For you young people out there - of 70 and under - you need to be clued in that "The TAG" was an acronym for, "Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia Railroad", which was based here in Chattanooga. If you want the full, "in-depth" story, you will need to refer to John Wilson's fine new book on Chattanooga railroads. My idea here is simply to give some observations and details of lesser, but interesting, importance. Although I never got to take one single ride on that line while growing up I still have strong feelings about it, as it cut directly across my family's history, as well as across their property. It ran from Chattanooga to Gadsden, Alabama, and its Chattanooga terminus was at Union Depot, across from the Read House on MLK (then 9th Street).
Being locally owned, it was a source of much civic pride.
My great-great grandfather Joshua Martin's family were "original settlers" of south Walker County, Ga., coming to claim a lot drawn in one of the Cherokee Land Lotteries of the early 1800's. Native Americans still lived on the land. Joshua's son, Enos Martin, was a teenager at the time, and grew to manhood on some choice farmland near where Walker and Chattooga Counties connect with Pigeon Mountain. His dad gave him a fertile plot of this land to establish the farm where my grandfather was born in 1860. (Yes, I said 1860!). This land he farmed for many years, living in a small house at the foot of Pigeon Mountain.
One day, about 1890, the incredible news spread through the community that a railroad was going to be built through the area. This would mean a drastic shift in their lives, their days of isolation would be past, and new markets might be opened for their farm produce. Summerville was nearby, and also LaFayette, but new prospects in Chattanooga might be even better.
My grandfather had a young (and growing) family by this time, and, although a busy farmer, he had time in winter months to work on the new rail line. It cut directly across his dad's (Mr. Enos's) land, and probably brought them some immediate, much-needed, cash rewards.
The TAG Railroad offices were in Chattanooga, with such personages as Z. Cartter Patten (Chattem founder) on the board of directors - followed much later by Mose and Garrison Siskin, (founders and benefactors of Siskin Hospital), who actually owned it in the 1960's. It brought new life to areas which had formerly been quite remote, set far away from the main thoroughfares of commerce at the foot of mountains. Wherever the new railroad crossed an older wagon road, a new minor station or whistle-stop would arise. And so it was with my family's area: their new railroad stop was named, "Harrisburg" in honor of "the one in Pennsylvany", according to my dad, who spoke with the farmers' accent of the day.
I am forever intrigued by the place-names that fell on the TAG route - names that remind you more of refined places in England, such as "Kensington", "Chelsea", "Menlo", "Cassandra", "Estelle", than of Georgia, USA. Or with the more American sound of, "Alton Park", "High Point", or "Bronco". One stop on the TAG RR was a pure Native American name, called "Teloga", the name of a nearby creek. But from past researches on other projects I learned it referred to Teloga peas, a staple in the diets of both both Natives and new settlers, making me think of the "Peavine" community, near Ringgold. A few remnants of the original railroad still exist, but very few. The last time I was at Menlo, Ga., I could find no trace of The TAG crossing where my second-cousin, Bill Leath, and I used to walk on Sunday afternoons. John Wilson's new book on Railroads would probably be the best place to see where the remnants of that long-defunct railroad might be found, and help reconstruct the past.
For many years my dad always talked about "The Scooter" - a single car feature of The TAG, which carried passengers only. My aunt from Menlo used it often when she came to visit in Chattanooga, but - again - I never got my promised trip on it. It was taken off-line unexpectedly and unceremoniously, never to return. Don't ask me how it ran!
Dad was about six years old when The TAG was started. It had about the same impact on him as the latest "Star Wars" movie, or a trip to Disney, would have on my grandchildren today - maybe even more. We cannot fathom an America so simple as the one my father grew up in - when a very distant, low, train whistle on a hot and sultry summer night stirred a young boy's imaginings as to what wondrous things might lie in the great outside world. I still have two of his family's wooden chairs which served as train cars when he and his brothers "played train" on the floor of their Harrisburg, Ga., home in the 1890's.
As work on The TAG railroad got underway, a Native American mysteriously arrived in the area from parts unknown, but seemingly to observe what was going on. He stayed with my grandparents, telling them nothing about what he was up to...and I describe that whole incident in another "Memory". Stay tuned!
(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at email@example.com )