In 1902 the Louisville and Nashville Railroad announced its plan to build a more direct line from Atlanta to Cincinnati in order to avoid the rugged mountains of North Georgia and East Tennessee bypassing the Great Hiwassee Loop. A point midway between these cities was needed to service cars and change crews, and at the end of 1904, land had been purchased in McMinn County to serve as this site and the city of Etowah was planned. The L & N purchased 1454 acres for the main terminus (depot), maintenance and repair facilities (shops), railroad yards and proposed township to support the railroad workforce. This land was purchased at $10 to $20 per acre and the L&N set about building a major rail center and the town of Etowah.
Out of what was referred to then as a wet swampland, a boomtown sprung up in 1906 with the L & N Depot serving as the hub of the new town’s business and social activities. Since then, the City of Etowah has ridden the waves of economic downturns and successes, such as the closing of the L & N shops in the 1930’s and the recruitment of new industries, to evolve into the city that it is today. Etowah has seen positive growth in industry and retail over the past decade and the opportunity of future growth is strong.
During the past 100 years, Etowah has earned the reputation of being a friendly community with caring citizens, which has made Etowah a great place to live. Visitors and locals alike enjoy the uniqueness of Etowah’s business district and our family-style atmosphere.
Where Did Etowah Get its Name?
No one knows for sure, but folklore tells us this: A train crew coming from Atlanta, picked up a sign from the muddy Etowah River and posted it at the new muddy site of the Atlanta Division Headquarters and the name remained. The word Etowah comes from a Creek word "Itawa" meaning "tribe" or "town."
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In the Beginning
The City of Etowah was the first "planned" city by the L & N Railroad. A blue print was drawn, building the city on a grid pattern with avenues named for states running north and south, and numbered streets running east and west. Tennessee Avenue, which is a part of U.S. Highway 411, became the business center of town along with portions of Ohio Avenue and Ninth Street. Originally, the business district ran from 5th Street to 10th Street, but over the years has expanded to the north and south city limits.
When planning the city, the designers of the L & N town planned for education, recreation, and library facilities. In 1915, the Etowah Carnegie Library, which was the only Carnegie Library in Southeast Tennessee, was completed. This Library served as the Etowah High School from 1918-1921 until Etowah High School was completed.
Up until the 1920’s, the railroad industry flourished and as a result, so did the town of Etowah. In 1928, the L & N decided to replace its wooden cars with steel freight and passenger cars. This decision along with the depression of 1929 brought the number of employees in the L & N Shops from 2,100 down to 80 by 1931. With the downsizing of the shops, came a downsizing of business in the community. Etowah suffered its first economic struggle in its young history. Bankruptcies hit an all time high in 1930 with 102 in one year. This struggle lasted until 1935 when Etowah business began a slow recovery.
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The Golden Years
After World War II, McMinn County and the Etowah area suffered some political battles, which have been documented in several books and are know it the region as "The Battle of Athens". The political battles were not confined to the city of Athens, but spilled out into the rest of the county. This battle resulted in a change of government in the county and the effects were felt for several years.
Etowah celebrated our 50th birthday with "The 1956 Golden Jubilee". This celebration is remembered by those living in Etowah at that time, as one of the greatest years in Etowah. This celebration lasted throughout the year with parades, beard growing contest, pageants, and all kinds of fun and games for the entire family. Civic pride was strong in the community businesses were flourishing.
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Present Day Etowah
Since "The Golden Years", Etowah has diversified its economy, moving from a railroad town to an area strong in industry, business, and tourism.
The quality of educated workforce, the willingness to work, and the great infrastructure have brought several new industries to the community as well as the expansion of current industries. Etowah’s Industrial Parks are well poised to allow new companies or expanding companies the opportunities to grow in Etowah.
Tourism and recreation play an important role in modern day Etowah. The Etowah area, which is know as the "Gateway to the Cherokee National Forest", is loaded with natural resources which include rivers, lakes, and mountains. These resources provide ample opportunity for those visiting or residing in Etowah, the ability to enjoy the better quality of life found in our community.
While keeping its unique downtown-shopping district, Etowah has stretched the business sector to all parts of Highway 411. Etowah is known throughout the region as an antique and discount store Mecca with a business community of locally owned businesses that provide personal customer service that is difficult to find in other cities.
Civic pride is the strength of the community, and why so many visitors decide to move to Etowah after enjoying our local hospitality.
The City of Etowah will celebrate our 100-year birthday in 2006 with a yearlong Centennial Celebration packed with parades, plays, pageants, music and fun for the entire family. Plan to join us this year for this historic celebration as a volunteer or a participant.
Whether here for a visit, or for a lifetime, enjoy the community of Etowah.
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