Bulls Gap Railroad Museum Print

The Bulls Gap Railroad Museum has an extensive collection of railroad memorabilia in East Tennessee. They have model trains, newspaper articles, photos, and many articles that came mostly from the people in this area that made their livelihoods working for the railroad.

The Museum will be relocated at the old Gilley's Hotel that was generously donated by James Walls to the association so that efforts could begin to restore the national landmark.

 


In 1857 when the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad began construction of a line from Bristol to Knoxville, the area was known as Branchville. Upon completion of the Rogersville line by the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad in 1870, the town was renamed Rogersville Junction by the railroad. Around this same time period, the Bays Mount post office was moved into the community and was renamed Bulls Gap at the request of residents in town. In 1904, the railroad changed the name of Rogersville Junction to Bulls Gap to end the confusion of two names for one community. The name of Bulls Gap appears to be the name the townsfolk used long before the powers that be changed it.

The East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad (ET&VA) built the first tracks through the Bulls Gap area. Constructed by slave labor under adverse conditions of mud and water, combined with company financial problems caused by the panic of 1857, the last 130 miles took over one year to complete. The ET&VA line connected with the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad and provided a route from Bristol, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia with connections in Washington, D.C., Knoxville, Memphis, Augusta, and Charleston. In 1886 the two combined to form the East Tennessee Virginia and Georgia Railroad.

Upon completion in 1858 plans were made to build a line to Rogersville. However, with the advent of the Civil War the Rogersville line was not built. Because of the Bulls Gap became a strategic location for both armies during the War. Bulls Gap became a fortified town and between 1863 & 1865 many battles were fought to gain control of the town and its railroad. Throughout most of the war, the Federal forces maintained control of the town.
After the war, Bulls Gap and the damaged railroad began a rebuilding period. The earlier planned Rogersville connector was completed around 1870 and the town began to grow and prosper at the junction between both lines. According to Goodspeed's 1887 History Of East Tennessee, Bulls Gap had "two churches, a good school, four stores, and a hotel." In a 1885 account, the Smith House (later Gilley's Hotel) was listed as one of the best hotels all along the ET, VA& G railroad. The town had become an important supper stop on the main line.

Around the turn of the century, the rail lines through Bulls Gap became part of the Southern Railway system. The town continued to grow and, according to a 1912 Bulls Gap Board of Trade pamphlet, there was a population of over 1,200 and "some fourteen passenger trains a day, also many freight trains." In the 1920's, Southern Railway had several railroad related structures in town including, water towers, sand house, depot, and a dormitory, along with other support facilities  Some of these are still standing today and can be seen on a drive through the "old part of town".