This week’s article is a sequel to one from last summer, “Remembering the U.S. Highway Routes” (6/23/2003). That story profiled each of the U.S. routes that pass through Chattanooga, and took the reader on a tour of their terminating points. For the sequel, we’ll look at the three Interstate Highways that are near Chattanooga, as well as an Interstate “spur” route into downtown.
The passage of the Interstate Highway Act in 1956 prompted the leaders of Chattanooga and other cities to take quick action to keep their cities from being bypassed by the new freeways. Mayor Rudy Olgiati stated his case for Chattanooga interchanges to anyone who would listen. Routing the highways through Chattanooga fit into Mayor Olgiati’s plans for urban renewal – relocating railroads, replacing dilapidated houses with public housing, and improving the flow of vehicular traffic. In some cases, the projects fit together like parts of a jigsaw puzzle, such as offering dirt from the grading of Cameron Hill as fill for the Interstate. Mayor Olgiati was successful in having Interstates 24, 59, and 75 pass near or through Chattanooga, and also gained a spur road into downtown, Interstate 124.
It is an understatement to say simply that the construction of the freeways changed the face of Chattanooga. All along the path, the Interstate became something like the Great Wall of Chattanooga. The divided highway divided Brainerd neighborhoods, and created loose ends of streets that formerly connected. The cut through Missionary Ridge created a canyon that split Crest Road. Houses that were in the way of the freeway were either demolished or were moved to other neighborhoods. As a youngster, I recall standing on a ridge between St. Elmo and Alton Park, and seeing three houses being moved in a convoy from the freeway area to Alton Park.
From the day that construction dust settled and the last ribbon was cut in the 1960’s, countless numbers of motorists have traveled Chattanooga’s Interstates. If one had plenty of money for gasoline (a real stretch these days), and unlimited time to take a trip on the Interstates out of Chattanooga, when would one reach the terminus of that route? To find out, I consulted various maps and Web sites. I also attempted to interview a representative of the terminating point, so that I could ask them about their city and what they know about ours. So, fasten your seat belt, put on your sunglasses, and enjoy this electronic tour. And please, no snacks before we stop for lunch.
INTERSTATE 24 – Chattanooga to Pulley’s Mill, Illinois
Most of the routes of the Interstate Highway System were assigned two-digit codes ending in zero (east-west highways) and five (north-south). Roads that run diagonally were given the other numbers. The higher-numbered Interstate routes are in the east and north, to avoid confusion with the U.S. Highway numbering scheme. The connecting routes into cities were given a three-digit code beginning with “one.” Bypass routes around cities were given other three-digit numbers that usually include the route being bypassed (such as I-285 around Atlanta). Interstate 24 runs diagonally, so it was given a diagonal route number.
Every traffic reporter knows where the southeastern origin of I-24 is: the infamous “I-24/I-75 split.” From the ridge cut on a clear day, one sees a magnificent view of Chattanooga and surrounding mountains. I-24 cuts through a corner of northwest Georgia in order to get through those mountains. At Monteagle Mountain, a traveler using I-24 to journey from Miami to Chicago reaches the highest elevation of the trip. For much of its distance, I-24 closely follows the old U.S. 41, which can be seen alongside it during the trip through middle Tennessee.
After passing the interchanges of Nashville, Clarksville, and Paducah, I-24 ends 318 miles from Chattanooga at Pulley’s Mill, Illinois. In her response, Charla Murphy, director of the Williamson County (Illinois) Historical Society, referenced the book “Pioneer Folks and Places” by Barbara Burr Hubbs. Pulley’s Mill was named for two brothers, Barton and Daniel Pulley, who built a mill there in 1854. Though the two-story mill is no longer there, the location will always have a place in the history of the United States. It was the second camp of George Rogers Clark, on his march from Fort Massac to Fort Kaskaskia in 1778. The nearby spring and level creek bank made the location an ideal stop used by pioneers moving from Ohio into the prairie.
Pulley’s Mill is near the Lake of Egypt, Shawnee National Forest, and Crab Orchard Lake.
