On Saturday, May 16, 1915, an entourage of 631 school children and other excursionists boarded a CC&O train in Spartanburg, South Carolina to make the approximately 130-mile mountainous rail trip to Johnson City.
A local newspaper described the weather all along the way as being ideal. Railroad travel in those days was a little more daunting as evidenced by the statement: “There was not the slightest semblance of an accident to mar the pleasure of the picnicking excursion.”
While not revealed, the fare for the special trip was based on two factors – the roundtrip distance traveled and the number of paying passengers. The company’s charge was slightly more than that for similar trips in previous years because of the longer distance and a drop in attendance. It is likely that some parents were uneasy about sending their youngsters on such a long train ride through remote mountains.
The railway company, anticipating considerably more people than made the trip, provided 14 cars, which were more than ample for the expected crowd. The additional vehicles were to address past complaints that too many riders had been crammed into too few cars, making the journey a bit uncomfortable. With additional ones and fewer people, the experience was much more enjoyable.
The train departed Spartanburg at 6:35 a.m. and arrived at Johnson City at 1:00 p.m. It did not stop at the usual downtown station, but instead went straight through the city and deposited visitors near the gateway to the National Soldiers Home. At that time, the facility was about one mile outside the city limits. The home opened its arms to its South Carolina guests for three hours. Hunger pangs immediately drove the travelers all along the beautiful grounds seeking shaded spots close to the lake in order to eat their lunches, assuming they had not already wolfed it down along the way.
The visitors wandered about the grounds enjoying its amenities, eventually gathering at the bandstand where a military band played several selections. Soldiers Home was described as being a beautiful facility worth an estimated $7 million dollars, having 700 acres of land and containing numerous barracks for use by 1560 soldiers. The buildings were described as being both plentiful and magnificent in design. The sightseers were exceptionally impressed, noting that the soldiers residing there enjoyed the best that life could afford them. They were described as being “an object of envy.”
At 4 p.m., it was time to embark the train for the return trip to Spartanburg, which included a 30-minute rest stop for supper at nearby Linville Falls. The vehicle arrived at its final destination shortly after 10 p.m., concluding a 15.5-hour tiring yet highly enjoyable trip.
Most Spartanburg people were familiar with the scenic pleasures of making such a journey through the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They knew for themselves “the beauty and grandeur of the mountain ranges, the laughing grace of the clear mountain torrents, which so lightly leap from rock to rock and the sweet smell of spring that comes from the virgin forests which cover the range.” The writer felt that all the attributes of the beautiful mountainous scenery had been glowingly set forth in previous years so that it was only necessary to state one fact - the weather was absolute ideal.
In an effort to obtain an unbiased impression of the trip from a lady who was not a native of the area and who had not previously traveled through it before, she was asked about her feelings of the trip. She responded: “The scenery was simply grand. It was one of just vastness.” This was an appropriate comment for 1915 when Johnson City’s population was 11,865.