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August 2017
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Simply Smart Travel
by Jeff Orenstein
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Reliving History In Chattanooga: The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and Civil War Battlefields are Highlights 

Southern Railroad #630
Delivered in 1904, “retired” after a half-century of freight hauling, Southern Railroad #630 now hauls passengers on scenic excursions at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
Credit: Jeff Orenstein

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 the major influence it has 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 firstrate operating railroad museum and numerous civil war battlefield monuments and National Park 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 1860s a visit to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Visitor’s Center or Lookout Mountain is a mustdo 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 1940s song made famous by Glen Miller.

Before You Go: Check out

Getting There:

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the battlefields require a car for access.

Chattanooga’s many bridges over the Tennessee River
Downtown Chattanooga’s many bridges over the Tennessee River are a prominent part of the city’s downtown.
Credit: Jeff Orenstein

When You Are There, Visit:

Chattanooga’s many bridges over the Tennessee River
The Visitor’s Center at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in nearby Fort Oglethorpe is rich with interactive displays and interpretations of Chattanooga-area Civil War battles.
Credit: Jeff Orenstein

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 midOctober 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.

Jeffrey Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Reach them at or