Since its humble beginnings as a landing on the Tennessee River, the city founded by Cherokee leader John Ross has seen tremendous growth in both size and population. Each district of the city has its own history and atmosphere. From the tourist-friendly plazas of the Downtown Riverfront to the breathtaking beauty of Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga is home to several distinct communities, each of which contributes to the personality and character of this sleepy Southern town that suddenly grew up.
Unlike many cities in the United States, Chattanooga's downtown enjoys a vibrant nightlife. More and more people are returning downtown to live, work and play, and with good reason. Deluxe accommodations, more than 100 shops and restaurants, dozens of music venues and museums, and extensive public transportation combine to make the area between the Riverfront and Lookout Mountain attractive to visitors and residents.
The catalysts for this resurgence of tourism and economic growth downtown are the Riverfront and the
A visit downtown isn't all about fish and 3D movies, though. The famed
Art lovers will enjoy a visit to the
Nearly as familiar as the Choo Choo is the little red barn with the words 'See Rock City' painted on its roof. Appearing all over the United States, these painted barns have proven to be effective advertising campaigns for more than five decades.
Chattanooga's North Shore is the latest in a string of local success stories. Once a forgotten industrial site filled with warehouses and shipping yards, the area has been transformed into a tourist Mecca with specialty shops offering everything from caviar to kayaks. In its new home on the North Shore,
Not long ago, the Hamilton Place area consisted mostly of failing farmland. Today it is Chattanooga's fastest growing suburban neighborhood and the site of Tennessee's largest shopping experience. The transformation began when
The song that made the city famous may have been "Chattanooga Choo Choo," but its first residents were not train conductors, but rather the hunters and gatherers of the Cherokee tribes. As early as 200 BC, the Cherokee nation inhabited the area around Lookout Mountain and the Chattanooga Valley, calling it Chatanuga, or 'rock rising to a point'. The Creek, Choctaw and Shawnee tribes also inhabited the land, but the Cherokee people composed the overwhelming majority of the population.
The Cherokee Nation established a government of tribal laws and clan agreements, and maintained its rule for nearly 2,000 years. However, during the mid 1600s, the first European explorers began to settle in the area, bringing with them diseases such as smallpox that would eventually kill more than half of the Cherokee population. As European explorers gave way to Puritan settlers and eventually a new American nation, Chatanuga became a volatile area. The leaders of the Cherokee Nation decided that the best way to maintain peace was to assimilate themselves into the lifestyle and government scheme of the United States. However, not everyone felt this way, and the Cherokee Nation was divided.
As tensions grew between the whites and the Cherokee, one legendary war chief decided to take matters into his own hands. Chief Dragging Canoe, the fiercest warrior in the history of the Cherokee people, mustered together 1,200 warriors and traveled south to the North Georgia area known as Chickamawgee (now Chickamauga). There he formed a confederacy of like-minded Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek. For nearly two decades at the close of the 18th century, this Chickamawgee Confederacy captured and killed thousands of whites.
As Dragging Canoe's reputation grew, so did the legends surrounding him. It was widely believed this fierce warrior had supernatural powers. When he died in combat against John Sevier (who would later become Tennessee's first governor), his body was cut in half, and the two pieces were buried miles apart to prevent him from rising from the dead. His death did not put an end to the fighting, however, and the Chickamawgee Confederacy continued to wage war against the United States until the early 1800s.
The United States would eventually prevail against Dragging Canoe's warriors, forcing the Native Americans from their lands between the years of 1790 and 1820. The well-trained and better-equipped army of the United States was too powerful for the outnumbered warriors. Throughout the years of bitter battle, the Cherokee Nation did attempt to form a peaceful alliance with the United States. John Ross, the founder of the river landing that would later become the city of Chattanooga, was himself one-eighth Cherokee, but he fought with the white men against the Creek warriors. His mission was to build a bridge between the United States and the Cherokee nation and thus forge a lasting peace. Despite his efforts, though, the government had no interest in peaceful coexistence and forced the Native Americans from their homes. Thousands of Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee and Choctaw Indians died during the long journey between Chatanuga and the newly formed state of Oklahoma. This 'Trail of Tears' to the Indian territories was the darkest moment in the proud history of the Cherokee Nation, and for that matter one of the darkest moments in all of American history.
When Tennessee seceded from the United States in 1861 to join the Confederate States of America, Chattanooga became a major strategic location for Southern armies. The city served as a gateway to the lower states of the Confederacy—if the northern armies could find a way to capture Chattanooga the, entire South would be vulnerable. One of the Civil War's bloodiest battles, the legendary Battle Above the Clouds, occurred atop Lookout Mountain.
