Chattanooga Railroad Series: Belt Line (Highland Park And Ridgedale)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - by John Wilson

(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).

When it was decided in 1886 to add passenger service to the Belt Line, the first route placed in service went through the promising new suburb of  Highland Park to near the foot of Missionary Ridge at Ridgedale.

The new track curved away from the line that ran by the National Cemetery at Bennett Avenue. It went straight for Missionary Ridge along Anderson Avenue starting at Greenwood Avenue.

The track crossed Highland Park Avenue, Hickory Street, Holly Street, Hawthorne Street and Beech Street. It went on across Orchard Knob Avenue, Willow Street, Beech Street, Kelley Street and Lyerly Street.

After Watkins Street, and just before reaching Buckley Street, it veered straight south to head for Fort Cheatham and East Lake.

The line was an immediate success for owner Charles E. James. It initially used one locomotive and two coaches to carry passengers from the downtown station at Chestnut Street. There were seven round trips per day - leaving downtown at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. as well as 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Cost of a trip one way was five cents.

Within the first week, it was hauling as many as 2,200 passengers a day. By November 1886, the line carried up to 3,500 passengers a day.

But by 1889 the new electric streetcars - faster and with more direct routes - began siphoning off the Belt Line passengers.

In February 1892, the Belt Line passenger service to Highland Park that had seemed so promising was discontinued.

Freight service continued on the Belt Line, including servicing the Dixie Mercerizing Plant built on Watkins Street in 1920 to process Mercerized cotton.

It is still easy to trace the Belt Line's Highland Park route, though most of the tracks are gone.

The curve that begins at Bennett Avenue near the National Cemetery is near the Lucey Boiler facility and is now called Lucey Street.

The old rail bed is evident in a wide grassy expanse just to the left of Anderson Avenue.

The first tracks come into view as the line approaches the old Dixie Mercerizing facility. More tracks are on Watkins Street, along with a metal support over a ditch.

The line extends on near Buckley Street to what is now the Ridgedale Greenwalk.

The right of way then goes near Buckley Street to just south of the old Cotten Patch drive in on Main Street. Some of the heavy cross ties from the Belt Line were used on the Cotten Patch parking lot.


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