Welcome to the Chattanooga Visitor Information Center in the Aquarium Plaza!
Our new Visitor Information Center can be found in the Aquarium Plaza. We encourage you to stop by and meet our friendly staff, create your own Chattanooga Itinerary using our digital information kiosks, and climb on top of our center for a bird's eye view (and a great photo op!) of the Aquarium Plaza. From this vantage point, there are Chattanooga easter eggs all around you. Get to know the thought process for each unique feature you see below!
The Tennessee Aquarium Plaza is an interactive time machine – you step further back in history as you proceed over the time bands toward the Tennessee River. Notice how the alternating bands stretch out in front of you. The journey begins with the first two bands at the intersection of Aquarium Way and Broad Street to your left. These bands carry the May 1, 1992 dedication date – when the Tennessee Aquarium opened. At the time only the River Journey building was here, Ocean Journey behind you opened in May 2005. Within each band and along the banks of the stream, which represents the creek that once flowed down Broad Street, a careful eye will notice integrated artifacts relating to the time period of the band you are in.
Dubbed the “Gateway to the South” during the Civil War (1861-1865), Chattanooga was a crucial city due to its geographical location and the multiple railroads that converged here. After the Civil War, Chattanooga’s railroads and proximity to other large cities propelled the city to regional importance as one of the largest industrial hubs in the Southeastern U.S. In the paver band to your right, you’ll notice a section of railroad tracks that frames the lyrics to Glen Miller’s 1941 song “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Crossties at either end of the tracks are inscribed with the names of early railroad companies that operated here.
Coke bottles in the bridge
The small bridge in the distance that leads into the Aquariums is set with Coca-Cola bottle bottoms cast from original molds to honor Chattanooga’s role as the home of the world’s first franchised Coca-Cola bottling plant.
In the paver band directly to your left, you will see designs at regular intervals inspired by a pattern sewn by Appalachian quilters. The red oaks like those planted in the “handles” of the baskets towards the far end of this band provided the materials that early settlers would use to make baskets.
Bessie Smith 1894 – 1937
The most popular female blues singer of the 1930s – and highest-paid black entertainer of her day – “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith grew up just west of this park in Blue Goose Hollow on the Tennessee River. Magnolia leaves in the banks of the stream pay homage to this legendary blues singer who survived being orphaned at a young age by performing on street corners with her siblings. In 1923 she would sign with Columbia Records and stay busy year-round working in theaters and tent shows. Bessie reflected her personal ideals in her music – independence, fearlessness, and sexual freedom – implying that working-class women could gain respect without changing their behavior to fit society’s expectations. Bessie Smith’s career was cut short when she died tragically in a vehicle accident in 1937 at the age of 43.
Plants in the archways
The archway “mountains” to your right (north) and left (south) are meant to mimic the surrounding mountain topography. The plants on these archways are some of the same that can be found at the tops of surrounding mountains like Lookout Mountain (beyond the arch to your left) and Signal Mountain (beyond the aquarium to your right) where the soil is shallow and plants get a lot of sun.
Historic quotations in pavers
Quotes document the events leading to the removal of the Cherokees from this area by the United States government, also known as the Trail of Tears. Some of these pavers are cracked to symbolize the broken promises made to the Native Americans.
The beginning of the stream
This stream appears to be bursting up through the ground reminiscent of the effects of an earthquake. Most people may not consider Tennessee as an area subject to earthquakes, but the New Madrid Seismic Zone is approximately 300 miles to our west on the borders shared by Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri along the Mississippi River. In 1811 and 1812 a series of catastrophic earthquakes resulted in the creation of Reelfoot Lake, a shallow, swamp-like body of water consisting of open water, marshes, and bald cypress trees. Breaks in the ground of the plaza represent geologic events like these earthquakes that formed some of the area’s rivers, lakes, and topography.
Integrated into the exterior walls of the River Journey building is a linear timeline of the history of the Tennessee River and the Chattanooga region as told by the people who have lived here for thousands of years. This River Scenes at the Tennessee Aquarium pamphlet provides descriptions of the 53 medallions that can be found on the walls of River Journey.