INTERSTATE 59 – southwest of Chattanooga near Wildwood, Georgia to near Slidell, Louisiana
Interstate 59 took over much of the traffic of the old U.S. Route 11 towards New Orleans. A beautiful view of the western slopes of Lookout Mountain begins our journey. As I-59 enters downtown Birmingham, one may see the recently restored Vulcan statue, which honors the Roman god of the forge and the city’s steel history. I-59 continues through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana before terminating at Slidell, Louisiana.
The mayor of Slidell, Ben O. Morris, responded to my request for information. He encouraged us to visit Heritage Park, which hosts outdoor concerts, and Griffith Park, where the Christmas Under the Stars programs are held. Slidell is close to New Orleans and to the Gulf Coast, so Cajun cuisine and culture are abundant. For the outdoors-minded, there are fishing trips and swamp tours. The mayor said that he was born in Knoxville, and considers Chattanooga to be a wonderful city.
Slidell and Chattanooga have some historical connections through the Erlanger family. Baron Frederic Emile D’Erlanger was an official with the Queen and Crescent Route, a railroad which entered Chattanooga in the 1880’s. Baron Erlanger was instrumental in the drive to build a hospital in Chattanooga. He honored his wife, the Baronness Erlanger, by naming the hospital for her. During those same years, Baron Erlanger was part of a railroad syndicate that financed the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad. He promoted the naming of town that grew up along the railway for his deceased father-in-law, John Slidell, who was a prominent political figure.
INTERSTATE 75 – Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario/Michigan to near Miami, Florida
I-75 has 1,775 mile markers along its route from the tip of Lake Superior to southeast Florida. As it enters northern Hamilton County, a spectacular view of the Tennessee River valley can be seen from White Oak Mountain. The I-24/I-75 split was constructed where the old U.S. 41 drive-in theater stood. North of Chattanooga, I-75 is close to the routes of U.S. 11 to Knoxville and U.S. Route 27 north of there. South of Chattanooga, it follows much of the Highway 41 that the Allman Brothers honored in song.
According to Don Ferguson of the Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the northern terminus of I-75 is at the International Bridge. Europeans settled into the area beginning about 1670. French explorers originally named the area for King Louis as “Sault du Gaston,” but French missionaries changed it to “Sault Sainte Marie.” The word “sault” may be translated as “to jump,” in reference to having to jump into a canoe because of the rapids of the St. Mary’s River.
Mr. Ferguson noted that visitors from Chattanooga will enjoy the area’s outdoor thrills, such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and snowmobile riding. There is also the Sault’s award-winning boardwalk, and tours of the Sault Ontario Locks, and historic ships.
South of Chattanooga, I-75 is our autobahn to Atlanta and Florida. As one nears the Florida line, numerous tourist signs for boiled peanuts, pecans, Florida T-shirts, and discounted theme park tickets appear. I-75 once ended in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, but was extended in recent years to Sarasota and Naples and eastward to Miami. The east-west section is called Alligator Alley. I regret that no one from Miami responded to my request for information (also happened last year with the U.S. Routes article). I can tell you that the Florida Marlins play baseball in Miami, which formerly had a minor league team of the same name. Forty-something year-old knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough was on the Marlins’ inaugural 1993 team. The Marlins were a wild card team behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves in both 1997 and 2003, and won the World Series both years.
INTERSTATE 124 – From “the big scramble” at I-24 to Signal Mountain Road
This freeway originated in the late 1950’s as part of the West Side/Cameron Hill redevelopment and Olgiati Bridge projects. In some references, it was called the “Dayton (Tennessee) Freeway.” There may have been plans to offer the freeway as a northern route into Chattanooga, to be coupled with an Interstate that never materialized. The freeway ended at Signal Mountain Road until Corridor J was built in the late 1980’s. It was assigned the spur number “124,” which frequently caused confusion and panic to travelers who attempted to decipher “I-24” vs. “I-124” signs.
When the “big scramble” interchange was re-worked in the late 1980’s, U.S. 27 signs replaced most of the I-124 markers. I believe that there is still a small 124 sign as one leaves I-24 to merge onto U.S. 27
That concludes our whirlwind trip on our Interstates. Wherever you travel this summer, I wish you a pleasant and safe journey. If you have memories of the Interstates being built in Chattanooga, or know some interesting facts about the cities that are their terminating points, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.