Chattanooga Railroad Series: The Old Line Of The Western And Atlantic Railroad

Thursday, December 26, 2013 - by John Wilson

It was Dec. 1, 1849, when Chattanoogans caught sight of the first train pulling into the later "Choo Choo City." The Western and Atlantic had been built north from Marthasville (Atlanta). The route chosen was around the north end of Missionary Ridge, then across several trestles over the winding South Chickamauga Creek.

The W&A followed a path near the creek, then headed straight for Chattanooga and the destination across from the Crutchfield House (site of the later Read House). 

It went past the later Warner Park and the later National Cemetery.

From the Cemetery site, it veered straight west for the property the state of Georgia had acquired where the Union Depot would be built.

It went behind 11th Street before crossing King Street behind where the Ellis Hotel was eventually constructed.

The track crossed Market Street and headed for the depot. There was no South Broad Street at the time; Railroad Avenue (later Broad Street) ended at 9th Street.

The W&A Depot, featuring a two-story brick section in front topped by a cupola, was in a brick building at Ninth and Market. Then the arched Car Shed was constructed nearby before the Civil War. The handsome Union Depot was constructed in front of the Car Shed in 1882. This station and the Car Shed survived until the early 1970s after passenger service ended. The original depot at Ninth and Market was in operation for many years as the Chattanooga Steak House. 

Two of the W&A trestles across South Chickamauga Creek can be seen along the new section of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway near Youngstown Road. It was these bridges that were burned by Union sympathizers in 1861. They had been in a remote gorge all these years and most of the city's railroad historians had not seen them.

The old Sterchi dairy barn is near the W&A crossing of Harrison Pike. A trailhead for the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway was built nearby.

The main line of the consolidated railroads today follows much of the original W&A route, going beneath viaducts at Wilcox Boulevard, Third Street and McCallie and Bailey avenues to near the National Cemetery, then veering under the Central Avenue viaduct.

The W&A track between just west of Central Avenue and the old Union Station site went out of use after the Union Depot was closed in 1971 and then torn down.

There are some old tracks in fields behind 11th Street and up from King Street, but no trace of Chattanooga's first train line remains where it went the last half mile into the Union Station. 


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