Tri-state (TN-GA-AL) Rail Stops - Chattanooga Union Railway

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - by Chuck Hamilton



Better known as the Belt Line, this railroad was built by C.E. James, the entrepeneur for whom the James Building downtown is named.  Service began on its first line in 1886, growing quickly until it circled the entire city.  Though intended at first mainly to ferry cargo between the city’s different railroads, James saw the potential for passenger service, which opened the same year as its freight service.  The passenger cars resembled the later electric trolleys, as did their steam dummy engines designed to resemble the former.

In the beginning, the railway operated from the Chestnut Street Depot, which actually stood on Fort Street.  Later James moved operations to the Newby Street Depot on the corner of what’s now East 10th Street.  That depot still stands and serves the Alexian Brothers, making it at least two of James’ facilities they own, the other being his former Signal Mountain Inn.  Finally, James built the Georgia Avenue Depot where the Federal Building now stands.

At its peak, the Union Railway operated four passenger routes (its freight routes, of course, were much more extensive).  The Orchard Knob Division and the Ridgedale Division operated out of the Georgia Avenue Depot, while the Radcliff Division and the Mountain Division operated out of the Newby Street Depot.

Besides passenger services, the Belt Line operated in numerous areas strictly for freight purposes, which are detailed in John Wilson’s excellent series.  It connected to or junctioned with all the major long-haul railways coming into Chattanooga.  The Belt Line connected with the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia (ETV&G) and the Memphis and Charleston (M&C) at Citico Junction.  It crossed the ETV&G at Sherman Heights, the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis (NC&StL) and the Alabama Great Southern (AGS) at Cravens, the Chattanooga Southern (CS) and the Western and Atlantic (W&A) at Union Junction, the Chattanooga Southern (CS) at Thurmans, and the Chattanooga, Rome, and Columbus (CR&C) at Lookout Creek.

In addition, two local railways spurred off from the Belt Line: the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (Incline No. 1, not the one we have today) and the Mission Ridge Incline Railway.

In 1888, the railway underwent a reorganization and came out as the Chattanooga Union Railway.  In 1892, another reorganization made it the Belt Railway of Chattanooga.  In 1895, it went out of business due to the growing popularity of electric railroads for local traffic, and was bought by AGS, which leased the entire line to Rapid Transit of Chattanooga, an electric railway, in 1900.

Much of the old Belt Line is gone.  One line still operates, however, the East Chattanooga Belt Railway, still under AGS.  Which is fitting, because the last electric trolley in Chattanooga operated on the same line, calling it the Boyce Line, until 10 April 1947.  One of the passengers that day, Walter Iler, then president of Lookout Lumber Company, had also ridden the first car on the first day of electric trolley service on the Boyce Line.

While the Belt Line provided passenger service, some thirty-seven small passenger depots around the city supported it, some of which operated only briefly.  The only coupon station was at the home depot, and all these stops were on the schedule.  The ones which can be accurately or approximately identified by location rather than just name are as follows.

Orchard Knob Division

Park Place

Erroneously called Fort Wood Station in the Official Railway Guide, all four divisions shared this stop on their way out and in.  The neighborhood of Park Place originally included everything from Flynn Street southwest to the railroad tracks, the area beyond East 11th Street known by the early 20th century as Onion Bottom.  The Park Place depot stood in the southwest corner of the intersection of Fairview Avenue and East 12th Street.  Park Place was the most prominent neighborhood in the Old East Side after Fort Wood at the time the Union Railway operated.

National Cemetery

This station stood at the western beginning of the curve in the southeastern corner of the National Cemetery  occupying part of the space where Mid-South Mattress stands at 1265 East 13th Street.  At that time, the cemetery took up only the central portion of its present extent, the surrounding land serving as Jackson Park.  There was no gate because there was no surrounding fence.  The depot was actually at the northeastern tip of the suburb of Orange Grove.

Bald Knob

Later called Orchard Knob, this station stood north of the crossing of Orchard Knob Avenue, in the northwest corner.

A post office operated here from 1888 until 1894, when it was moved to Highland Park.


This depot was located at the current intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Dodson Avenue, the original terminus of this line at the time it was built.  After Rapid Transit of Chattanooga took over, they renamed this station Churchville.