The distinctive northern point of Lookout Mountain provided a lookout site for the Confederate army. From the point, soldiers could view the entire Chattanooga valley, which made an attack virtually impossible. However, the point was often covered with low-lying clouds that reduced visibility, and union armies took advantage of one such meteorological event on November 24, 1863. Northern soldiers crept up the mountain under the cover of clouds and engaged the Confederate Soldiers in a tremendous battle. Caught off guard, the Rebels were and were overrun, with Union armies subsequently flooding the Chattanooga Valley and capturing the city without warning from the point.
When General Lee surrendered his Confederate armies to General Grant on April 9, 1865, thereby ending the war, the city of Chattanooga began the long process of reconstruction. Tennessee was the first state to return to the Union, and it received immediate assistance in rebuilding its cities. Plans were made to reconnect the railways of the former Confederacy to the rest of the United States. Chattanooga was still considered a gateway to the South and it would be instrumental in the railroad project.
On March 5, 1880, the first passenger train arrived in Chattanooga, from Cincinnati, Ohio. A newspaper reporter dubbed the wood-burning locomotive the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and the name stuck. Track 29 led to Chattanooga from every city in the United States, and Chattanooga soon found itself a bustling center of railway activity. It became apparent that a terminal would have to be built in order to accommodate the needs of railroad companies and their passengers.
On December 1, 1909, several hundred people shivered in the cold as the Chattanooga Terminal opened at 1400 Market Street. The Victorian structure was designed by a New York architect named Don Barber, who won an award for railroad terminal design from the Beaux Art Institute in Paris, France. The interior was fashioned after the National Park Bank of New York City and was considered the most beautiful structure in the South.
More than three decades later, in 1941, the Glenn Miller Orchestra performed a song entitled 'Chattanooga Choo Choo', which would later be featured in the movie Sun Valley Serenade. The song became a hit around the world, and the city of Chattanooga was once again in the headlines.
On August 11, 1970, the last train made its stop at Chattanooga's Terminal Station. The terminal was scheduled for demolition, but the public would not hear of it. A group of investors purchased the property and restored it to its former glory. By 1989, the terminal had become a major tourist attraction, with two hotels, a museum and three upscale restaurants. Thousands of visitors tour the terminal each year to get a glimpse of the past and remember the romantic days when railroads connected a young nation and when a song about a passenger train was sung all over the world.
For years, few people realized what a toll all those trains and other byproducts of heavy industry had been taking on the environment surrounding the Chattanooga area. By the 1960s, the smog hanging over the valley was worse than any seen in Los Angeles, and the New York Times called Chattanooga 'The Filthiest City in America'. Many people recall that their clothes would get so dirty just walking from their car into their office they felt as if they needed another shower. Residents of Chattanooga depended heavily on industry and rail service. The pollution that resulted, however, threatened their survival.
The city decided it was time to pass initiatives that would change the living conditions and restore the once-beautiful landscape. Harsh penalties were enacted on companies that did not control pollution, and high emission standards were passed for all motor vehicles. By the early 1970s, things were looking better, and by 1989, Chattanooga was being heralded for its amazing environmental comeback.
Resting on its laurels has never been Chattanooga's style. During the 1990s, the city began to build electric buses in order to further reduce harmful emissions. The idea was a hit, and soon cities all over the United States sent representatives to get a look at these zero-emission vehicles. In 1998, Vice President Al Gore dubbed Chattanooga 'The Environmental City' because of its commitment to conserving and protecting its natural resources.
As heavy industry was forced out due to environmental constraints, the city looked for new ways to draw revenue. A group of investors believed they could revitalize the Riverfront and bring tourists back to the downtown area. The Riverfront was an abandoned stretch of 200-plus acres on the north side of town. Using public and private funds, River Valley Partners embarked on the task of turning an old shipping yard into a tourist destination.
Their efforts were ultimately successful. Today, the riverfront is home to the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX 3D Theatre, two attractions that draw millions of visitors each year. Cinemas, shops, restaurants, cafes, music venues and museums have opened their doors on the riverfront and drawn suburban dwellers back downtown to live in new luxury apartments and lofts.
200 years ago, Chattanooga originated as a small landing on the Tennessee River. How fitting it is, then, that the city would turn to the waterfront to rebuild its economy and as it looks to the future.
The Glen Miller Orchestra immortalized Chattanooga in the 1940s with their swinging tune 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'. The Choo Choo isn't making any more trips these days, but the old railroad terminal has become a popular tourist attraction. Specialty stores and gift shops, museums, gourmet restaurants, deluxe accommodations and horse-drawn carriages make up the city's entertainment complex.
Museums and Galleries
For a medium-size town, Chattanooga has more than its share of museums. The Hunter Museum of American Art and The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts Museums display fine art by local, national and international artists. The International Towing and Recovery Museum proudly commemorates the fact that Chattanooga was the first city to operate a tow truck. The Chattanooga Regional History Museum chronicles the history of the Scenic City and its people over the last one-and-a-half centuries, while the Chattanooga African-American Museum provides a look at the contribution black Americans have made to this city. Civil War history buffs will enjoy a visit to the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum, where miniature soldiers on an electric map reenact historic battles.
