(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).
Passenger trains once ran on a route from downtown Chattanooga from the vicinity of East 11th Street in several different directions, including East Chattanooga, Ridgedale, East Lake and St. Elmo.
The Belt Line started out in the mid-1880s as a freight service, servicing factories and warehouses away from the main lines.
Soon Charles E. James saw an opportunity for adding passenger service. For a few years, it turned out to be a more prosperous venture than the freight operation.
James wanted to build a connection to downtown from his Belt Line tracks near National Cemetery by a route near 11th Street. One obstacle was a hill where the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad had placed its tracks leading from across the current UTC campus to near King and Market streets and on to the Union Depot.
James set a group of workmen forging a tunnel under the East Tennessee line. When it was finished in 1887, he was ready to build a passenger station on property at Newby Street by 10th Street. This original station was soon improved so that several trains could be served. The last version of the Newby Street Depot still stands at 10th and Newby. The two-story brick building is the west end of the Senior Neighbors building. A section to the east was added later.
A few years later, James extended the Belt Line tracks a little closer to town to a new depot on Georgia Avenue. That site is now occupied by the Federal Building. The track crossed 10th Street just east of the Newby Street Depot and went behind the later Davenport Hosiery Mill that fronted on Ninth Street.
Some of the tracks are still in place on the route that once carried dozens of passengers each day.
The route went between 10th and 11th, going behind some old brick buildings that have long fronted on 11th across from the old Fleetwood Coffee Company. It ran across what was the Davenport Hosiery Mill and then a newspaper (first the Chattanooga News-Free Press, then the Chattanooga Times Free Press).
The right of way is still in place where the line headed for the opening under the East Tennessee line.
Tracks are still in place as well as a Railroad Crossing sign at the Baldwin Street crossing. There are more tracks and crossing signs at Palmetto, where the line begins the turn under the 11th Street Bridge.
There's an odd-shaped old building still standing just west of the bridge and the old Mills and Lupton Supply is on the other side. A dilapidated old loading dock is next to the tracks at the old supply business.
Near the bridge the secluded site has become a homeless cafeteria with styrofoam takeout boxes piled high.
The track next approached the Onion Bottom section where there was a city dump and later city public works yards. There are tracks and a crossing sign at a quaint old service station at Park Avenue. Another crossing sign is at Fairview Avenue where the street is now gated off, but the tracks have been taken up here.
The Belt Line then crossed where the Western and Atlantic tracks began curving toward the Union Depot.
They paralleled Central Avenue until curving to a crossing of Central at the current T.T. Wilson company.
The Belt Line then went along the south boundary of the National Cemetery behind 13th Street. The old right of way is still in view. The line curved near an old mattress factory and a casket factory to join another Belt Line route that goes by Holtzclaw Avenue.
The Belt Line passenger service may have prospered for a few years, but competition from the new electric streetcars soon meant the end of the line.
However, freight continued to be hauled along this line as late as the late 1980s when the Chattanooga News Free Press got shipments of newsprint by rail.