The AK&N was chartered June 4, 1896 as successor to the Marietta & North Georgia Railway.
In March 1902, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad bought a majority of the AK&N’s stock. Around this time, L&N built an extension from Knoxville north to its line at Jellico, Tennessee, which, along with the AK&N purchase, gave L&N a railroad line from Cincinnati to Marietta, 21 miles northwest of Atlanta.
To enter Atlanta, the AK&N used trackage rights on the Western & Atlantic, which had been leased to the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway. L&N owned a majority of the NC&StL’s stock, which may have helped in acquiring the trackage rights.
The AK&N also constructed a belt line on the west side of Atlanta to improve its rail connections in the city. Beginning near Howells, this line ran south to a connection with the Atlanta & West Point's belt railroad, which had been opened on the southern edge of the city in 1900. [See Atlanta BeltLine (and Belt Lines).]
Besides the 205-mile main line, the AK&N had a 23-mile branch to Murphy, N.C., and a branch to the marble quarries at Tate, Ga.
The AK&N was nicknamed The Hiwassee Route for a winding, scenic segment of the line alongside Tennessee’s Hiwassee River. The climb from the river valley, however, may have given early passengers more time to examine the scenery than they wanted. A pair of switchbacks allowed trains to make the ascent, but the stopping and reversing, combined with the steep grade (3.5 to 4.7 percent), made the going painfully slow.
The solution, constructed in 1898, was an 8000-foot loop around Bald Mountain, one in which the railroad crossed over itself near the top. The famous Hiwassee Loop, which still exists, is near Farner, Tennessee, just west of the TN-NC state line. (See Hook & Eye Line).