Chattanooga Railroad Series: Belt Line (East Chattanooga)

Monday, March 10, 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).

A railroad once chugged its way through East Chattanooga, starting at Warner Park and winding its way several miles past the East Tennessee, Virginia line to the busy Boyce Station, where the Western & Atlantic and Cincinnati Southern lines joined.

The only tracks still in place on this Belt Line route are at the start of the line at EPB yards across from Warner Park.

You can still see where the East Chattanooga route veered away from the Belt Line that went past the National Cemetery and Warner Park. This is between Oak and Vine streets on EPB property near Holtzclaw Avenue.

There is also track at the crossing of Greenwood Avenue.

There is more track at Highland Park Avenue, where a Railroad Crossing sign is still in place, though no trains or streetcars have crossed in decades.Though they no longer serve a utilitarian purpose, hopefully the crossing signs will be allowed to stay in place as part of our rich railroad history.

The route of the East Chattanooga line is visible up Vine Street eastward in the direction of Missionary Ridge.

It skirted to the right of the tall peak at Orchard Knob and went a little to the left when Vine Street hit a rise.

The line veered just north of Vine at Hawthorne and continued in a straight line until crossing Kelley Street to the rear of the current Parkridge Hospital. It then went across what is now a Parkridge parking lot.

Then it began to veer north, going across Ivy Street and Fifth Street. Two medical office buildings have been erected where the Belt Line once crossed in the vicinity of Fifth and Fourth streets.

The line continued near Kelley Street passing Garfield, Blackford and Cleveland streets. It is in place as a narrow paved road between Third and Garfield and on between Garfield and Blackford.

After Wilcox Boulevard, it went between Dodson Avenue and Willow Street. Sections of the old route are clearly visible, and it is often used as a pathway.

It crossed Portland Street near Willow and went on past Cooley, Laura and Wilson streets.

Then it curved back east toward the corner of Dodson Avenue and Monroe Street. Here you can clearly see where the East Chattanooga line curved toward the Buster Brown factory. It crossed Camden and Ocoee, then reached Wheeler Street at the corner of Gilbert. A well-preserved section of the line can be seen in this section.

It ran just in front of the former Buster Brown plant. Just on the other side of the former plant (that is now in use by Memorial Hospital), this section of the Belt Line approached a crossing with the East Tennessee line that came down from the Missionary Ridge tunnel.

Both lines were initially at grade. Later, a high crossing was built across the Belt Line. The high concrete walls are still in place, though the East Tennessee line went out of service after a bypass was built around the north end of Missionary Ridge.

The nearby Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum still uses the at-grade route of the East Tennessee line - making a crossing of the old Belt Line route near the former Bragg Street that is now called Infantry Street.

The East Chattanooga line continues straight north along the current Wheeler Street. It passes Crutchfield Street and then crosses Glass Street near Latta. You can see the old route in both directions from this Glass Street crossing.

It goes across Daisy, Appling and Fairleigh streets before beginning the curve toward Boyce Station. The route goes by Bachman Street past Taylor. It makes another curve that is still visible at Curtis Street before reaching the corner of Cushman and Roanoke streets.

The East Chattanooga line crosses Stuart Street before reaching the old site of the depot at Wilder Street. There is no trace of the old station. Nearby is an overpass leading over the main tracks to Amnicola Highway.

The Belt Line ran for only a few years in the late 1880s and the early 1890s. It continued in service after it was acquired by Southern Railway. A woman in 2014 remembered visiting her grandfather's house on Arlington Avenue and having the conductor on the Belt Line toss her candy.


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