ATLANTA – On Dec. 21, 1836, the Georgia state Legislature authorized the construction of a railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., forever shaping the state’s history.
Surveying for the railroad, which would become the Western & Atlantic Railroad, began in 1837. Construction began in November 1839, and the complete line was opened in 1850.
The first train between Atlanta and Marietta, Ga., ran on Dec. 23, 1842. It would be another three years before regular rail service would begin on the stretch of track.
The railroad’s southern terminus, Atlanta, was a growing railroad town, which by the mid 19th century was the ending point for four major railroads. And thanks in large part to the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Atlanta would evolve into the major metropolitan city it is today.
At the start of the Civil War, the Western & Atlantic Railroad was a major north-south lifeline for the Confederacy. And on April 12, 1862, a group of northern spies tried to destroy the railroad, but failed. Had the Andrews Raid been successful, the war would have likely taken a drastically different turn.
In the later years of the War Between the States, Gen. William T. Sherman marched to Atlanta, primarily following the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s route. “The W&A RR of Georgia should be the pride of every true American because by reason of its existence the Union was saved,” Sherman later wrote of the road.
On Dec. 12, 1870, the state Legislature leased the railroad to Joseph E. Brown, a former Georgia governor. And in 1890, the state agreed to a long-term lease to the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad. The lease was subsequently renewed, but the Western & Atlantic Railroad today remains under the control of the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad’s successor, CSX.