Chattanooga Railroad Series: The Broad Gauge Railroad

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It was once possible to step on a train in downtown Chattanooga and arrive at the top of scenic, historic Lookout Mountain beneath the majestic Lookout Inn. But it only lasted for a few short years.

The Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain Railway Company was organized in February of 1887. In June, the company advertised for 500 laborers to begin building the line.

The new railroad was more commonly known as the Broad Gauge to distinguish it from the Narrow Gauge that was built from the Point Hotel at the north end of the mountain beneath the future Point Park. The Narrow Gauge went in the direction of Sunset Rock to a station at Sunset Park. It was later extended to the Natural Bridge.

An elaborate hotel at the end of the Broad Gauge was begun in July 1889. This was on a peak above the site where Incline #2 built its upper station. The Lookout Inn was 365 feet long. It was four stories high with a 96-foot, octagon-shaped tower and a smaller tower. The Lookout Inn opened in June 1890.

The Broad Gauge initially used depots on Newby Street and then Georgia Avenue. It followed the Belt Line on a route that ran under 11th Street and then near the National Cemetery before heading for Alton Park. At the site of the Acheson Foundry, it dropped off the Belt Line onto new track that went along the north side of the Forest Hills Cemetery.

After a short time, the Broad Gauge switched to use of the Union Station across from the Read House. From there it followed a section of the Belt Line near the river that curved east across South Broad Street to a connection with the new Broad Gauge line.

The Broad Gauge curved just in front of the Forest Hills gate and then headed south through St. Elmo along a line between what became Tennessee Avenue and St. Elmo Avenue. Part of the line at the south end was later put into use as Virgina Avenue. The line curved up toward the mountain at 55th Street at the section known as Mountain Junction.

It went above Alabama Avenue before crossing the Johnson Turnpike. The Broad Gauge then went past the first road up the mountain, the Whiteside Turnpike. A short distance past that, it went under Incline #2 (today's Incline). Just beyond that, it crossed on a high trestle above the first Incline that was built to the Point Hotel. Then it went across a smaller trestle above the old Federal Road that dated to 1803. Just above the trestle, the Federal Road veered to the right and continued just above the rail line. The road to the home of Robert Cravens (Lower Cravens Terrace) went straight up from the small trestle.

The line then headed past the future Ruby Falls before coming to a switchback deep in the woods. Not far from the switchback a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was set up for workers who built numerous trails and rock walls on the side of Lookout Mountain. It was called Camp Demaray. A section of the old Broad Gauge was put to use as a road leading to the historic Cravens House. Just past Cravens House, the road goes to the left and the original railbed resumes just below the historic Hardy house. Richard Hardy, a Chattanooga mayor and industrialist and his wife, Ethel Soper Hardy, lived there for many years. Ethel Soper Hardy helped found the Humane Educational Association. A ceramic cat was atop the house for many years. The charming home with its interesting outbuildings became the property of the National Park Service and began falling into ruins.

The Broad Gauge passed by several trickling streams from mountainside springs in its gradual ascent to the top of Lookout. It once again passed under the Incline Railway. It came out at the top of the later Lookout  Mountain Boulevard (Scenic Highway). A section of the highway at the top follows the old Broad Gauge route.

The Broad Gauge went by the Lookout Mountain House, whose original stone wall still stands at the top of the highway at the current Stonedge Condominiums. At Stonedge, the line entered through a narrow gap of rock. It then went on a trestle across a deep ravine. Some of the trestle piers can still be seen.

The Broad Gauge made a wide arc on its gradual ascent to the Lookout Inn. It went along the current East and West Road and behind the Cafe on the Corner and other current Lookout Mountain businesses. It went above the current Commons playground and then headed for the current Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church. At the current Lookout Mountain Elementary School it veered onto the section that today is known as the Cow Path trail. It came out just below the Incline station.

The Broad Gauge sometimes hauled as many as 650 passengers a day up the mountain. Some of the famous guests included the financier Jay Gould and the explorer Henry Stanley. However, both the Broad Gauge and the Lookout Inn soon ran into financial difficulty and were sold for far less than their original value.

The Lookout Inn was destroyed in a spectacular fire on Nov. 17, 1908. Several years earlier, the Broad Gauge service was discontinued.

The line was later electrified and for many years there was streetcar service on Lookout Mountain. The "Surface Car Line" ran until Aug. 28, 1928, when it was supplanted by bus service. This trolley line followed much of the old Broad Gauge route except a short cut was put in between 45th and 46th streets in St. Elmo so the line no longer went down to Mountain Junction.

Much of the old Broad Gauge is now in use as a popular hiking and mountain biking trail up Lookout Mountain from St. Elmo. It is now known as the Guild Trail and the Hardy Trail. The trail was donated by Jack Steiner of Ruby Falls to the Lookout Mountain Land Trust.




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