|Location||Blowing Rock, North Carolina, U.S.|
|Owner||Tweetsie Railroad, Inc.|
|Opened||July 4, 1957|
|Operating season||April - November|
|Area||200 acres (81 ha), 30 acres (12 ha) developed|
Tweetsie Railroad is a family oriented Wild West theme park located between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina, United States. The centerpiece of the park is a 3-mile (4.8 km) ride on a train pulled by one of Tweetsie Railroad's historic narrow-gauge steam locomotives. The park also features a variety of amusement rides, live shows, a zoo and other attractions geared towards families with children. The park also hosts a variety of special events throughout the year.
Opened in 1957, Tweetsie Railroad began as an excursion train ride pulled by steam locomotive #12, the only surviving narrow gauge engine of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC). Built in 1917 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, #12 is a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge 4-6-0 coal-fired locomotive that was used from 1918 to 1940 to haul passengers and freight over the ET&WNC's 66-mile (106.2 km) line running through the Appalachian Mountains from Johnson City to Boone, North Carolina. The name "Tweetsie" was given to the original East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad by area residents who became accustomed to the shrill "tweet, tweet" of the train whistles that echoed through the mountains. The nickname stuck with the railroad and its trains, and became more identifiable than the railroad's original name.
Two years after the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge portion of the ET&WNC ceased operations in 1950, the locomotive was purchased by a group of railroad enthusiasts and taken to Penn Laird, Virginia to operate as the Shenandoah Central Railroad, opened in May 1953. Rains from Hurricane Hazel washed out the Shenandoah Central in October 1954, and Locomotive #12 was once again put up for sale. Cowboy actor and singer Gene Autry optioned the locomotive with the intent to move it to California for use in motion pictures. However, Autry ultimately determined that the transportation and restoration costs made his plan impractical.
Instead, Grover Robbins, an entrepreneur from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, purchased Autry's option and bought the locomotive in August, 1955. Robbins moved the #12 locomotive back to its native Blue Ridge Mountains as the centerpiece of a new “Tweetsie Railroad“ tourist attraction. One mile of track was constructed near Blowing Rock, North Carolina for the train to run on, and on July 4, 1957, the locomotive made its first public trip over the line. In 1958, the track was extended to a 3-mile loop around the mountain, and the trains at Tweetsie have traveled that loop ever since. Grover Robbins' brothers, Harry and Spencer, were also involved with the operation of Tweetsie Railroad, and the park is still operated by the Robbins family.
Tweetsie Railroad became a popular tourist attraction, and quickly evolved into the first theme park in North Carolina -- and one of the first in the nation. A western town and saloon were built around the original depot area. A train robbery and cowboy-and-Indian show were added to the train ride, playing off the Wild West theme that was very popular at the time on television and in movies. The theme was enhanced by regular visits from Charlotte's WBTV television personality/singing cowboy Fred Kirby, who hosted a popular children’s show. In 1961, a chairlift and amusement ride area was constructed on the central mountain inside the rail loop, and over the decades the park has been expanded with additional rides, attractions, shops, zoo, and restaurants.
The Tweetsie Railroad theme park is open from early April through October of each year. In addition to the Wild West train adventure and the amusement rides, Tweetsie Railroad has a variety of live entertainment shows featuring talented performers selected from the immediate area and from the Southeast. The park hosts numerous special events each season, including Letterland-themed days in May for school groups, visits by Thomas the Tank Engine and a very popular nighttime "Ghost Train" Halloween event in October. Beginning in 2017, the park's 60th anniversary season, Tweetsie Railroad announced plans to start a Holiday themed event to be called "Tweetsie Christmas".
In 1960, Tweetsie acquired another coal-fired steam locomotive, USATC S118 Class 2-8-2 #190, the “Yukon Queen” from Alaska’s White Pass and Yukon Route. Also built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1943 for the US Army, the engine was part of an 11-locomotive fleet of “MacArthur” 2-8-2s originally purchased for use overseas. During World War II, the locomotives were sent to Alaska for use on the White Pass and Yukon.
In 1961, Grover and Harry Robbins built another train ride and tourist attraction called "Rebel Railroad" in the Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Originally featuring a Civil War theme, the park was renamed "Goldrush Junction" in 1966 and re-themed to a Wild West concept very similar to Tweetsie Railroad. The Robbins brothers sold Goldrush Junction in the late 1960's, and it subsequently went through various owners. In 1976, Jack and Pete Herschend of Branson, Missouri bought the Pigeon Forge facility and redeveloped it as "Silver Dollar City". In 1986, country music star Dolly Parton became a part owner with the Herschends, and the theme park became today's Dollywood.
- National Register of Historic Places #NPS–92000147 — East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Locomotive No. 12.
Tweetsie Railroad's operating season is from the 2nd Friday in April to the last weekend in October, then from Thanksgiving Weekend to the end of December for Tweetsie Christmas. The park is open weekends in the spring and autumn, and daily from the weekend after Memorial Day weekend until Mid August. In addition, the park is open on Friday and Saturday nights in from Late September through October for the very popular “Ghost Train" event. The park is also open for "Tweetsie Christmas" on Friday and Saturday Nights from late November to late December. Other special events are held throughout the season, including Railroad Heritage Weekend in August , that focuses on the history of the narrow gauge locomotives, and a large firework display on the Independence Day Fourth of July.
Tweetsie Railroad is located on US 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Rides and attractions
Rides at Tweetsie Railroad include:
- Drop Tower ride
- Round Up
- "Tornado" spinning ride
- Ferris wheel
- "Tweetsie Twister" ride
- "Turnpike Cruiser" ride
- Mouse Mine Train (3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge child-oriented loop-track train ride through a tunnel with an animatronic show)
- Several small children's rides
Other attractions at Tweetsie Railroad include the Tweetsie Palace Saloon and Diamond Lil's Can-Can Revue, other live shows, gold panning and gem mining, Deer Park zoo, a variety of specialty shops and dining facilities, and an arcade.
- Land of Oz (theme park): another park developed by Grover Robbins
- Ties: the Southern Railway System Magazine, June 1953 - "Tweetsie" Rides the Rails Again
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Tweetsie Railroad - Build Your Own 3-D Mouse Mine #9 Engine
- www.tweetsie.com (official website)
- Cy Crumley ET&WNC Photo Collection (johnsonsdepot.com)
- "Tweetsie Comes Home" article in the October, 1957 issue of Ties, the Southern Railway System magazine.