A visit to Chattanooga is an opportunity to experience history. Few cities in the nation are as closely tied to railroads and the Civil War as Chattanooga. An enjoyable exploration of this Tennessee Valley town shows that railroads and the civil war have defined what Chattanooga was and still have a major influence today.
The Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad reached Chattanooga in 1854. A decade later, the town’s railroads would be embroiled in the U.S. Civil War, both a strategic pipeline and target of the battle between North and South. Battles in and around Chattanooga were decisive in the defeat of the Confederacy and the eventual end of the U.S. Civil War and railroads played a prominent part in both.
When the war ended, the railroads in the region as well as Chattanooga itself were in shambles both physically and financially. As the 19th century progressed, recovery in this “gateway to the South” proceeded apace and brought a railroad revival that carried commerce once again to the growing city and linked it with Atlanta and points north.
Today, the city, still laced with rail lines, celebrates its heritage with a first-rate operating railroad museum and numerous civil war battlefield monuments and National Parks interpretative centers and historical sites.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, 6 miles from downtown, operates more than 100 year old steam locomotives pulling vintage passenger cars and gives riders a realistic taste what it must have been like in the golden age of railroading. One of its routes tunnels under Missionary Ridge, site of a major Civil War Battle.
To get a good sense of the carnage that took place around Chattanooga in the 1860’s a visit to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Visitor’s Center or Lookout Mountain is a must-do for Chattanooga visitors in search of history.
Contemporary Chattanooga is an interesting city to visit with a bustling and revitalized downtown riverfront and an excellent aquarium, a good art museum and, of course, the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex named after the famous 1940’s song made famous by Glen Miller.
Before You Go, Check Out:
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the battlefields require a car for access.
- By air, Chattanooga International Airport (CHA) is 3 miles from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and 9 miles from the downtown Chattanooga riverfront. It is served by four airlines.
- By train, the nearest Amtrak station is in Atlanta, 114 miles distant.
- By car, Chattanooga lies at the intersection of I-75 and I-24. The museum is 31 miles north of Dalton, GA. and 105 miles south of Knoxville.
When You Are There For A Short Trip
- Visit the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Visitor’s Center in suburban Ft. Oglethorpe and drive around the surrounding battlefield.
- Ride the Missionary Ridge Local (6-mile round trip) at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
If You Have Only Two or Three Days:
Must-sees for a short stay are:
- Exploring downtown Chattanooga’s museums, restaurants and shops.
- Visiting the Tennessee Aquarium downtown.
- Exploring Lookout Mountain.
If You Have Several Days, enjoy:
- Taking a cruise on the Tennessee River.
- Visiting Rock City/ Ruby Falls and exploring Lookout Mountain.
- A longer train ride into the mountains at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (check schedule).
- The Chattanooga Choo Choo complex.
Ginny O’s Tips For Dressing The Simply Smart Travel Way In and Around Chattanooga.
Dress for riding the train at the railroad museum and for touring the battlefields in a comfortable, casual and seasonal way. The city and its attractions are fairly laid back and even though Chattanooga is known as the gateway to the South, the deep south’s typical formality in dress is not omnipresent.
This Destination At A Glance
Over 50 Advantage: The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and its train rides are comfortable, accessible and relaxed. Battlefield visitor centers are accessible and most monuments and battlefield sites can be viewed from a vehicle or with a short walk.
Required Mobility Level: Low.
When To Go: The best time to visit Chattanooga is from September through November. Fall
color is an attraction in mid-October and into early November, the crowds are gone and
temperatures are still mild. By December, it gets cold and snow can interfere with mobility.
Where To Stay: There are many national hotel chains around Hamilton Place and downtown.
Special Travel Interests: Civil war, railroads, U.S. history
# # #
Jeffrey Orenstein, Ph.D. and Virginia Orenstein are husband and wide travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Their Simply Smart Travel column appears in newspapers and magazines in nine states. Reach them at jorenstein@SimplySmartTravel.com. They publish travel ideas, article, photos and blog at www.SimplySmartTravel.com and at www.facebook.com/SimplySmartTravel/