From its completion in 1850 through its sale to the Nashville and St. Louis, the Western and Atlanta, or the "State Road" played an important role in the growth of Northwest Georgia and the state as a whole.
Work on the Western and Atlantic Railroad to join the Chattahoochee River to the Tennessee River began on September_10, 1837 under Stephen Harriman Long. Long chose Marietta, Georgia to establish his office because the city was established and the largest city in Northwest Georgia. On January_24, 1838 the state of Tennessee granted Georgia the right of way to complete the railroad to the Ninth Street Depot on the corner of Ninth and Market Street.
From 1837 until 1842 there were three distinct ending locations for the railroad. The first location was on property owned by Hardy Ivy. In 1839 John Thrasher offered land near the Johnson-Thrasher General Store for the Atlanta Depot, and the state accepted. Thrasher had not disclosed that he was a commissary for the Monroe Railroad (later the Macon and Western), but that was apparent when construction began on the Monroe Embankment, which would allow the Monroe Railroad to connect to the Western and Atlantic Railroad.
In 1842 Samuel Mitchell of Polk County donated Land Lot 77, District 14 of Dekalb County (now Fulton County) for the purpose of building a depot. Having been through other moves, the Western and Atlantic Railroad waited until 1850 to re-designate the zero mile marker to Mitchell's property.
By 1840 too little work had been completed to satisfy the Georgia legislature. Long was dismissed and it wasn't until 1842 that Charles Fenton Mercer Garnett assumed Long's title of Chief Engineer that work again moved forward. On December_22, 1843 the Georgia legislature ordered Garnett to purchase land north of the Etowah River. On December_1, 1849, the Western and Atlantic begin service to an open platform in Chattanooga, although the tunnel at Chetoogeta Mountain was not complete. Hearty souls could board at Terminus, ride to Chetoogeta Mountain, then take a stagecoach around the mountain to the Tunnel Hill station on the other side. A few people would climb over the mountain, carrying their own luggage.
In 1848 William L. Mitchell became the chief engineer of the State Road.
The final obstacle, the 1477-foot tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain was completed on May_9, 1850. The completion of the depot at Ninth and Market in 1851 gave Chattanooga its first depot, although the cost was divided among the Western and Atlantic Railroad, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.
When the route was designated and bypassed Rome, Georgia, the enterprising business community decided in 1839 to build an 18-mile short line to meet the W&ARR at the Kingston, Georgia rail facility. The first train ran in 1849 and continued to run as the Rome Railroad until 1894 when it was sold the the L&N.
When the first train left Atlanta in 1845 it crossed the Chattahoochee River without passengers - they were asked to disembark because the engineer was not sure that the bridge at Bolton could handle the extra weight. Among the people forced to walk across the bridge was young Rebecca Latimer who wrote of the experience on a number of occasions.
In 1852 the Western and Atlantic Railroad was one of the Georgia railroads to join the single rate shipping plan put forward by the state. Before 1852 express agents would be paid to manage shipments at larger terminals, but with single rate shipping even small farmers could send produce to Savannah or companies could ship imported cotton to the cotton mill in Roswell.
The Texas at the Cyclorama
December, 1855, was the date the Rogers Company (technically, the Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor Company) completed an order the Western and Atlantic Railroad placed for one of the most famous locomotives in railroad history - The General. In January, 1856 the railroad ordered The Texas. On January_17, 1856 the state legislature told the Western and Atlantic to provide free transportation to emigrants to Kansas. Revenues fell following the Panic of 1857 so the railroad leased tracks to the Etowah and Canton Railroad and the Ellijay Railroad.
In 1859 The Western and Atlantic decided to give a portion of Samuel Mitchell's original 5-acre donation to the Macon and Western for a terminal and the remainder to the city of Atlanta for a small park. Heirs of Mitchell's estate hired Joseph Brown's firm in 1867 to sue the state for payment for the land given to the city and the Macon and Western line. The prolonged battle ended with the estate paying $35,000 for the land.
At the end of the first year of The Civil War the State Road had seen no action, but was already feeling the economic impact of the war. On December_14, 1861 the legislature approved an across-the-board payroll cut for employees and officers of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. As Albert Sidney Johnston's forces withdrew from Nashville, Ormsby Mitchel advanced into northern Alabama in early April. Chattanooga prepared for battle and traffic on the Western and Atlantic increased dramatically.
