Chattanooga Railroad Series: The Unfinished Line To Stevenson (Part 1)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A sturdy concrete railroad overpass stood for decades across Brown's Ferry Road at Patten Chapel Road in Lookout Valley - with no track on either side.

There are large concrete culverts in back yards nearby at Adkins Road and off Isbill Road.

A smooth rail bed runs through the woods along the base of Raccoon Mountain until it reaches another big culvert at Wilcox Road.

Then there is an 1,100-foot tunnel through Cummings Gap of Raccoon Mountain.

There is a smooth rail bed and similar over-sized culverts in several steep areas along Highway 41 far above the Tennessee River. There are piers at a Sequatchie River crossing. Then at South Pittsburg there are tall piers at the entrance of Battle Creek to the river and another unconnected overpass.

Tall piers long stood at The Narrows of the Tennessee River, where an elaborate draw bridge was set to be constructed. It took a literal act of Congress to get this planned drawbridge approved.

Tracks were laid from Stevenson, Ala., to the Sequatchie River north of Kimball, and work trains went back and forth. No tracks are now in sight.

This mystery is explained from the annals of history dating to the early 1900s when the Southern Railway embarked on a major construction program in and around Chattanooga. It included building a tunnel through Lookout Mountain and constructing a new elevated line through St. Elmo and Alton Park to a new Terminal Station on South Market Street (today's Chattanooga Choo Choo).

The rest of the bold undertaking called for an entirely new railroad line to be built from Stevenson. The Southern at the time (and its successor to this day) was having to rent - for $60,000 per year starting in 1880 - use of the one congested line that the Nashville and Chattanooga had built from that point. It went for 38 miles on to Bridgeport, Ala., for a river crossing, then through Whiteside, Tn., and on to Lookout Valley.

The new line of 42 miles would take an entirely different route. It would go from the start of the new Lookout Mountain tunnel, along today's Highway 41 by the river, cross the river near Orme Island not far from Haletown, then go by South Pittsburg and on to Stevenson.

The idea for the ambitious new line had long been on the drawing boards. As early as 1885, a railroad journal said it had already been graded.

The actual work on the line started in 1905 in conjunction with the tunnel and the Terminal Station projects. The overpasses and culverts were built. The long tunnel at Raccoon Mountain was put through. The piers were ready for the bridge and creek crossings.

The section at Lookout Valley curved from the start of the tunnel near where Lookout Creek enters the river along a route in the vicinity of Patten Chapel Road. It then veered behind today's Adkins Road, where a large culvert can be seen in the back yard of a house prior to the intersection with Isbill Road.

A second culvert is off Isbill Road behind houses on Meadow Falls Lane where a small creek comes down the side of Raccoon Mountain.

The route goes along the base of Raccoon Mountain, following its curve toward Cummings Gap. The line can be distinctly seen in the woods across from the entrance to the Raccoon Mountain Campground. It goes toward Cummings Gap on one side of a deep ravine while the highway is on the other side.

The rail bed goes up a slight rise across kudzu to reach what is today Wilcox Road.

After all this construction, the work suddenly stopped in October 1907 - with money woes and the Panic of 1907 apparently factors in Southern continuing its franchise agreement with the rival Nashville line.

All the effort and expense were for naught. That heavy cost was $2,905,782.93 - more than the $2,256,727.86 expense of building the Lookout Mountain Tunnel and erecting the line through St. Elmo and Alton Park.

In 1909, it was estimated that the new line could be completed for $1,286,134.68. Over the years, businesses along the route, including the cement plant at Richard City below South Pittsburg, pleaded for Southern to resume work on the line. Richard Hardy, a mayor of Chattanooga, and the local railroad magnate Charles James, sent entreaties - to no avail.

A train has still not been sighted anywhere along scenic Highway 41.


 

 


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