Mount Lookout Railway

Mount Lookout Railway train, Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Photo courtesy of Chattanooga History Center.

Better known as simply "the narrow-gauge," this unusual line ran from the Point Hotel at the north end of Lookout Mountain to points south. Along the way its trains hugged the sheer sandstone cliffs on the mountain's west side and passed over trestles perched high above deep and narrow ravines.

The 1.2-mile railroad was constructed in 1886-87 in conjunction with the mountain's first incline railway, which was abandoned on July 3, 1899. Service on the narrow-gauge line ended the same year.

(For more information on the incline and other railroads on the mountain, see Streetcars of the Chattanooga Area and Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain Railway.)

Mount Lookout Railway locomotive on left

For motive power, railway officials chose the Porter tank locomotive shown on the left, an extended cab version that gave the crew some protection when the weather turned cold. (From: Light Locomotives, H. K. Porter & Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., 1892, p. 20. Online at HathiTrust Digital Library here.)

The tracks were built at the 3-foot gauge using 25-pound rails. (From: Frank Spencer Presbrey. The Southland. Southern Railway Co., 1898. Online at Internet Archive here.)

Train emerging from a tight cut and approaching a trestle.
(From: Locomotive Engineering, January 1897, p. 55. Online at Internet Archive here.)

The Porter locomotive typically hauled a single 12,860-pound passenger car that carried a 4,200-pound load. It was capable of hauling two cars, giving the train a total weight of 17 tons. Regular speed was 8 mph and fastest speed was 20 mph. Running 60 to 66 miles per day of 23 hours, the engine used 1,140 pounds of soft coal and 6 tanks of water.

Mount Lookout Railway and Point Hotel

This photo shows the railroad tracks leading from the Point Hotel, which was the northern terminus of the line. The "A" marks an unrelated Civil War site. For a high resolution photo of the hotel, see this page at DeepZoomChattanooga. (From: Report of a Board of army officers upon the claim of Maj. Gen. William Farrar Smith..., Washington: Goverment Printing Office, 1901. Online at HathiTrust Digital Library here.)

Mount Lookout Railway and the Point Hotel

View of the hotel from trackside. (From: Chattanooga Public Library. Some rights reserved.)

Map of railroads on Lookout Mountain

This ca. 1895 map shows the Mount Lookout Railway labeled as "narrow gauge" (highlighted in green).Highlighted in blue is the "broad gauge" (it was actually standard gauge), built as the Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain Railway. At the lower right corner and crossing the state line was the Chattanooga Southern Railway. At the top is the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway.

Note: While the railroad route itself was entirely within Tennessee ( the closest point was about a mile north of the state line), it is included here because the transportation systems of Chattanooga and its Georgia environs were closely related.

Suggested Reading:

David H. Steinberg on behalf of the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Chattanooga's Transportation Heritage. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2013.

David H. Steinberg. And To Think It Only Cost A Nickel!; The Development of Public Transportation in the Chattanooga Area. Privately published, 1975.

Alan A. Walker. Railroads of Chattanooga. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2003.

John Wilson. Scenic, Historic Lookout Mountain. Privately published, 1977. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey.

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