Tri-state (TN-GA-AL) Rail Stops - Introduction

Monday, September 26, 2016 - by Chuck Hamilton

Lying awake in bed one night a few months, my then-wife next to me sound asleep, our son in his crib next to out bed, my ears still ringing from the comparative quiet after four years in Manila (Ryall Springs at the time was still partially rural), I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed and announced, “That’s it!”.

When I was over there, I knew I missed mountains, just as I had at bootcamp in San Diego, language school in Monterey, A school in San Angelo, and tech school in Pensacola.  The smell of carabao dung made me miss the smell of cow dung, but I didn’t really realize that until returning and driving through the countryside.  There was still some of that in Hamilton County in the spring and summer of 1992.

So, that’s two of three background features that framed my picture of home.  The third, the one that made me sit upright in bed and wake my sleeping family, was a train whistle, and the sounds of the clickety-clack of its wheels on steel, in this case along the old Western and Atlantic railway through Swanson Hollow.

Not until that night did I realize how much of a part of the background of my world trains had been nearly all my life.  Sure, the old W&A was close, but the old East Tennessee and Georgia’s Chattanooga Extension was not much further.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that most bands in the Philippines played “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (all of them played “Tennessee Waltz”, mind you, and some even knew “Rocky Top”).  Or that I’d worn out my Arlo Guthrie cassette tape playing “City of New Orleans”.  Or that “Midnight Train to Georgia” was on the juke box of my favorite nightclub in Angeles City.  Nor did it hurt that the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was released just a couple of weeks after we landed at the Lovell Field airport across the tracks from the former Chickamauga Station.

I have been interested in railway stops, especially smaller ones, and the communities that grew up around them, since watching the movie Fried Green Tomatoes in 1992.  I hadn’t really thought about doing anything with that until John Wilson’s excellent “Chattanooga Railroad Series” began appearing on The Chattanoogan, but the real push came after Cora Lanier, president of the Boyce Station Neighborhood Association, asked me to give a talk at the East Chattanooga Reunion this past August.  Since much of the history of East Chattanooga is bound up with three different railroads, I was not only immersed, but hooked.

Before I started research for this, I had known vaguely that the railroads played a part in both the establishment and dissolution of communities, but not really how big.

For example, before the railroad was planned, nothing existed at what is now Atlanta, no city, town, or hamlet, nothing more than widely-separated farms which did not even have a community designation.  The community of Thrasherville grew up around Zero Mile Post beginning in 1839, which soon became known as Terminus (sounds like an episode of The Walking Dead).  Zero Mile Post was moved four blocks in 1842, and the growing community renamed itself Marthasville.  The community finally incorporated as the town of Atlanta in 1847. 

Atlanta was not the only town owing its existence almost solely to the railroads; there were many such towns, and others owed their demise to the railroads, or rather the lack thereof.

While the railroads were responsible for the creation of the town that later became the capital of the State of Georgia and one of the biggest in the South, they were also responsible for the disappearance of some towns, even county seats. 

To cite a few regional cases:

(1) Harrison, bereft of railroads entirely, found itself no longer the seat of Hamilton County when that was moved to Chattanooga in 1870 and so instigated the creation of James County, only to lose out to the railroad town of Ooltewah, and ultimately returning to Hamilton County in 1883 and fading into almost nonexistence;

(2) Washington, seat of Rhea County, losing out to Smith’s Crossroads after the Cincinnati Southern built their line through that community, and is now barely a hamlet; and,

(3) Bellefonte, the seat of Jackson County, Alabama, refused the offer to build the town a depot by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, resulting in the establishment of Scottsboro, the loss to it of the county court in 1868, the loss of its post office in 1895, and all of its citizens by the 1920s, leaving it a ghost town.

Scottsboro and Atlanta were far from the only towns whose sole reason for coming into existence were the railroads, and many others changed their names when the railroads came.

In the beginning, I intended to limit the scope to railway stations in Hamilton County, but being that I’m a big fan of context, it wasn’t long before the territory I covered grew to include all of the surrounding counties, at least out to the stations that were most significant for various reasons (coupon station, county seat, terminus of a section, etc.).  Along the way I learned something about different types of railroad stations, though I’m sure my knowledge is incomplete.

A station is the railroad stop, but not necessarily the facility there.  Depending on traffic, that maybe a shed, a platform, or a full depot.  Sometimes there are separate stations for passengers and freight; most of those here included service for both.

A coupon station is one where passengers can buy tickets at a counter.  Otherwise, they must purchase them from the conductor en route.  Coupon stations on these lines were rare, and sometimes the reasons certains stops were coupon stations is not obvious.

A schedule stop is one on the regular schedule of the railway, nearly all of which are listed in the various editions of the Official Railway Guide.

A request stop is one not on the schedule at which trains only stop by request.  These are also called a signal stop.  Two more terms refer to the different types of signals for the train before the days of radio communication.  A whistle-stop refers to a signal from one of the passengers or conductor pulling a cord to a whistle in the engine room.  A flag-stop refers to a flag put up by a station to signal the train.

For freight traffic, an agency station has on site a railroad agent to accept payment from customers wanting to load cargo.  A nonagency station means that fees for freight must be prepaid elsewhere.

In direction, “up” and “down” refer to travel from any given point anywhere on a given line.  By contrast, “above” and “below” refer to directions from a single stationary point, almost always a terminus, in this case Chattanooga.

Now we can turn to the various railroads which came into Chattanooga and the various stations along the way in the tri-state (TN-GA-AL) area.

Special thanks to the employees of the public libraries of Graysville, Tennessee, Dayton, Tennessee, Lafayette-Walker County, Georgia, Rossville, Georgia, Catoosa County, Georgia, Cleveland-Bradley County, Tennessee, and most of all to Mary, Suzette, April, and Jennifer at the local history section of the Chattanooga Public Library.


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