A WARR locomotive in front of the Lacey Hotel (Kennesaw Depot at the time)
James Andrews and 21 spies (out of uniform Union soldiers) stole the General. Using a series of engines, including The General's sister locomotive The Texas Conductor William Fuller chased The General to Ringgold, where the men abandoned The General because of an equipment problem. Andrews and his spies were rounded up and put in Swims Jail in Chattanooga before riding The General south to Atlanta for trial. The men were convicted and some were hung.
As General William Tecumseh Sherman headed south during the Atlanta Campaign, the captured sections of the Western and Atlantic Railroad became the property of the United States Military Railroad. On September 2, 1864, the entire length of the Western and Atlantic was re-designated to the USMRR.
Between February_4, 1864 and June_30, 1864, the Western and Atlantic Railroad from Chattanooga to Allatoona Pass was added to the rails managed by the United States Military Railroad(USMRR). The line from Chattanooga to Ringgold opened in March, 1864 under the USMRR. Rebuilding and maintaining the line to Allatoona Pass fell under the auspices of the USMRR on June 1, 1864 and to Smyrna, northwest of Atlanta, in August, 1864.
Early in September the USMRR opened the line to Atlanta and ran trains from Chattanooga until John Bell Hood moved north in western Georgia to begin the Nashville Campaign. Hood tore up the track of the old Western and Atlantic Railroad from Allatoona Pass north including one 25 mile stretch and 455 feet of bridges from Resaca to Tunnel Hill. Once Hood was gone the USMRR repaired the track and bridges in just over a week.
The Western and Atlantic Railroad was under the control of the USMRR until September 25, 1865, when Col. Robert Baugh, acting Superintendent, returned the road to Governor James Johnson. Because of the deplorable condition of the track, a major rebuilding effort began the following year.
When the Civil War ended reconstruction of the torn up track began immediately and was completed in 1866. By April, 1867, almost 550 carloads of freight were arriving weekly and the Western and Atlantic was the last leg of twice daily service from New York (only 57 hours away!). Tickets on the rebuilt line, good for unlimited use for 6 months were sold for $1 per mile. In 1867 interstate single shipping rates for a bale of cotton going to Boston was $7.10.
Two steamers were added to ply the waters between Chattanooga and Memphis in 1869. The Resaca and the Mary Byrd would carry freight and passengers from a wharf about a block from the Broad Street depot of the Western and Atlantic. The venture never made a profit and ended when the Mary Byrd sank.
All this commerce, however, was being done from a hastily constructed "temporary" wooden depot. By 1870 the depot was completely inadequate. All four lines serving Atlanta agreed on a new "Union Depot" designed by Maxwell V. D. Corput, an engineer and partner of Corput and Bass.
During Reconstruction the "State Line" was a frequent target of Democrats whose rhetoric included phrases like "an organized band of plunderers" to describe railroad management.
In 1870 the Western and Atlantic Railroad was leased from the state by former Governor Joseph Emerson Brown. Brown supported the money losing State Line during the tough economic year of 1857 and during subsequent years. During the election Brown called the railroad the "people's line" and said the fate of the Western and Atlantic should be decided in the legislature, not simply sold or ended as his opponent Ben Hill wanted to do.
The state continued to own and run the Western and Atlantic until the legislature approved leasing the line, a bill signed by Republican Governor Rufus Bullock on October_24, 1870 and called for bids closing on December_25, 1870. On December_27, 1870 everybody found out that Governor Brown had won the bidding. Brown immediately appointed his son, Joseph E. Brown to oversee the Western and Atlantic Railroad.
To run the new Pullman cars railroads would have to be gauged to a standard width of 4 feet 8.5 inches. For many years northern rail cars would be reloaded on to wider-carriage cars or refitted in Chattanooga with carriages to run on the 5-foot wide track of the Western and Atlantic. The Western and Atlantic Railroad gauged its own locomotives and rolling stock to 4 feet, 9 inches and moved one rail closer to the other by 3 inches on June_1, 1886.
Operation of the State Line fell under the United States Railroad Administration From December 27, 1917 until March 1, 1920. There was little impact within the state because of the role of this Administration and most of the day-to-day operations were left to the NC&SL.