Our cruise to the nearby islands of the Tennessee River concludes this week with stops at Chickamauga Island and Dallas Island. We first need to step off our boat, and into a submarine, for both of these islands are submerged in Chickamauga Lake. They both still appear on navigation charts of the lake.
Chickamauga Island is located just upstream of the dam. According to John P. Long’s “History of Hamilton County,” “Chickamauga” means dull, sluggish stream. The name is given to two creeks that flow into river from opposite directions. A branch of the Cherokee Indians who opposed treaties with the Euro-Americans was given the name, “Chickamaugans.” They lived in villages along South Chickamauga Creek. The name “Chickamauga” was also selected for the dam constructed in the late 1930’s. “Sherman Dam” was first proposed because near that location, General W. T. Sherman crossed the river on pontoon bridges during the Civil War. However, the name was withdrawn after opposition from local descendants of Confederate soldiers.
In May, 1935, the initial studies for the Chickamauga Dam project were begun by TVA. At that time, the fertile land on the river near Chickamauga Island was being farmed, and the small community of Hamillville was located to the north. A 2,000-foot diversion canal was constructed to route North Chickamauga Creek downstream of the dam. The canal begins where the North Chickamauga Greenway is today. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended dedication ceremonies for Chickamauga Dam on Sept. 2, 1940.
Chickamauga Island was very quickly inundated when the spillways were closed on Jan. 15, 1940. The waters of the lake didn’t cover Dallas Island, several miles north of the dam, until nearly three months later. This is not the same island that is today part of Chester Frost Park. The present-day Dallas Island was actually the high ground that the lake did not cover. Dallas Island was a long, eighty-four acre island at the mouths of Prairie Creek and Dallas Branch. It was just upstream of the original mouth of Wolftever Creek.
When TVA was building dams in the 1930’s, there were very hasty but detailed archaeological studies of the areas to be covered by water. On Dallas Island and the adjacent shore, they found evidence of earlier civilizations. There were three temple mounds which once stood on the island. Artifacts of pottery, tapestries, tools and copper were found. According to Zella Armstrong, former Hamilton County historian, Dallas Island was the “Coste” reached by Hernando DeSoto in 1540. The Cherokees called the island, “Oo-le-quah,” and had a village there in the 1700’s.
In 1817, the Cherokees ceded lands between Walden’s Ridge and north and west of the Tennessee River (which they called Hogohegee) to the state of Tennessee, which immediately offered them for sale. Hamilton County was created from the southern portion of Rhea County, and had a temporary location of government at Poe’s Tavern in present-day Soddy-Daisy. Because transportation was primarily by river, the county’s leaders felt that the county seat should be at a river landing. A permanent court house was established on the farm of court clerk Asahel Rawlings on the high ground opposite Dallas Island. The community was first called “Hamilton County Courthouse” and in 1833 was renamed “Dallas,” in honor of American statesman Alexander James Dallas. In 1833, Dallas had a population of 200 citizens, one lawyer, two doctors, four stores, two taverns, a blacksmith shop, and a hotel with a grand ballroom. The Jackson Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church stood where the present Chester Frost Park’s office is. The stone retaining wall is still there along Gold Point Circle, and the church’s cemetery is across the road. The mail route from Athens passed through Dallas and continued to Chattanooga on the Dallas Road. A ferry connected Dallas to Vannville, which was later called Harrison.
According to retired professor and local historian Dr. James Livingood, “Dallas never prospered.” The Indian removal known as the Trail of Tears started in 1835, with one route passing through Dallas and taking advantage of the fresh water at Dallas Spring before traveling west along Daisy-Dallas Road. After the Indian removal, there was a steady movement of Dallas residents to the more plentiful and fertile lands on the east side of the river. The railroad bypassed Dallas in favor of a route through present Soddy-Daisy. In 1840, Dallas lost in a referendum which moved the county seat to Vannville.
The area continued as a farming community until news from TVA that much of the Dallas hollow would become the Dallas Bay of Chickamauga Lake. The construction of the reservoir required that families, churches, cemeteries, a school (Gold Point School), and roads be relocated. Hixson Pike was re-routed to the west around Dallas Bay. Originally it went along the route of present-day Gold Point Circle North to a point near Lakesite. Crabtree Road, which today stops at the intersection of new Hixson Pike, once continued southeast to an intersection with the old Hixson Pike. The name “Dallas” lives on in the names of Dallas Bay and several roads and businesses, and was the original name of McConnell Elementary.
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If you would like to know more, the resources used in the article were:
“A History of Hamilton County Tennessee” and “Hamilton County” by Dr. James W. Livingood
“The Chattanooga Country,” By Dr. James Livingood and Dr. Gilbert Govan
TVA Task Report #6 (1942), an engineering report on the construction of the Chickamauga Dam and Reservoir
“Chattanooga Times” - March 20, 1940 article on Dallas Island
Pre-impoundment maps of Dallas from the TVA Map Store
“The Richard Taylor Detachment Route Through Hamilton County, Tennessee: A Theory,” by Carlos Wilson