Hidden in Plain Sight: Chattanooga’s History is Everywhere – All Aboard Edition
You may have heard of the Chattanooga Choo Choo, but did you know there are even more ways to experience Chattanooga’s railroad legacy? Dive into an enthralling journey through the city's history, steeped in the golden age of rail travel with a visit to these spots in Chattanooga.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
In the 1800s, Chattanooga emerged as a bustling rail travel center, initially with the introduction of the Western and Atlantic railroad, followed by the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia railroads. Its pivotal position as a railway hub played a significant part in the Civil War, and on a larger scale, greatly influenced the city's subsequent development. Delve into the captivating story of the "golden age of rail travel" and its impact on the Scenic City at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum which is exclusively devoted to everything locomotive.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum doesn't just preserve old railroad gear, it preserves an entire experience. Its passenger trains chug along a historic route that features the iconic Missionary Ridge Tunnel, finished in 1858 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This tunnel holds the key to why the museum operates on this specific 3-mile stretch of the former Southern Railway. As trains grew too big for the tunnel they caused a traffic bottleneck on the double-track railway. The Southern Railway had to abandon this segment of track, constructing a new path around Missionary Ridge to bypass the tunnel. The museum worked hard to preserve this route, illuminating train travel of a bygone era.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum offers many other train travel options, including seasonal trips for Christmas and Halloween and scenic rides through the Hiwassee Loop and Copper Hill. By offering these historical journeys, the museum enlightens visitors about the pivotal role of this industry in shaping our modern world and provides a unique perspective on the region's history and culture.
Urban Stack in the Old Southern Railway Passenger Baggage Building
Venture downtown in Chattanooga and you will encounter the oldest continuously standing building in the city! Built in 1870 as a Baggage Depot for the Alabama & Chattanooga Rail at the corner of Market and 13th Streets, this brick-walled one-story building now houses Urban Stack, a local burger restaurant.
After the Civil War (the first war to heavily utilize railroad systems), Northern communities became increasingly interested in connecting with cities in the South. Cincinnati began plans to make this connection, and in 1877, the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad was purchased by the Erlanger Syndicate from Cincinnati. The developers used Chattanooga as the southern terminus of the line. The Syndicate changed the name of the line to Southern Railway as it expanded the reach of its locomotive routes, and the building became known as the Southern Railway Freight Depot.
Hotel Chalet at the Chattanooga Choo Choo
For a fully immersive train car experience, you can now visit The Hotel Chalet behind the Choo Choo complex at the historic Terminal Station. This elegant “Beaux Arts” style hotel is unlike any other, offering overnight stays in opulent, fully restored train cars. Park your caboose for the night in one of 25 Pullman Passenger train carriages from the 1920s and 1960s, and make sure to plan a commute to Elsie’s Daughter, the on-site restaurant created by the team from local favorite Rosecomb. Enjoy cocktails and elevated Appalachian & Southern fare.
Stationed somewhere else for the evening? You can still enjoy a cold one in a historic train car at American Draft. The pour-you-own beer hall offers 29 American beers and is located in Chattanooga Choo Choo’s Glen Miller Gardens.
Lookout Mountain’s Incline Railway
Lookout Mountain, cherished for centuries by tourists in Tennessee and Georgia, offers panoramic views best seen during an alpine ascent in a sunlit car. The Incline Railway offers just that, and truly puts the fun in funicular! Funicular railways are like a cable railway's playful cousin! This system operates with two counterbalanced cars that are affixed to opposite ends of a haulage cable. This cable is looped over a pulley situated at the upper terminus of the track, facilitating the movement of the carriages along the slope in a synchronized manner. It's all about the gravity-defying journey!
The first Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain launched in 1887, spanning from St. Elmo's 38th Street to just below the Point. John Crass engineered the enduring second Incline Railway, which opened in 1895. The triumph of Crass’s line led to the closure of the initial Incline in 1899.
The Incline Railway transported passengers to the top of Lookout Mountain, right in front of the grand Lookout Inn, which was tragically consumed by fire in 1908 after a mere 19 years of operation. Initially propelled by massive coal-burning steam engines and wooden cars, the system transitioned to electric power in 1911. Presently, it's fueled by two robust 100-horsepower motors driving large drums that operate the cable, crafted by the same company behind the Brooklyn Bridge's cable.
In 1919, a fire ravaged the upper mountain waiting station and powerhouse, resulting in damage to a train car. By 1920, a new incline car revived service on this iconic attraction.
These resilient cars faithfully served Lookout Mountain until 1949, were replaced again in 1987, and, more recently, in 2020, ensuring the mountain's vistas are accessible to all. The top station features an observation deck and a gift shop and is just a short jaunt from Point Park.
The Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is the world's steepest passenger railway. It is owned and operated by CARTA, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority.
Hidden in Plain Sight
History Blog Series
Chattanooga's history is everywhere! Welcome to a blog series delving into the intriguing historical gems scattered around Chattanooga. Explore the stories that make up this city’s rich past and form its culture of today.