The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn., 2013.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn., 2013.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The depot on Market Street is perhaps the only reminder of a bygone era.

But several major railroads once served the city, making it among the most important railroad towns in the southern United States.

Chattanooga Railroad History Timeline

  • May 9, 1850: The complete Western & Atlantic Railroad line between Atlanta and Chattanooga opens
  • February 1854: The Nashville & Chattanooga Railway (the precursor of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway) is completed between the railroad’s two namesake cities
  • October 1856: The East Tennessee & Georgia Railway (a precursor of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway) opens
  • 1858: The Memphis & Charleston between Memphis and Chattanooga opens
  • 1858: Chattanooga Union Station opens (it was demolished in 1973)
  • 1858: The Missionary Ridge Tunnel completed by the East Tennessee and Georgia Railway opens (after it was abandoned, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum returned the tracks through the tunnel to service in 1971)
  • 1871: The Alabama Great Southern Railroad between Chattanooga and Meridian, Miss., opens
  • Feb. 21, 1880: The first train operates over the famed Cincinnati Southern between Chattanooga and Cincinnati (the first passenger train operated on March 8, 1880)
  • 1882: The East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia completes an extension from Chattanooga to Rome, Ga., via Dalton, Ga.
  • 1888: Central Depot opens and served the Alabama Great Southern, Cincinnati Southern, East Tennessee, Memphis & Charleston and Virginia & Georgia railroads (it served trains until 1909)
  • Nov. 16, 1895: The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway opens (click here for more history about rail lines on Lookout Mountain)
  • 1906: Construction of Terminal Station on Market Street begins
  • 1909: Terminal Station opens
  • 1960: The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is established and today operates over a portion of the former East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad route
  • Aug. 11, 1970: The last passenger train — Southern Railway’s Birmingham Special — departs Terminal Station
  • April 1973: The Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel opens in the former Terminal Station

Historical Background

The name “Chattanooga” comes from the Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point,” referring to Lookout Mountain which begins in Chattanooga and stretches 88 miles through Alabama and Georgia.

The name, however, wasn’t the city’s first; it was previously known as Ross’s Landing and Lookout City.

With the organization of Hamilton County in 1819, Ross’s Landing served not only the Cherokee trade but also as a business center for the county. In 1838, the city officially took the name of Chattanooga, the same year Cherokee parties left from Ross’s Landing for the West on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Over the past 170 years, Chattanooga is probably best known for its railroads.

During the Civil War, the railroad was of vital importance for bringing in not only supplies to the troops stationed within the city, but also for transporting reinforcements. Chattanooga was the destination of the failed Andrews Raid — a Union raid aimed at destroying the Western & Atlantic Railroad that served the city.

Other major railways that met in Chattanooga include: the Memphis & Charleston; the Nashville & Chattanooga; and the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad.

The famed Chattanooga Choo Choo, of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, first departed for Chattanooga on March 5, 1880.

The current station, known as Terminal Station, was completed in 1908 and dedicated on Dec. 1, 1909. New York architect Don Barber was hired by Southern Railways to design the depot.

The last passenger train, of Southern Railway, stopped at the depot on Aug. 11, 1970. A group of businessmen saved the building, and a second grand opening was held on April 11, 1973, when the station opened its doors as a hotel.

This article is based on a version published in the January 2006 edition of The Cross-Tie.