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By Kevin Dallmier
Once, the coming of the railroad was as a momentous event to a community as a new interstate highway would be a century later. Towns fortunate enough to be on these routes of commerce, communication, and culture could expect to bloom and prosper. Communities the route missed, maybe by just a couple miles, were doomed to the status quo or at worst to wither away and die as progress passed them by. A new railroad meant new jobs, a market for products, and a link to the outside world.

For a time, this is exactly what the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia Railway, commonly known as the TAG, meant to northwest Georgia. The TAG ran from Chattanooga, Tennessee, through northwest Georgia, and into Gadsden, Alabama. The rail line started its life as the Chattanooga Southern Railway, but shortly after completion, the new line fell into bankruptcy emerging in 1892 as the Chattanooga Southern Railroad and then eventually the TAG.

The TAG passed into history in 1971 when it was purchased and merged into the Southern Railway System. Early in its history, the TAG was an important route for coal mined on top of Lookout Mountain. The coal was lowered into Shinbone Valley to a TAG branch line between Menlo and Chesterfield near the state line. But by the end of the Second World War, the coal industry on Lookout Mountain was fading. By the mid 1900s, the TAG was in its prime. The track was equipped with 100-pound rail allowing for 50 MPH passenger service and 40 MPH freight service.

In 1951 the TAG upgraded from steam to diesel locomotives. North Georgia residents could travel via railroad coach all the way from Chattanooga to distant destinations such as Pensacola and New Orleans by taking the TAG to Gadsden and then the L&N railroad on to the Gulf Coast. The TAG had very little on-line industry, instead relying on bridge traffic (freight received from one railroad to be moved by a second railroad for delivery to a third) from other railroads. The business was good, and the TAG had to vigorously defend itself in court to keep from being gobbled up by other railroad companies intent on getting the business for themselves.

The TAG also received traffic from Gadsden's Republic Steel mill and carried scrap steel and raw materials destined for Republic. In 1968, a Reichold Industries latex plant was built at Kensington and was an important TAG customer. In the end though, after
trying several other approaches, competitors simply flat out bought the TAG just to remove the competition.

Today's TAG Railway is very much different than the important route of the 1950s and 1960s. Mergers, changes in traffic patterns, and the economics of the transportation business have resulted in abandonment of large sections of the TAG. Shortly after
the 1971 acquisition, small sections began to be abandoned, breaking the line into two. Later, almost all of the southern end of the railway was abandoned, and the Gadsden yard no longer exists.

The northern end of the line has survived, mostly because of Reichhold Industries. Reichhold receives and ships chemicals by tank car, making this section of the line still economically feasible to operate. Twenty-three miles of the original TAG
line, stretching south almost to the Pigeon Mountain tunnel and operated by the Chattooga &
Chickamauga Railway, are still in service to serve this important customer. The remaining section of the TAG also occasionally gets to relive its heyday and transport northwest Georgians across their beautiful ridges and valleys.

Excursion trains operated by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum sometimes make the 56-mile round trip down the TAG and back. Taking one of these trips is the only way to truly experience what life must have been like years ago when the railroad was the only dependable link to the outside world.

Along the TAG's original route were many noteworthy sites. The Pigeon Mountain tunnel is located in Walker County, northwest of Lafayette. Today, the tunnel is out of service and the rails have been taken up to a point about a mile north of the north portal in Hedges, Georgia. Another of the TAG's sights was the high bridge at Blue Pond, Alabama. This bridge was left in place after the track was abandoned, still displaying the name of its builder, "TENNESSEE ALABAMA & GEORGIA RAILWAY." Later, the bridge was dismantled and the sections were reportedly placed in the abandoned Gadsden Yard.

Like any long-enduring local fixture so important to the everyday life of local residents, there are many stories attached to the TAG. Some of the most interesting are intertwined with other major events involved in living life in the shadow of Lookout Mountain - the mountain itself and the Cherokee Nation.

According to local history, in 1890 a party of engineers was surveying the proposed route of the new rail line. At their camp south of Little River Canyon, the engineers were besieged by local residents very curious to learn where the railroad would eventually be built. The engineers were under orders to build the railroad by or near Mosley's Mill, Chesterfield, and Menlo, Georgia. At the same time, another gang of engineers was working south from Chattanooga laying out the route. The two groups were to meet somewhere between Menlo and Pigeon Mountain.

Most interesting to area residents was just how the engineers planned to cross one of the regions most imposing features, Little River Canyon (aka May's Gulf). Local wags decided that building the railroad any closer to the canyon's mouth than the existing road was pure folly. Everyone knew that no bridge could withstand the spring floods that poured out of the canyon. Besides, the canyon itself was somewhat foreboding, and had its own legends.

