Blue Plum & Johnson's Depot
Until the 1850's, Johnson City was a little village called "Blue Plum" with a population of around 600 people. In anticipation of the new railroad coming through, the town's former postmaster, Henry Johnson, set up Johnson’s Depot to service the trains. It turns out that not just one but three railways would eventually link up there and the BOOM was on. In 1869, the community was incorporated by the State of Tennessee as Johnson City. By the 1930's, Johnson City had grown to a population of over 30,000.
Johnson City Boom Town!
Johnson City rode the boom of the late nineteenth century railroad and mining interests through eras of amazing growth and prosperity. Personal fortunes were made by extending the mountainous railway lines far into the coal and iron mining regions of Virginia and North Carolina. The most famous passenger train of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railway was nicknamed “Tweetsie” for its shrill whistle that echoed through the mountains. Tweetsie serviced the Johnson City community all the way up to the 1950’s.
Due to its convenient location as major railway hub in the middle of the Appalachian mountains and its local talent for manufacturing booze, Johnson City became the perfect stop over town for bootleggers during the probation era of the 1920’s. Local legend has it that Al Capone frequented the Montrose Court Apartment complex as a hideout on his way back to Chicago from Miami. Newspaper reports from that time seem to support the fact that Johnson City was a wide 'open city' much like “Big” Chicago up north. It was even reported that local taxi companies hauled more alcohol than passengers in the 1920’s!
Old Time Music
(excerpt taken from johnson'sdepot.com)
For well over a century, the Northeast Tennessee region has truly been blessed with a profusion of high-quality old-time musicians. The mere mention of “old-time music” conjures up images of a string band, casually dressed in characteristic mountain attire, playing distinctive deep-south non-amplified toe-tapping dance music on their well-worn and sometimes hand-me-down instruments. This simple phrase evokes such language as “Appalachian style,” “authentic,” “acoustical,” “old fashioned,” “grass roots,” “hillbilly,” “pre-bluegrass” and “rural American.”
In tandem with the railroad glory years in Johnson City, several local musicians became quite famous in a genre that is now recognized as the origin of country music. The story of "Fiddlin" Charlie Bowman and his family is fascinating as these gifted musicians merged railroad songs and simulated train sounds into their repertoire and appeared on some of the earliest country music recordings in the U.S.
Bluegrass and traditional music lives on in Johnson City with the Down Home - the Eclectic Music Room, where you could have seen the earliest concerts of Alison Krauss a few years back. The Down Home is legendary to today's era of bluegrass artists as one of the finest acoustic settings in the nation, and it reckons back to the era of Charlie Bowman for artists that may provide great music with or without immediate commercial success. Not to be outdone, East Tennessee State University has an accredited program in Blue Grass and Country Music and graduates of this program have experienced significant commercial success.