, along present day West Market Street.  
 
1830
State highways and financing turned over to local officials due to advent of rail traffic.  Counties were authorized to charter private turnpike companies for toll roads.  
 
1831-32
Rogersville published the "Railroad Advocate" aimed at luring the railroad. Farmers could transport their produce to market in other sections at 1 to 5% of its value, but East Tennessee had to pay 25 - 50% due to poor transport. 
 
1835
Movement to connect Cincinnati and Carolinas by railroad, one meeting held in Jonesborough. 
 
1847
Interest in steamboat travel resulted in more far-reaching efforts by others to seize control of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad to determine its routing.  
1857
East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad built its first railway line and water tank by Henry Johnson's store, and called it Johnson's Tank.  Route was from Bristol to Knoxville where it connected to the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad to the south.
1869
Johnson City incorporated with Henry Johnson elected as first Mayor.  
 
1882
East Tennessee and Western North Carolina connection between Johnson City and Cranberry Iron Works in North Carolina completed.  Combination of railroads sparked intense growth of Johnson City until 1893 national depression.  
1890
Johnson City's population was approximately 4,000.  Road between Johnson City and Jonesborough was mud and impassible at times.  Trolley operations begin in portions of Johnson City.

 

 


1900-1950

Southern Railway Station - Downtown Johnson City

 

1903
National Soldiers Home (present Veterans Administration Center) under construction  through work of Congressman Walter Preston Brownlow.  Grounds comprised 450 acres and buildings comprised the finest "soldiers home" and hospital complex in North America rivaling the finest in Europe.  Soldiers Home (for disabled veterans of War of 1812, Civil War, and Spanish American War) cost $3 million to build at a time that the assessed value of the entire town of Johnson City was $750,000.
1909
Tennessee General Assembly passes bill authorizing the building of three "normal" colleges for the training of teachers for the public schools of the State, designating that they be so divided as to give one to each grand division - East, Middle, and West Tennessee - and appropriated $1 million to be divided equally among the three.  Johnson City offered a bonus of $150,000, 42 acres of ground (donated by Industrialist George Carter), free water, roadway extensions with cement sidewalks as inducements.  The Johnson City Traction Company agreed to extend its car line and service to the grounds, and the Watauga Electric Company agreed to give free lights.  
 
1910
Johnson City's population reaches 12,000 which had doubled in 6 years.  A first-class street car line is operated by the Johnson City Traction Company, with lines from the Carnegie area to the Soldiers Home.  The entire business section was paved in brick, and petitions were on file requesting the paving of the residential sections.  Ten miles of paved sidewalks existed.  Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad began full operation.  Johnson City had three railroad stations downtown:  The Clinchfield - at Buffalo and Cherry Streets (presently operated as a lamp/lighting shop);  The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina - presently the site of Free Service Tire Store; and The Southern - located near the Downtown Loop, Washington County Courthouse site and was demolished during the 1970s.
1911
With the rise of the automobile, the State Good Roads Committee chose Johnson City for its Bristol to Memphis route.  By 1914, a resident noted as many as 20 cars per day on the road. 
 
1915
State Highway Commission established.  
 
1920 - 1930
Roads to Erwin, Kingsport, and West Market Street surfaced with concrete.
 
1928
Old Elizabethton Highway (present State Route 91) constructed.  
 
1930
Johnson City Traction Company exchanges trolleys for buses.  
 
1931
Original US Highway 23 completed.  Paved highway to Boone, North Carolina completed.  
 
1933
First "piggyback" rail transportation of semi-trailers between Johnson City and Boone established due to poor road conditions.
1936
First statewide road inventory for Tennessee completed showing 66,015 total miles of roads with 4,300 classified as city streets.  By 1992, city street mileage had increased to over 16,000 miles statewide.  
1940
Last East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railway passenger service. 
1949
Rural Road Act passed by Tennessee General Assembly due to impassibility of rural roads in inclement weather.