Locals undoubtedly told the engineers that no white man had been known to go in one end of the canyon and come out the other. Dogs would go no further than the canyon mouth. The supposed reason for all of these phenomena was the canyon held an ancient lead mine that was fiercely protected by its Native American owners, and its location had never been found (and never has been to this day).

The recollections of one of the TAG engineers helps flesh out this story. While overseeing the construction of the railroad, the engineer boarded with
an elderly local man, who had lived in the area all his life and reported that in his youth he was employed by the "Indian Service" as an interpreter. During his tenure, he claimed to have practically lived with the Indians for several years.

The man claimed that Native Americans throughout the Southeast came to Lookout Mountain and traded for lead mined in the canyon. He said there were a few Cherokees living in the canyon who mined the lead and kept its location a closely guarded secret. His interest piqued, the engineer tried to get someone to accompany him on a search for the mysterious mine but could never find any takers.

Finally, he traveled by himself more than a mile into the canyon. After a rough hike, the engineer reached a place where the river ran right up against a bluff. Due to the season, it was too cold to wade, so he turned back. The only living things the engineer noted seeing in the cold and foreboding canyon were ravens, which did not seem to appreciate his presence and followed him raising a riotous ruckus.

Unable to satiate his interest in the source of the legends about the canyon, the engineer eventually befriended another local resident, Uncle Josiah Leith, an 84-year-old Primitive Baptist preacher who had lived just a few miles from the canyon's mouth for more than 60 years. The preacher had another verse of canyon lore which the engineer felt much more plausible than any mysterious lead mine.

According to Uncle Josiah, when the Indians were moved to the Territory, there were some Cherokee warriors who hid in the Canyon to avoid forced removal. After hiding out several years, the small band slipped out of the Canyon and went to the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. Even years after the Cherokee removal, each winter a lone Native American would sometimes appear on a certain cliff near the Canyon's lower end and stand like a statue for some time.

Interestingly though, no one had ever reported seeing the Native American walk out on the cliff or leave it, just appear and disappear. The preacher reported that several years had passed with no Indians being seen on the cliff. However, the engineer did report that during the construction of the railroad in the winter of 1890-91, a lone Indian was seen several times standing on the cliff the preacher had described, but none of the construction crew were ever presented the opportunity to talk to him.

Despite the wealth of information provided by local residents, the engineers eventually decided to locate the railroad nearly a mile closer to the canyon mouth than what was thought possible. Evidently, their selection of a site was a wise one. Until just a few years ago, the old TAG trestle over Little River near the mouth of the canyon was still standing before it was finally removed and scrapped. The trestle was a popular swimming and fishing hole, and many a thrill-seeker jumped into the river's cool, clear depths from the old trestle before its eventual removal. The author himself has spent many summer afternoons rod in hand wading the river in search of spotted bass, and one of the best fishing holes on the river was the "Trestle Hole."

Little River wasnt the only waterway in the area that needed crossed. A
few miles on down the line headed toward Gadsden was another high bridge. The piers for the rail bridge over Yellow Creek are still standing. Although partially submerged by Weiss Lake, the piers and the scenic Yellow Creek Falls are easily seen while traveling Alabama Highway 273.

Although some of the TAG's most interesting stories dealt with history from long ago, the TAG's influence is still felt. Ask around the small communities the railroad served, and you will likely find the names of men who worked on the TAG before being absorbed into the Norfolk Southern system. These old railroad hands can still list off each TAG milepost just as surely as they know the route through the neighborhood streets to their
own home. Although many years have passed, the life the TAG breathed into northwest Georgia is still drawing breath today.

For those who would like to trace the TAG's path, the following information may be of interest.

TAG Line Stations

Milepost Location
0.0 Chattanooga, TN
8.4 Flintstone, GA
11.0 Cenchat, GA
20.0 Cassandra, GA
21.8 Kensington, GA
37.2 Harrisburg, GA
42.8 Chelsea, GA
46.2 Menlo, GA
51.0 Burgess, AL
55.1 Jamestown, AL
57.5 Blanche, AL
59.6 Taff, AL
68.9 Blue Pond, AL
72.0 Ewing, AL
73.4 Bristow, AL
91.7 Gadsden, AL

TAG Line Water Tanks

Milepost Location
3.5 Alton Park (TAG Yard)
11.2 Cenchat
21.2 Grants
25.9 Tunnel
35.0 McConnellsville
57.9 Blanche
63.5 Congo
80.6 Bath Springs
91.7 Gadsden (TAG Yard)

More Information

Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway (TAG)

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Railroads played an important role in North Georgia's development.

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