Located on the “peaceful side of the Smokies”, in Townsend, TN, the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is one of the hidden treasures of the Smokies. The museum offers a great history of the area you will gain a new respect for the inventive, courageous nature of the American spirit. The men who worked in the lumber industry, in the very area that would become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to adjust to their environment, make their equipment fit the conditions they worked in and indirectly helped establish the roads that we still use today. This museum should be on the list of things to see and do of every history buff and railroad enthusiast that visits the area.
Even from the road you will start to see the artifacts and exhibits that are part of the collection. Some of the outdoor exhibits you will encounter are: a Shay Engine, a caboose, set off houses and a water tower. These items are actually pieces from the early 1900s and were used in the logging industry. The Shay engine is the cornerstone of the exhibit. This type of engine was used by the lumber company to pull the cars of logs back down the mountain to the sawmill and to take the workers back up the mountain to work. The Shay engine was the backbone of the Little River Railroad. For train enthusiasts, this is a must see, as not many of these engines remain. Certainly it is hard to find one as beautifully maintained as this one.
After taking a look at the outdoor exhibits, head inside and take a look at the photos and information about the logging industry in the Smokies. The exhibits start with the natural history and the settlers of the Elkmont areas in the Smokies. Then you will learn about the growth of the industry and the types of tracks and locomotives that they people used while logging. One of the most fascinating parts is how inventive and industrious these workers were. From designing new types of rail cars to a swinging bridge for flatcars, you will be amazed to see what they did to make the transportation of the lumber possible. Of course no exhibit of this type should be concluded without including the introduction to the National Park.
The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is a slice of Americana, mixed with the excitement of hard work and adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains. This museum captures the American spirit that has made this country so great. You get to learn about the Park and how the land was used before the Park was founded. Take some pictures with a piece of history outside, read about the logging industry of the early 1900s or just soak up the feel of the people that called the mountains home; either way you are going to have a remarkable experience.