Tinker’s Junction

The depot stood at intersection of Bradt Street and Wilcox Boulevard (once named Tinker Street); there was a side-track to the northwest.

Jefferson Street

The modern Ocoee Street, the depot here was located at its intersection with Dodson Avenue.

Sherman Heights

This depot was at northeast corner of the junction of the Belt Line with the ETV&G in the southeast corner of the Crutchfield Street-Chamberlain Avenue intersection.

For more information, see East Chattanooga under the section on the Western and Atlantic Railroad.

Boyce Station

The Belt Line used the Western and Atlantic-Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific depot here.  When the Union Railway of Chattanooga was operating the Belt Line it crossed both sets of tracks of the two long-distance railroads and formed a siding on the northwest side of the depot.

For more information, see Boyce under the section on the Western and Atlantic Railroad.

Ridgedale Division

Park Place

See Orchard Knob Division.

National Cemetery

See Orchard Knob Division.

Henderson Station

The most important of Highland Park’s stops was initially at the southern corner of East 12th Street and South Holtzclaw Avenue and served both Highland Park and the cemetery.  It later moved two blocks north to stand inside the curve of Anderson Avenue, which the railway followed, off Holtzclaw.

The post office of Highland Park was established in 1894 when it moved from Orchard Knob and operated until 1898, when it was moved to Chattanooga.

Hickory Street

This depot stood at the northwest corner of the intersection of South Hickory Street and Anderson Avenue.

Francis Avenue

Willow Street south of Anderson Avenue was originally known by this name, which means that the depot here would have been at one of the two southern corners.

Ridgedale Junction

This depot first supported the beginning of the spur-line of the Missionary Ridge Incline Railway, a steam dummy railway from 1887 until 1889 later purchased by the Chattanooga Electric Railway.


This depot stood approximately at the site of R-W Contractors at 2511 East Main Street.

The post office of Ridgedale operated from 1887 until 1903, when it moved to Chattanooga.

Smith Street

This station would have been in the middle of the 1800 block of East 18th Street behind Standard Catoosa Thatcher Building, which faces South Watkins Street.

Fort Cheatham

This station stood at approximately the southwest corner of Dodds Avenue and East 32th Street where Mohawk Canoes now sits.  It was at the north end of a loop of the tracks around the community of East Lake, which included a stretch through the park.  At the south end of the loop was a wye allowing trains to go either north or south. 

The area was named for Confederate Maj. Gen. Frank Cheatham, who had his headquarters here during the Siege of Chattanooga and fortified it heavily, unlike many of his colleagues, or boss (Gen. Braxton Bragg) for that matter.

Grandview Station

This station stood at the intersection of East 32nd Street and 15th Avenue, at the north edge of of the garden at Thurman Springs at the later site of East Lake Park (created by C.E. James and donated to the City of Chattanooga in 1896), on the back side of the loop mentioned under Fort Cheatham.  Here, it not only served the needs of the garden’s visitors but of guests of the hotel built on the side of the ridge above.

East Lake

This depot stood the intersection of East 37th Street and 7th Avenue.  It was outside the loop mentioned above.

The post office of East Lake operated from 1903 until 1912, when it moved to Chattanooga.

Radcliff Division

Park Place

See Orchard Knob Division.

Montgomery Avenue

The depot here stood at the southwest corner of what are now East Main Street (Montgomery Avenue then) and South Holtzclaw Avenue.

Rossville Road

This depot stood west of the tracks at what is now 1200 Rossville Avenue, currently occupied by Mill Direct International.

Radcliff Station

This station west of tracks stood at 34th and Calhoun Avenue.  The Chattanooga, Rome, and Columbus Railroad and its successors, who shared the station, called it East End.  It was the more important of this once prominent suburb’s two stops on the Belt Line.

East End

This depot stood south of the tracks about where Lane Steel Fabricators now sits; its address is 4311 7th Avenue.

The post office of East End operated from 1888 until 1895, when it moved to Chattanooga.

East Lake

See Ridgedale Division.


See Ridgedale Division.

Mountain Division

Park Place

See Orchard Knob Division.

Montgomery Avenue

See Radcliff Division.

Rossville Road

See Radcliff Division.

