The Western and Atlantic Railroad

Google maps. The purple dots delineate the course of the W&A. 

The Western & Atlantic Railroad, or simply the “State Road,” connecting “Terminus” (Atlanta) and “Ross’s Landing” (Chattanooga), was chartered in 1836 and completed by 1850. It has been referenced several times on this blog; much more information is available in Ken Wheeler’s forthcoming book Modern Cronies. The final piece in the W&A puzzle was the construction of a tunnel (largely by slave labor, it must be acknowledged) beneath Chetoogeta Mountain in Whitfield County, marked with a black star on the map. This project gave rise to the nearby settlement of Tunnelsville, later renamed Tunnel Hill. A wider, parallel tunnel was constructed in 1928, leaving the disused original tunnel to serve as a footpath through the mountain. Motion-sensing lights turn on as you walk through, and the ambient temperature is nice and cool, which is a relief on a hot day.

A photo of the entrance to the original tunnel; you can barely see the light at the end of it. To the left, the date “1928” can be seen through the chainlink fence over the newer tunnel (the actual entrance being obscured by kudzu). 

A Georgia Historic Marker gives more detail. I’m glad to note that by the 1990s, the makers of these signs realized that you could fit more text on them if you just decreased its font size, and that they are more appealing when written in standard English. However, according to Bradley Putnam, a local historian with whom had the pleasure of speaking, the first number should be 1477 (not 1447) – he has measured the tunnel’s length himself. 

A museum on the premises gives more information about the W&A. The display in the foreground is of some rails recovered from a local creek in 2011. They are placed over a pile of ties to illustrate how one can do irreparable damage to a railroad if one is interested in doing so during time of war. The sign explains that the ties would be set on fire, and the heat would melt the rails and cause them to droop under their own weight – you can see that this has in fact happened to one of them. If circumstances permitted, for added destructiveness the heated rails could be twisted around a tree – thus acquiring the nickname “Sherman’s Neckties.”

Across the tracks, the old railroad depot still stands…

…and is, indeed, being rehabilitated for a new purpose. 

Further up the tracks in Ringgold, Georgia, stands another railway depot. It is marked with a blue star on the map above. 

This one took some damage during the Civli War and had to be restored, thus its present piebald appearance.

The historical marker tells more, although the building hasn’t been in continuous use as a railway depot necessarily. It is now an event venue available for weddings or other functions.

Wikipedia.

And, of course, one cannot talk about the W&A without mentioning the Great Locomotive Chase of April 12, 1862, “one of the most colorful exploits of the Civil War,” as the first sign says above. 

North of Ringgold the W&A runs parallel to Highway 151, and about two miles out of town (marked with a red star on the map), one encounters a monument at the place where Andrews’ Raiders abandoned their hijacked locomotive The General, having run out of fuel for it.

An artist’s interpretation of this event may be found on Wikipedia. The backwards-running Texas may be seen on the left. All the raiders were captured; spare a thought for the eight who were executed as spies and “unlawful combatants.” 

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