There is no substitute for the excitement of live sporting events, and Chattanooga is home to a number of college and professional sports teams. College football fans cheer on the University of Tennessee, each fall as the Mocs take on their Southern Conference rivals. The new stadium, along with the team's winning record, has spurred renewed interest in the UTC program. Come winter, the basketball Mocs to take the Court in McKenzie arena. In 1997, the Mocs advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, a first for UTC.
Baseball fans can take in a game at AT&T Field, where the Chattanooga Lookouts take the field. The Chattanooga Lookouts are the AA affiliate of the major league Cincinnati Reds.
Nashville may be known as the Music City, but Chattanooga is no lightweight when it comes to audio entertainment. Each year, people turn out in the hundreds of thousands to attend the Riverbend Festival. Now in its 20th year, Riverbend is a nine-day festival that showcases top musical acts, both young and old. Alabama, Chicago, George Clinton, Gloria Estefan, Soul Asylum, Chuck Berry, LeAnn Rimes, Al Green and many others have all taken the main stage at the festival. More than 100 acts appear on seven stages, while vendors sell food, souvenirs and handmade crafts. Billed as "Chattanooga's Family Reunion," Riverbend is the city's biggest and best music festival.
Nightfall Concert Series provide a summer of free music on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. Lesser-known acts and local bands perform at these events, which are held at the Miller Plaza and Cricket Pavilion. The crowds don't seem to mind the lack of big-name talent, as tens of thousands of music lovers attend each summer.
Chattanooga is often referred to as the River City due to its location on the banks of the Tennessee River. The river and the nearby lakes play a big part as far as local recreation goes. River excursions aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat transport passengers back to what feels like a distant era when times were simpler. The Chickamauga Dam and Reservoir provides a large swimming area and beach for summertime fun, while the many nearby creeks and streams are perfect for canoe trips and kayaking.
Chattanooga is filled with many things to keep visitors busy. Take a trip to the top of Lookout Mountain, explore the Tennessee Aquarium or walk around the Warner Park Zoo.
Chattanooga Choo Choo Since this east Tennessee city is forever linked with Glenn Miller's 1940s big band standard, The Chattanooga Choo Choo is as good a place as any to begin a visit to the area. Have a pastry at Greyfriar's, then visit the nearby Chattanooga African-American Museum. Learn more about the city at the Chattanooga Regional History Museum or take in the work of some of the country's best artists at the Hunter Museum of American Art.
Lookout Mountain Take the Incline Railway for the nearly one-mile trip up to the top of Lookout Mountain. Before you get on board, eat at Jade Palace. Chief among Lookout Mountain attractions are Ruby Falls and Rock City. Near the top of Lookout Mountain is Rock City Gardens which provide incredible views. Lookout Mountain Flight Park offers hang gliding via a tandem flight with a licensed instructor from an altitude of 2,000 feet.
Raccoon Mountain Grab lunch at Phat Wraps downtown. Then check out Raccoon Mountain, located just west of Chattanooga. You can also take a guided tour of Raccoon Mountain Dam, the top offers a spectacular view. Just a short drive from Chattanooga, is the Lost Sea, a four-acre subterranean lake, or take a trip south to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the site of the Civil War's longest battle.
Tennessee Aquarium In Coolidge Park on the riverfront, ride the 100-year-old carousel with hand-carved horses. Spend the afternoon at the Tennessee Aquarium, the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. On Chattanooga's north shore, amble through the Bluff View Art District, where you can view and purchase fine art and sculpture, stroll through the sculpture garden or hang out at Rembrandt's Coffee House.
Walnut Street Bridge Connecting downtown to the city's north shore is Walnut Street Bridge. Erected in 1890, the half-mile bridge is the longest pedestrian walkway in the world. The Bessie Smith Hall pays tribute to her life and features live performances by local and national artists. The revitalized downtown area also offers several night spots for music lovers, including the Cafe Tazza. The Creative Discovery Museum and the Warner Park Zoo are also nearby.
Consulting a professional tour company is a good way to be sure your trip ends up on the right track.
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Train Tours Tennessee Valley Railroad ( +1 423 894 8028 )
Boat Tours Chattanooga Tours ( +1 800 713 7581/ http://www.chattanoogatours.com/ ) Chattanooga Ducks ( +1 423 756 3825 ) Chattanooga Riverboat Company ( +1 423 266 4488 ) Chattanooga Star Riverboat ( +1 423 265 4522 ) Southern Belle Riverboat ( +1 423 266 4488 )
Bike Tours Bike Tours Direct ( +1 423 756 8900 )