Categorized | Featured, History

Greenback: A Railroad Town without a Railroad

Greenback. A sleepy little town? A return to a lifestyle of years ago? It’s depot a symbol of a once thriving town? Or a diamond in the rough?

More than anything, Greenback symbolizes the effect that transportation has on the country. Prior to the establishment of Greenback, the city of Morganton flourished on the banks of the Little Tennessee River. Morganton, formerly known as Portsville, was a bustling town where the ships and flatboats of the country loaded and unloaded goods for the settlers. Ferries provided access across the Little Tennessee.

Then the railroad came! In 1870, Loudon County was established and Greenback became a town. The first trains came through in the 1870s. Then, in 1899, the word came that the L&N railroad would open a second line to be laid somewhere in the area between Morganton or Trigonia toward Maryville. Lorenzo Thompson of Thompson’s Stand and the Swaney Brothers of Trigonia plotted the area where they believed the railroad would go and purchased property. At the time Thompson had been approved for a Post Office at Thompson’s Stand. The Swaneys built a store and Thompson moved his Post Office there. Land for the town was given by the Thompsons and the Halls. Construction started and the first train ran in July 1890.

In 1914, the L&N built a large new depot there and it still stands today. Greenback grew up around that depot and flourished for several years. The frame buildings burned in 1917, 1923, and 1927, but businesses rebuilt. The main part of town included a drug store and diner, three grocery stores, a garage, a blacksmith shop, a hardware store, a bank, and others.

The last train in Greenback ran in 1978.

With the closure of Tellico Dam, water traffic again became popular. Boat companies became numerous. L&N sold the old Depot to Supra Boat Company. The Depot went through several uses including an antique shop and is now used for storage by the current owner.

The City of Greenback began to decline and the Depot stands as a proud sentinel to its more prosperous days. The Greenback Drug and Diner across the street is still the local hangout and next door to it is the Greenback Heritage Museum. The Greenback Historical Society has placed a replica of the Quilt Pattern Boxcar on the outside wall of the Diner and this is included on the Appalachian Quilt Trail. The pattern was chosen to represent the railroad that was the impetus for the founding of the town.

The town is surrounded by a farming community and many of the owners are descendents of its founders. The inhabitants are an independent and close-knit group, but they have long been known for their warmth and hospitality. Many have opened their arms and their hearts to those who have moved to the lakeside communities that have developed near Tellico Lake.

The newcomers in turn have joined local churches, volunteered to work in the museum which is run completely by volunteers, and help with the work of the Historical Society and the local Food Pantry. A Greenback Heritage Scrapbook Committee is working to collect, assemble, and publish photos and articles regarding the history of Greenback. The Greenback Historical Society is a non-profit group that works toward preserving the history of the community. The group sponsored an Open House in early December at the circa 1850s McCollum House, recently restored by Tim Grindstaff.

H & R Block recently chose Greenback for a new ad campaign. The company stayed in the community for a number of days, filming and interviewing residents. They filmed the depot, drug store and museum as well as the locals. One may see the commercials coined “Greenbacks for Greenback.” The company was so impressed with the town and its people that it gave $25,000 to the school and rode in the Christmas Parade before they left town.

The depot is now in private hands. It sits silently in the midst of the town it helped create and is a historic treasure. Often times the residents say, “I wish something could be done about the depot,” but no one has yet come forward to preserve and restore the building. We hope this year will be the year the depot is put to use once again.

Carolyn M. Peck is a native of Greenback, President of the Greenback Historical Society and a board member of the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance.

Each month contributors from the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance (ETPA) write an article for Everything Knoxville celebrating the rich heritage of our region. ETPA is a regional historic preservation membership-based organization that serves Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier, and Union counties. Preservation field services in this region are provided by Knox Heritage and are assisted by a Partners in the Field grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For more information, please visit www.knoxheritage.org or contact Ethiel Garlington at egarlington@knoxheritage.org.

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