Tri-state (TN-GA-AL) Rail Stops - Wills Valley Railroad

Sunday, October 2, 2016 - by Chuck Hamilton

WILLS VALLEY RAILROAD, 1860

 

The Wills Valley Railroad (WV) was chartered to link Elyton, Alabama (now part of Birmingham) with Chattanooga, junctioning with the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad at Wauhatchie.  It opened the line from Trenton to Wauhatchie in late 1860.  The Civil War naturally interrupted its growth.  As part of the U.S. Military Rail Roads, it was designated as Trenton Branch of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.  In 1868, the WV merged with its sister railway, the North East and South West Alabama Railroad, that was supposed to link from Elyton to Meridian, Mississippi.  The new venture was known as the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad (A&C) by 1871, and this company finished the intended railway the same year.

In 1878, the railway reorganized as the Alabama Great Southern Railway (AGS) under the auspices of a holding company owned by Frederic Emile, Baron d’Erlanger.  Baron d’Erlanger is better known to Chattanoogans as the patron of Baroness Erlanger Hospital, so named on honor of Emile’s American wife, Marguerite Mathilde Slidell, daughter of John Slidell, Confederate Ambassador to the Court of Napoleon III.  In 1883, Baron d’Erlanger organized five railroads including AGS into the Queen and Crescent Route connecting the “Queen City” (Cincinnatti) to the “Crescent City” (New Orleans).

In 1890, the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railway and the Richmond and Danville Railroad gained a joint controlling interest in the AGS; these two became Southern Railway (SOU) in 1894.  Under SOU, these stations became part of the Chattanooga and New Orleans Division.  Though owned by parent companies since 1890, the AGS continues to operate as a separate entity to this day.

The stations on the Wills Valley Railroad and its successors from the Georgia stateline with Alabama to Chattanooga were as follows.

Sulphur Springs

The schedule stop and coupon station in Dade County just inside the Georgia state line coming from Birmingham was originally called Smith.  The name changed due to the popularity of the resort that grew up at the mineral springs in the vicinity of the station.

The post office of Smith operated here from 1862 until 1890, when the name changed to Sulphur Springs, operating until 1955.

Cloverdale

Four miles down the line stood the signal stop originally known as Nisbit’s.

The post office of Cloverdale operated from 1869 until 1889.

Rising Fawn

Another two miles down brought trains to this schedule stop, named for a Cherokee leader living in the vicinity after the Cherokee-American Wars better known to Americans as George Lowery.  The community was originally known as Staunton.  At one time incorporated, Rising Fawn thrived because of nearby mines and manufacturing but is now reduced to a small fraction of its glory.  It is not, however, a ghost town, and several buildings survive from that era, including the 19th century Stewart House (where my grandmother was born) and the Cureton House.  The depot stood next to the tracks across the main road through the valley, at or near the site of the modern Depot Diner.

The Rising Fawn Iron Works Railroad serviced the blast furnace built a mile east of here, junctioning with AGS at this station.

The post office of Rising Fawn was established in 1840.

Dademont

Three more miles brought travellers to this signal stop, originally known as Cureton’s.

Tatum

Two miles down the line, twenty from Chattanooga, stood this signal stop, named for the family which first owned the coal mining operation that brought Rising Fawn’s prosperity.

Trenton

The depot at this schedule stop in the seat of Dade County formerly known as Salem (which explains “New” Salem overlooking the city from atop Lookout Mountain), stands two miles down from the former Tatum Station.  Until the line was completed to Birmingham, Trenton was the southern terminus of the WV.  The restored depot, built by AGS in the 1920s, houses the city’s welcome center and chamber of commerce at 111 Railroad Lane in the north section of the downtown area.

During the Civil War, an engagement took place here on 31 August 1863.  The town and the county as a whole were also subject to guerrilla raids by both jayhawkers and bushwackers, especially from Sand Mountain.

The post office was established as Dade in 1839, changing to Trenton in 1841.

New England City

Originally called Morrison’s, this signal stop three-and-a-half miles down from Trenton sometimes appears on maps as Squirreltown (which was a Cherokee village here before the Removal).  The community was renamed and incorporated in 1891 hoping to attract business and bigger manufacturing, and upgraded briefly to a schedule stop.  The plans for the town included three public parks and several manufacturing sites, but other than Hotel Dade, none of these were ever built.  Though not much survives from its heyday, if you drive through you will notice the planning of the few surviving streets.

The post office of New England operated here from 1889 until 1907.

Morganville

Six miles from Trenton, two-and-a-half down from New England City, this schedule stop gave its name to the community it served.

The post office was established here as Hobbie in 1856, changing its name to Morganville in 1866, operating until 1913.

Wildwood

This schedule stop west of the tracks across from the end of Hooker Road (State Route 299) was first named Lea’s Crossing, then Wildwood by 1870.

The first post office of Wauhatchie (before the one in Hamilton County) was established in the vicinity in 1840 and was closed in 1856.  The post office of Wildwood was established in 1874.

Wauhatchie

The junction of the WV and its successors with the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and its successors. 

For more information, see the section on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.

Lookout

AGS’s use of this station ended in 1917 with the completion of the Wauhatchie Extension Railway to connect the AGS with the main line of the SOU into its tunnel through the side of Lookout Mountain.

For more information, see the section on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.

Cravens

This station was likewise bypassed by the SOU tunnel.

For more information, see the section on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.

Chattanooga

The WV and A&C used the Union Depot, as did their successor the AGS until Central Depot opened in 1888, switching to Terminal Station when that opened in 1909.

For further Chattanooga information, see the sections on the Western and Atlantic Railroad and the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, Chattanooga Extension.

Chuck Hamilton

<natty4bumpo@gmail.com>


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