On the Northern Terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad

Saturday, December 17, 2016 - by Chuck Hamilton

Most people to whom the question occurs about where the State of Georgia might like to anchor the far end of its Western & Atlantic Railroad coming from south of the Chattahoochee River at Terminus (later Thrasherville, later Marthasville, now Atlanta), would think the answer obvious, but as I found out recently, that was not the case.

One of the reasons Americans in Georgia and Tennessee wanted the Cherokee removed was because the Cherokee Nation stood in the way of connecting the Chattahoochee and Tennessee Rivers by rail.

In 1837, the State of Georgia hired Col. Stephen H. Long of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to survey the best route for the Western and Atlantic Railroad from Zero Mile Post (now in Underground Atlanta) to a northern terminus.  In January 1838, the State of Tennessee authorized the State of Georgia to continue the survey from the state line to a point on the Tennessee River.  The chosen entry point was the center of Lot 5, District 28, Section 3, of the Cherokee Land Lottery.

Four locations were considered for the northern terminus: Vann’s Ferry (later Harrison); the mouth of the Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek); Gardenhire’s Landing (just below the mouth of the Citico Creek); and Ross’ Landing.

The first option discarded was Vann’s Ferry, because one of the checkpoints on the want list was accessibility to a possible future route to Nashville, and this even though construction of the route to that destination was by far the cheapest.

Once Long counted out Vann’s Ferry, he and his team came up with a single point about nine-and-a-half miles past the stateline from which to continue to the northern terminus, this point of divergence, as he called it, being Kenan’s Mills, a few hundred feet from South Chickamauga Creek on its left bank.  Given the fact that Long puts this at about 2.65 miles from the mouth of the South Chickamauga Creek, the location must have been near where the later Chattanooga-Cleveland Pike crossed it.

From Kenan’s Mills, routes directly to the mouth of the South Chickamauga, directly to Gardenhire’s Landing, to Ross’ Landing via Gardenhire’s Landing, to Ross’ via a tunnel through Missionary Ridge, and to Ross’ via a deep cut through Missionary Ridge.

For railroads, a deep cut is a way through an obstacle that involves digging a passageway through the hill, ridge, or mountain (not always ground level) that creates a gully or ravine, like that which the Chattanooga Extension of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad built through Brabson Hill from where Erlanger now is through UTC (Univ. of Tenn. @ Chatt.) campus to the switch yards past East 11th Street.  Usually the idea is to avoid a tunnel, but ET&G did both.

In the end, due to shortness of distance, height above the level of freshets (normal spring floods), cost, and directness, Col. Long recommended the northern terminus be placed at the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek.

News of Georgia’s intentions to build the railroad to the Tennessee River, however, spurred residents of the area around Ross’ Landing into action, and provided much of the impetus for the speed with which its commissioners laid out streets, built bridges, cleared swamps.  Nor did it hurt that the landowner of the target area at the mouth of the South Chickamauga, Tom Crutchfield, Sr., also favored the Ross’ Landing location (where he also owned property).  So proficient were they at lobbying that Georgia bought land on which to build the terminal and yards before the Town of Chattanooga was even incorporated.

Had it been otherwise, perhaps we would now be living in the City of Toqua, or maybe the City of Amnicola, or even in the City of Citico.

Chuck Hamilton

<natty4bumpo@gmail.com>


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