In the 1920s, German and Dutch investors established two factories for the production of rayon in Elizabethton: American Bemberg Corporation and North American Rayon Corporation. The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC), originally built in the 1880s to transport iron ore from Cranberry, NC to Johnson City, TN, became a major source of transportation for these factories. A passenger and freight station was established on this site in 1929, consisting at first of a boxcar set on blocks. The permanent Bemberg Station seen today opened soon thereafter, serving both the Bemberg and North American Rayon plants. The station became especially important during World War Two, as the US government took over operation of the factories and Bemberg Station was renamed Port Rayon. Most of the workers in the vital factories were women and, due to gasoline rationing, most needed public transportation. Beginning in August 1942, the railroad ran three daily round trips from Johnson City to Shell Creek, TN, and later to Elk Park, NC. The commuter service ended in 1945 but after the war the railroad continued to ship freight to and from the factories for many years. American Bemberg shut down in 1974, while North American Rayon, under various owners, operated until 1997.
Source: John R. Waite, The Blue Ridge Stemwinder
—Department of Appalachian Studies, East Tennessee State University
· A locomotive passes the water tower that was located just east of Bemberg Station. (ETSU Archives of Appalachia, Cy Crumley Collection)
· A postcard, probably from the 1940s. Note Bemberg Station at bottom right. (ETSU Archives of Appalachia, Ridley Wills East Tennessee Postcard Collection)
· The remaining portion of the Bemberg factory today. (ETSU Dept. of Appalachian Studies)