Chattanooga Railroad Series: Alabama And Chattanooga Railroad

Monday, January 6, 2014

A railroad that had been started in the valley between Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain was finally completed to Chattanooga several years after the Civil War.

It was first known as the Wills Valley Railroad, but by the time it was finished the title was changed to the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad. This was the fourth train operating in Chattanooga - not counting the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, which used tracks of the Nashville train from Stevenson, Ala., to Chattanooga.

The flamboyant John C. Stanton from Boston had stepped in to complete it. It was finished between Wauhatchie to Meridian, Miss., by May of 1871. 

Stanton also constructed the elaborate Stanton House hotel nearby at the site where the Terminal Station (Chattanooga Choo Choo) was later built.

Stanton also persuaded city officials to move the post office to this section, which was considered quite a distance from the original settlement by the river. The post office was constructed at the corner of King and South Market streets (where the Ellis Hotel was later built).

A depot was constructed at Market and 13th streets for the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad, which entered town from the south along the Nashville and Chattanooga route around Moccasin Bend, then veered away at Montgomery Avenue (Main Street). 

The Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad also put up a freight depot across the street opposite the post office. Also at the complex were a brick roundhouse with 11 stalls and wooden railroad shops.

Until early in the 1900s there was only a single track on the narrow shelf of land around the base of Lookout Mountain across from Moccasin Bend. It was shared by not only the Nashville train, but also the Memphis and Charleston and the Alabama and Chattanooga.

However, the Stanton empire soon crumbled and he returned to his palatial home in New England.

The Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad was rescued from bankruptcy in 1877 and given the distinguished title of Alabama Great Southern Railway Company. It offered service to New Orleans, Mobile, Vicksburg and other points to the south and west.

When Union Station became too congested, the AGS depot at Market and 13th Street was converted into use as the Central Passenger Station. It stood where the Southern Railway headquarters was built. It opened Sept. 16, 1888. It was taken down after the Terminal Station was built further south on Market Street. The Chattanooga headquarters for the Southern Railway was eventually built at the site of the Central Passenger Station. It was converted for residential use.

The Alabama Great Southern and the Cincinnati Southern later operated as part of the Queen and Crescent Route using the old Alabama and Chattanooga freight depot at Market and King. 

When Baron Emile D'Erlanger was the chief official of the Queen and Crescent Route he made a visit to Chattanooga. A pitch was made to him to help in a drive to construct a local hospital. He pledged $5,000 and said he would have the two railroads pledge the same. The hospital was later named for him. 

An old Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad building remains behind the Southern Railway headquarters at 1301 Market St. The Urban Stack hamburger place now occupies this site. Cobblestones dating to the city's earliest days are still in place as a picturesque pavement outside this quaint railroad building.

There is still track in place that crosses Market Street by the old Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad site and the old railroad baggage building. It moves on across Broad Street to the junction with the fragment of Nashville tracks at Main Street behind the chicken processing plant, but train cars no longer rumble by.

One of the most elaborate depots along the line is the stone station at Fort Payne, Ala., which has been converted to a museum. The Trenton, Ga., depot was converted for a visitor center.  

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