Historical Transportation Timeline and Key Events
for Johnson City, Tennessee Area
Ron McCarley, Johnson City Public Works Department
Alan Bridwell, Johnson City MPO
[ 1700s ]
[ 1800s ]
[ 1900-1950 ]
[ 1950-2000 ] [ 2000-2010 ]
- First roads in area were buffalo trails or Indian trails, widened with axes to
- 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
- 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
- Cherokee Road was the first road in the county.
- State of Tennessee created. State law allowed overseers to appoint
citizens to work on road projects, similar to today's jury duty.
- Responding to Governor John Sevier, The General Assembly appointed
commissioners for road building purposes.
- Overseers provided with road building materials.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Movement to connect Cincinnati and Carolinas by railroad, one meeting held
- 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
- 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.
- Johnson City incorporated with
Henry Johnson elected as first
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- State Highway Commission established.
- 1920 - 1930
- Roads to Erwin, Kingsport, and West Market Street surfaced with concrete.
- Old Elizabethton Highway (present State Route 91) constructed.
- Johnson City Traction Company exchanges trolleys for buses.
- Original US Highway 23 completed. Paved highway to Boone, North
- First "piggyback" rail transportation of semi-trailers between
Johnson City and Boone established due to poor road conditions.
- 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.
- Last East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railway passenger
- Rural Road Act passed by Tennessee General Assembly due to impassibility of
rural roads in inclement weather.
- Clinchfield Railroad abandons passenger service.
- John Exum Parkway completed.
- Southern Railway's last passenger service. Clinchfield Railroad
completes "high line" bypass behind East Tennessee State
- 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.
- 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
- Johnson City Medical Center Hospital completed adjacent to Veterans
Administration complex and new College of Medicine forming third anchor of
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- New US 23 (future I-26 freeway) completed to North Carolina State
- North Carolina Department of Transportation awards construction contracts
for new Interstate 26 projects between Sams Gap at the Tennessee State Line
and Mars Hill.
- Work begins to upgrade Interstate 181 interchange with SR 381 (State of
Franklin Road) to meet future needs of Interstate 26.
- New State Route 75 (Bobby Hicks Highway) completed between Interstate 181
and State Route 36 (Kingsport Highway).
- 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
- Construction begins on SR 354 (Boones Creek Road) interstate connector
project between I-181 and SR 36 (Kingsport Highway).
- 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.
to Johnson City MPO What's New
to Johnson City EDB History Page