The First Western & Atlantic Train to Chattanooga

Tunnel Hill. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

A gentle mist fell as the train pulled out of Dalton, Georgia, en route for Tunnel Hill.

It was 7 a.m. on Dec. 1, 1849, and the western portion of the Western & Atlantic Railroad was open for business, even if the tunnel at Tunnel Hill was more than five months away from completion.

When the train reached Tunnel Hill, passengers spent an hour exploring the “wonderful structure and passing through its entire length,” a correspondent for the Daily Constitutionalist of Augusta, Ga., wrote of the day.

They ostensibly boarded a second train. Before too long, the locomotive Alabama began steaming toward Chattanooga with Jno. G. Eckman at the throttle.

The Western & Atlantic acquired the locomotive in September 1845. Much like the railroad’s first locomotive, the Florida, the Alabama was a Baldwin-built 4-2-0.

The train passed through the North Georgia countryside and pulled into the hamlet of Ringgold. There people like Col. Edward R. Harden, editor of the Ringgold Republican newspaper boarded the train.

“Here too, additional passengers crowded on the cars, and no room was left for the vast multitudes who, in despite of the rain, thronged the wayside to enjoy the ride and witness the ceremonies about to be solemnized at the opening of the Road to Chattanooga,” a reporter recorded.

At noon, the train pulled into Chattanooga, with more than 300 people on board.

The group then made its way to the Tennessee River for a series of speeches, including one by Mark A. Cooper, a prominent industrialist, and William L. Mitchell, the chief engineer of the Western & Atlantic. During his speech, Long ceremoniously comingled water from South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

The onlookers then made their way back to the train for the return trip to Dalton.

“Every bridge that was passed called forth expressions of admiration and loud cheering,” the newspaper reported. “Upon passing the last bridge, the ladies joined in cheering, and the welkin rang with loud applause.”

When the train arrived at Tunnel Hill, the riders gave three cheers for the Western & Atlantic. A full half-day after leaving, the group returned to Dalton.

Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 338 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.