 

 


1950-2000

National Soldiers Home Becomes College of Medicine

 

1954
Clinchfield Railroad abandons passenger service.
1964
John Exum Parkway completed. 
 
1970
Southern Railway's last passenger service.  Clinchfield Railroad completes "high line" bypass behind East Tennessee State University.
 
1971
Appalachian Highway (presently Interstate 181) completed from Kingsport to Boone's Creek Road.  Extended to North Road Street by 1973, to Main and Market Streets by 1975, to South Roan Street at Plymouth Road by 1978, and to the Unicoi County Line by 1983.
 
1972 - 1973
University Parkway opened.  Southern Railway station demolished for construction of Downtown Loop.  
1978
Tennessee General Assembly designates new medical school (present Quillen College of Medicine) to be located at East Tennessee State University on the grounds of the National Soldiers Home.  Congress approves reconstruction plans for Mountain Home Veterans Administration Center in tandem with College of Medicine projects.  Planning begins for new roadway system to serve medical facilities. 
1980
Johnson City Medical Center Hospital completed adjacent to Veterans Administration complex and new College of Medicine forming third anchor of medical complex.
 
1979-1980
First phases of State of Franklin Road open near ETSU's Minidome and new Johnson City Medical Center Hospital.   Johnson City Transit System resumes service in October, 1979 with dedication ceremonies hosted by First Lady Rosalyn Carter.
1982
Tennessee Department of Transportation assists local governments of Washington and Carter Counties to form Johnson City Metropolitan Transportation Organization to coordinate transportation planning and resource management of state and federal transportation programs.  Region qualifies for wider range of federal and state gas tax assistance for transportation improvements.  
1986
US 23 officially redesignated as Interstate 181.  Planning begins to extend I-181 to North Carolina State Line to eventually be incorporated in Interstate 26 system.  Johnson City Transit completes new downtown bus terminal combining services with Greyhound-Trailways.
 
1987
State of Franklin Road projects under construction with Downtown to ETSU section (Buffalo Street to Tennessee Street) open in 1987; ETSU to Medical Center Hospital section open in 1988; from West Market Street to Sunset Drive in 1989.
 
1988
New freeway (State Route 67) completed between Johnson City and Elizabethton as part of Quad-Cities Beltway projects.  New US 11E between Johnson City and Piney Flats under expansion from two to four lanes.  US 11E between Jonesborough and Limestone also targeted for widening to four lanes completing four lane access between US 11E and Interstate 81 in Greene County.
 
1994
Final section of State of Franklin Road completed between Sunset Drive and Interstate 181.  Project was first roadway construction project in Tennessee to include integration of bicycle facilities as part of roadway design.
 
1995
New US 23 (future I-26 freeway) completed to North Carolina State Line.  
1996
North Carolina Department of Transportation awards construction contracts for new Interstate 26 projects between Sams Gap at the Tennessee State Line and Mars Hill.  
1998
Work begins to upgrade Interstate 181 interchange with SR 381 (State of Franklin Road) to meet future needs of Interstate 26.
1998
New State Route 75 (Bobby Hicks Highway) completed between Interstate 181 and State Route 36 (Kingsport Highway).

 

 


2000-2010

I-181 Becomes I-26

 

2000
Johnson City in partnership with Tennessee Department of Transportation undertakes major upgrading of traffic signal system to deal with Year 2000 compliance as well as to replace 50-year old signal system.  Project included cameras for signal actuation at West Market Street/State of Franklin Road intersection and emergency management features and pedestrian signal facilities at major intersections.   Johnson City signal system becomes one of first in Tennessee to meet "Intelligent Transportation Systems" standards.
2000
Construction begins on SR 354 (Boones Creek Road) interstate connector project between I-181 and SR 36 (Kingsport Highway). 
2003
Formal opening of new Interstate 26 between I-81 and Asheville North Carolina after completion of North Carolina projects.  Interstate 181 through Johnson City and Washington County becomes part of Interstate 26 system. Centennial Anniversary of founding of National Soldiers Home in Johnson City. 


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