Oak Hills

This depot stood at the end of the side track where the Union Railway had their shops, now a lot on West 42nd Street that is part of PODS Moving and Storage, across the tracks from the main facility at 4210 Oakland Avenue.  The Union Railway had its car sheds and shops here, and the Oak Hills community grew up from the railroad’s employees moving nearby.  While the Union Railway operated the station, they called it Oak Hills.  After the Union Railway went out of business, Chattanooga Southern Railway renamed the station and yards Alton Park.

The post office of Alton Park operated from 1895 until 1915, when it moved to Signal Mountain, of all places.

Forest Hills Cemetery

The depot here stood conveniently at the entrance to the cemetery, where many of the area’s most prominent citizens have been buried.  One is John Wilder, the Union general and post-bellum industrialist who among other things owned Roane Iron Company which built much of Chattanooga and employed many of its citizens.  Another is John S. Lovell, nephew of William “Uncle Bill” Lewis and an entrepeneur in his own right, who raised horses in East Chattanooga, dealt in real estate with his uncle, and owned the Mahogany Inn, a three-story establishment that stood where Miller Park is now, conveniently located near the Union Depot.

Lookout Point Incline Railroad

A spur track from the Belt Line led to to this depot at the foot of the Lookout Point Incline Railroad, the first incline cable railway on Lookout Mountain which no longer exists and often referred to as Incline No. 1.  The depot at the end of the spur and bottom on the incline stood in what is now a parking lot for the Chattanooga Medicine Company at 1715 West 38th Street, at the northeast corner of the intersection with Church Street.

St. Elmo

Known as the 5th Street Depot because of its location at the southwest corner of the intersection of what is now West 43rd Street (then 5th Street) and Virginia Avenue, formerly the route of the Belt Line through St. Elmo, this was St. Elmo’s primary station.

The name St. Elmo comes from a novel written by Augusta Jane Evans, one of the pillars of Southern literature in the 19th century.  It was especially popular here because it takes place in Chattanooga.  The community acquired the name from the eponymous mansion of Abraham Johnson here.  Until 1885 when it was sold, it had been the name of the Warner home atop the mountain, and as soon as the name became available, Johnson bestowed it on his place.

When Col. Johnson died in 1903, he left the property across from his home for an Episcopal church to be built in memory of his wife, Thankful Anderson Whiteside Johnson, daughter of railroad leader Col. James Whiteside.  Thus do we have Thankful Memorial Episcopal Church at 1607 West 43rd Street.

The post office was established as Kirklin in 1882, changing to St. Elmo in 1898, and moving to Chattanooga in 1898.


This depot most likely stood at the intersection of Beulah Avenue with Virginia Avenue.

Mountain Junction

This depot, later called Lookout Junction, marked the beginning of the Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain Railway, which used the Belt Line to get here from Union Depot.  It stood at the southeast corner of Virginia Avenue, then called Railroad Avenue because the Belt Line ran along it, with the original Virginia Avenue between Beulah Avenue and what was then Georgia Avenue and is now St. Elmo Avenue.  This original Virginia Avenue no longer exists.

The post office of Hustle was established in 1893, changing its name to Mountain Junction nine months later.  In 1895, postal service moved to Chattanooga.

Thurman Station

This depot stood on the Thurman family property at the junction of the Belt Line with Chattanooga Southern Railway and its successors, probably inside the V formed by the junction of the two railways.  At the time Beulah Avenue did not come south past the intersection of Blowing Springs Road and Lee Avenue.


This station served what was supposed to be a huge residential development by this name at the southern end of Hawkins Ridge, in the area later known as East St. Elmo and South Alton Park.  The suburb was planned in the early 1890s, but only O’Leary Street off Lee Avenue survives and was possibly all that was built.  The depot would have been nearby.

The post office of Poeville operated in the vicinity from 1883 until 1891, when it was moved to Chattanooga, which makes much more sense than Signal Mountain.


One-third of a mile south of the Tennessee stateline, this depot’s main reason for existence was to serve company housing for employees of the Lookout Sewer Pipe Company, named for M.A. Woodburn, founder of that company.

Blowing Spring

The depot here stood at the crossing of what is now Pipe Shop Road about where Premier Pattern and Machine now sits.  The factory of the Lookout Sewer Pipe Company was located here, and its other attraction was Blowing Springs Cave, discovered by Chattanoogans when many of them lived at the refugee camp here during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.

Chuck Hamilton



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