Chattanooga Railroad Series: The TAG

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

(Chattanooga in the 1890s had 10 railway outlets with 66 passenger trains arriving and departing daily. The town was criss-crossed with train tracks, including not only the main lines but the connecting Belt Line. It's not so often today that you get a glimpse of a train in Chattanooga, but many of the old tracks remain. Many Railroad Crossing signs and switches are still in place, but these days receive little or no use).

A railroad that went from Gadsden, Ala., to Chattanooga was first known as the Chattanooga Southern Railway, but it is best known today as the TAG. Later owners changed the name from Chattanooga Southern to Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia Railway since it goes through all three states.

This was another of the creations of the restless Chattanoogan Charles E. James, who also was the creator of the Belt Line as well as the Chattanooga Traction Company.

A major challenge in building the 93-mile line was encountered at Pigeon Mountain, which branches off from Lookout Mountain at McLemore's Cove and heads toward LaFayette, Ga. A tunnel was constructed through Pigeon, giving the line the nickname of the Pigeon Mountain Route.

The line went through a beautiful, but sparsely settled, area. However, there were high hopes for the settlement at Kensington in Chattanooga Valley. James was the vice president of the Kensington Land Company. A spacious hotel was built on a hill at Kensington, but most of the development did not materialize.

Further south there were mining operations at Broncho, Ga., near the Pigeon Mountain tunnel.

The first train arrived in Chattanooga from Gadsden on May 23, 1891. Passenger service was at first provided by steam locomotives and wooden coaches. Later steel motors cars were placed into service. 

Trains left the Georgia Avenue station daily at 6:45 a.m., 9:15 a.m. and 6:03 p.m. for Kensington, with the price being 25 cents for a round-trip.  

When prominent businessman Z.C. Patten held a housewarming for his new columned mansion at Ashland Farm in Chattanooga Valley, he made use of the track that passed through the farm. Few people had automobiles at this time and it was four hours round trip by horse-drawn carriage. So he arranged for two special runs of the Chattanooga Southern. Three hundred guests came via train for the elaborate event on the night of May 7, 1906.    

The tracks entered St. Elmo just east of Tennessee Avenue, and a small depot was erected just north of the state line.

The tracks swerved straight east in the direction of Alton Park, which was showing great promise as an industrial center. The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad and the Central of Georgia had built Alton Park extensions.

The line passed along Chattanooga Creek where it turns and goes under a bridge at the start of Burnt Mill Road. Here the track was just inches from passing cars.

It disappeared from view as it made the approach to Alton Park, re-emerging at a crossing of Central Avenue at the main industrial section of Alton Park.

James established his railroad shops at Alton Park, and most of the line's machinists, car workmen, firemen, conductors, engineers and brakemen lived there.

The line then headed straight north, while crossing Main Street just west of Central Avenue. It at first went near the current Central Avenue Viaduct and dipped down along the Belt Line tracks that went under 11th Street and on to a Chattanooga Southern depot that was built on Georgia Avenue. This was where the Federal Courthouse is now located.

The line soon abandoned the Georgia Avenue depot in favor of the Union Station. To reach this depot across from the Read House, just past Alton Park the line switched to the Belt Line tracks that went across Central Avenue and then across South Broad Street before joining the old tracks from Nashville.

The line used the Belt Line freight depot, which was on Newby Street near where City Hall was built.

Freight service continued for many years on the TAG after passenger service was halted. However, the tunnel through Pigeon Mountain was put out of service in 1984 and the tracks south from there were taken up.

When the Reichhold plant closed at Kensington several years ago, all operations ceased on the scenic TAG line except for some use of the rails in the industrial section of Alton Park.


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