Influence of Rail and Industry in the Development of the City of Chattanooga

Much of Chattanooga’s early growth can be attributed to the explosion of a railway system that made it the transportation hub for the southeastern United States. A wide range of effects took place because of this explosion of business. In 1870 there were only 58 industries in Chattanooga, by 1910 there were more than 300.

Broad Street, Chattanooga in 1910
Broad Street, Chattanooga in 1910

Two industries in particular took off because of the increase in rail access, mineral and timber transportation. The rail hub gained importance during the civil war as Hamilton County decided to remain as part of the Union so both armies fought to control the area. Interestingly, the Union army dominated the rail centers for most of the war while the confederate army sought to destroy rail lines outside of the city. After the civil war the rail system and city resumed it’s growth and could be characterized as typically “New South”. But by the time the Great Depression happened, a new industry stepped in to keep Chattanooga’s head above water. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the construction of dams kept the city busy. A specific song in fact drew a lot of attention to the city “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941, which became the first gold record in the world.

Preserved Train and Train Station in Chattanooga
Preserved Train and Train Station in Chattanooga

Similarly to most cities, it was around this time that the suburbs developed, interestingly on Lookout Mountain as well. Unfortunately, by the 1960’s, this massive amount of growth made Chattanooga known as the dirtiest city in America. By the 1980’s an 850 million dollar plan was put in place to clean up the city by the year 2000. Most of Chattanooga’s rail system is still around, just in different positions. 100 miles of railway and vintage trains are still in use as a museum of sorts and some rail stations are used as hotels and breweries.


Authored By: Simon Swart

Works Cited:

Chattanooga: History. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2016, from

Chattanooga Train History. (2013, May 9). Retrieved March 29, 2016, from

United States. National Park Service. (n.d.). Chattanooga, Tennessee: Train Town. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from

Harrison, J. (2013, April 02). 13 amazing historical photos of Chattanooga. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from