St. Elmo Memories

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mr. (Chester) Martin, I just today read your article about the TAG Railroad in the Chattanoogan   I remember that railroad vividly.  I am from St. Elmo originally and remember hearing and seeing trains on the TAG line for many years. 

One of my fondest memories is hearing the whistle from the engine as the train crossed Burnt Mill Road, then Tennessee Avenue,  Beulah Avenue,  West 56th Street, West 57th Street, and then Tennessee Avenue again just past 57th before crossing the Tennessee-Georgia state lines near a lumber yard.

As you wrote, the railroad ran from Chattanooga to Gadsden, Ala. The rail line rain through the St. Elmo community along the right-of-way that was part of  three rail lines that at one time ran through St. Elmo and converged around West 55th Street.  This junction gave rise to the name "Mountain Junction" for the area at the southern end of St. Elmo where the line from Alton Park (TAG line) met the line that ran along Virginia Avenue and the line that ran up Lookout Mountain.  I recall the family story that Virginia Avenue was at one time called Railroad Avenue.

The line ran through Chattanooga Valley passing across Highway 193 at a crossing I knew as "Evans' Crossing" because the Evans family lived nearby.  It also ran through the Cartter Patten family estate, Ashland Farm, and crossed Rock Creek just past the Patten property.  As I recall, the railroad crossed Highway 193 again further south.  I also remember the old watering tower near the area once called "Cenchat."

I recall the rail line passing through Cassandra and on toward Pigeon Mountain where it ran through a tunnel en route to Gadsden.

My maternal grandmother grew up in Menlo, Ga., and the TAG ran through my great-grandfather's property there. I remember watching the train pass when I was a child visiting my cousins in Menlo. There was a small depot in  Menlo for many years but I believe it has been gone for a long time and I know the tracks were removed years ago.  Cousins lived at Chelsea and Teloga and I remember the TAG passing through those communities.

Your comments about the "Scooter" provoked memories of my mother talking about riding that one-car train to visit relatives in Menlo.  I believe that one could board the Scooter in St. Elmo and ride to several stops along the rail line to Gardsden.

Sorry to ramble on so much, but your article provoked many memories and I appreciate your writing about the old TAG line.

If you should decide to write an article about St. Elmo, I am sure I could provide plenty of information.  Harmon Jolley and I grew up together there.

Tim McDonald

* * *

VERY enlightening comments, Mr. McDonald!   I regret that I never got even ONE trip on the TAG RR, but heard much about it. Tracks ran beside my aunt’s house in Menlo, and I have known people from Teloga and Chelsea. The TAG cut across my great grandfather’s property at Harrisburg, and my uncle ran a store at Chelsea for a time, before I was born.  Your letter has so much first-hand information that I want to forward it to John Wilson, Publisher of Chattanoogan dot com. HE is most nearly our true Regional historian, and has recently published a really magnificent book about all the local railroads. (I first encountered such names as “Cenchat” in that book!) With your permission I WILL forward your mail to Wilson…

YES I would like to tackle St.Elmo someday, as my mother grew up there in the years following 1895. She knew somebody on almost every street there, and, although I never lived in St.Elmo, I have many associations with the place.   Maybe YOU could help me! (Truth is that I would hardly know how to begin to write such a story, as so many others have already described it.)

Many thanks for your interest!

Chester Martin

* * *

Mr. Martin,

I will be happy to help you with information on St. Elmo at any time.  I know there are a couple of recent books on St. Elmo written by Gay Morgan

--- one about St. Elmo and one about Forest Hills Cemetery -- and I have been glad to see those.  I think a  Chattanoogan.com article on St. Elmo would be a great idea, especially since the article would be online and many people read online publications now.  I knew Mrs. Penelope Johnson Allen and her family well (her grandfather, Col A.M. Johnson, founded the community on his farm) and have notes from conversations with her.

I must ask who your mother's family in St. Elmo was  -- my family dates from the 1890's-early 1900's in St. Elmo and I wonder if they and your mother's family were acquainted.  My paternal great-grandparents (J. M. and Elizabeth Hughes) bought a home in St. Elmo during that era, moving from Dade County, GA, and my grandmother attended the old North St. Elmo School (later Louis Sanderson School) that was located on West 37th Street where the Bank of America stands now.   

I must also ask who your aunt in Menlo was - my great-grandfather was John Laster who lived on what I believe is now called Commerce Street in Menlo.  He bought a farm there before the town expanded from the main street a few blocks away and operated the farm and a peach orchard there.  

I also read your article about the early settlers in Chattooga and Walker Counties and found it most interesting.  My mother's family (the Millican family) settled in the McLemore's Cove area and I have many memories of the Cedar Grove community.

Thanks for your prompt response -- please feel free to ask any St. Elmo questions you may have.  I tend to get long-winded about my memories there but I have 65 years' worth so there is a lot of information.

Tim McDonald

* * *

Mr. McDonald,

I see some good connections between your background and my own – although nothing familial. My mother was born at Flintstone, GA, in 1895 (the year the present St. Elmo Incline started). She was Mabel Young, and had one brother, Chester Young (for whom I am named). Uncle Chester died in 1917 of TB. My mother also attended the North St.Elmo Grammar School, where her best friend was Kate Gothard (whose father was for years Gatekeeper at Forest Hills Cemetery). She went on to Central HS, graduating from “Business” classes that qualified her for some good-paying jobs. She worked at Cahill Iron Works, (on the ‘car-line’ on south Chestnut St.), in the ticket office of the old NC&St.L RR, for a Dr. Brian, etc.  She knew Celeste Acheson, and brother, Henry (of the foundry). Old school pics show her with Creed Bates. One of Uncle Chester’s buddies of the day was Tom White, whose brick store still stands across street from St. Elmo UMC. My family (both sides) were all Methodists, and thru that church my mom knew a family named “Fry” who remained friends for over 100 years! (Louise Fry was well into her 90’s when she died). (Her father, Fred Fry, had served as pallbearer for my uncle Chester in 1917, for my Great Grandmother in 1913, and for my grandmother, Mattie Young, in 1939!)

My aunt in Menlo was Lula Martin Cleckler; she and husband, Scott Cleckler, had 3 children: George Lee, Martin, and Irene. Martin Cleckler came to Chattanooga and was for years a traveling salesman for Combustion Engineering. Uncle Scott was a Mason, and was a prominent citizen of the Menlo community. My dad was born in Chattooga Co., (in 1884!) within sight of Walker County; area was/is called ‘Broomtown Valley’

My mother would doubtless have known some of your people. Old friends of hers included Cathcarts, Krichbaums, and the Kate Gothard mentioned above, married a Kellerhals gentleman who ran a large dairy farm at Ringgold. They remained friends for life. Special friends were Watson’s and Hendrix’s (Miss Laura)….etc., etc.

Write me at any time!

Chester Martin


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