Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain Railway

The 10-mile passenger line from Chattanooga to the top of Lookout Mountain was chartered in February of 1887 and completed in January of 1889. Steam-powered trains departed from downtown Chattanooga and traveled to St. Elmo, a suburb at the foot of the mountain's east side. There a "climbing locomotive" was hooked to the passenger cars for the ascent. The locomotive pulled the cars around the mountain's north end up to a switchback where it was transferred to the opposite end of the train. From there it continued to the Lookout Inn at the top of the mountain. (See 1895 map.)

After departing the train the visitor could find much of interest atop the plateau. To the north was The Point with its expansive views high above Chattanooga, as well as the Point Hotel which had its own narrow-gauge railroad, the Mount Lookout Railway, running alongside the western cliffs to Sunset Park and Natural Bridge. To the south across the state line was Rock City, a sandstone maze atop the eastern cliffs. A few miles farther south was scenic Lula Lake and Falls, also on the plateau's east side.

Lookout Inn. The hotel was 365 feet long, four stories tall, and could accommodate 500 guests.
(From: War Scenes, Views, and Pointers; on W.&A. R.R. and N.C.& St.L. Ry. Published by Passenger Dept., W.&A. R.R., ca. 1906. Online at Internet Archive here. For a high-resolution photograph of this building, see this page at DeepZoomChattanooga.)

In 1889, its first year, the standard-gauge railroad operated 3 locomotives, 10 passenger cars, and 8 freight cars. Its trains climbed grades averaging 3 percent with a maximum of 4 percent in some places. The rough terrain required a number of cuts and trestles, which incurred greater maintenance costs than typical for such relatively short lines.

Although the railroad enjoyed brief periods of heavy ridership, it was not financially successful and was abandoned in 1899. It was partially resuscitated between 1913 and 1920 when most of the rail bed was used for a streetcar line up the mountain. Because the switchback was not needed for the electric trolleys, which operated as single cars, it was cut off and replaced by a sharp curve.

Today part of the old rail bed forms the Guild-Hardy hiking trail, most of which is within Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. It is accessible from Ochs Highway, Ruby Falls, Cravens House, and other trails on the mountain.

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

A Ride on the Broad Gauge

In her book, Descriptive and Historical Guide to Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Walden's Ridge, Margaret A. E. Severance described a trip over the railroad:


This is a broad-gauge road from the Georgia Avenue Depot to the Lookout Inn, and is fifteen miles in length.

The road rises in about six miles, sixteen hundred feet above the valley, and in making the ascent the passenger is treated to one of the grandest series of scenes Nature and Art ever spread before the eyes of man.

Taking the Mountain dummy at the Georgia Avenue Depot, you are carried, in a few minutes, to the Mountain Junction, where there is a country store or two, and a few quiet cottages and gardens. Here your engine will cut loose and hurry away, but a climbing locomotive seizes the rear of your coach, and you are hurried away over the steady ascent that leads to the top of Lookout Mountain.

The little suburb nestled on the out-lying foot-hills at the side of the mountain is St. Elmo and takes its name from the novel written by Augusta Evans, while visiting here. The mountain throws its blue shadows over this quiet vale as early as four o'clock in the evening. It is the oldest suburb of Chattanooga, and a favorite location for residences.

Forest Hills Cemetery lies very near this suburb. It is a beautiful tract of one hundred and fifteen acres.

Soon the view begins to widen, the city and its suburbs are seen through wooded vistas in the foreground; the river winding among the hills far above the city; the alternation of fields and forest over the plain southward; the billowy mountain ranges to the east and north with their foot hills and wooded slopes all come, before your view as you are hurried away up the mountain side at the rate of twenty miles an hour. A few moments later you pass Chetolah, the first station after leaving the foot of the mountain, and Cravens' Terrace. The ascent steepens : the ride becomes more thrilling and exciting every minute. The city disappears from your view as the train bears you across the front and around the western side of the mountain. Suddenly the engine comes to a stop, panting and puffing like a living thing. You are now at the switch-back. In a moment more the iron horse is hitched to the rear of your coach and you are hurried away in an opposite direction, soon to be brought into the field of the far-famed ''Battle Above the Clouds."

It is the Point Hotel that stands so boldly out on the rocks towering so high above you. Its broad porches are on every side and afford a magnificent view of the surrounding country.

The trestle under which you pass is the Incline Railway. Its cars pass over your head at right angles to the road you are on.

Following the bend of the mountain, you are again on the eastern slope. Far beneath you is the quiet suburb of St. Elmo through which you passed at the beginning of your upward flight.

Away to the eastward, new and charming scenes break upon your vision as you overlook the famous battle fields of Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga.

Now you are nearly done climbing.

The train rounds the bluff and halts at the Lookout Mountain House, Ross avenue, Stone's Cottage, Natural Bridge, Glen View, Clift's, Hunt's, and Sunset Rock stations.

Still on and upward the iron charger makes its way panting and snorting with its last efforts and in two minutes more you are at the end of the line. As you alight, on the height before you stands the celebrated Lookout Inn, a magnificent structure facing on the eastern brow with broad porches and pillars of stone.

A long flight of broad steps gradually ascend through the center of the green sloping lawn, an inviting home for the tourist.

From: Margaret A. E. Severance. Descriptive and Historical Guide to Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Walden's Ridge. Chattanooga: Times Book & Job Office, 1892. Online at Internet Archive here.

See also Streetcars of the Chattanooga Area.

From: South (timetables). East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railway System, January 1890.

From: Official Guide of the Railways, 1890. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey.

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