Chattanooga History

The name “Chattanooga” comes from the Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point.” This refers to Lookout Mountain which begins in Chattanooga and stretches 88 miles through Alabama and Georgia.

The city itself started out with 2 different names: Ross’s Landing and Lookout City. Ross’s Landing was established in 1816 by John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Indians. This area consisted of a ferry, warehouse, and landing. With the organization of Hamilton County in 1819, Ross’s Landing served not only the Cherokee trade but also as a convenient business center for the county. In 1838, the city officially took the name of “Chattanooga.” That same year, Cherokee parties left from Ross’s Landing for the West on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Chattanooga is probably most popular for its fame as a railroad town. During the Civil War, the railroad was of vital importance for bringing in not only supplies to the troops stationed within the city, but also for transporting reinforcements. Four major railways met in Chattanooga: the Western & Atlantic, Memphis & Charleston, Louisville & Nashville which connected to the Nashville & Chattanooga, and the Virginia & Tennessee Railroads which went through Knoxville up to Virginia.

In 1908, the Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Station was built. The station still stands today as a testament to the golden age of railroad with its 85-foot freestanding dome, the world’s largest free-standing dome.

Famous for not only its railroad history, but Chattanooga also abounds with Native American History, Civil War History, and 20th Century History. With the Trail of Tears beginning here at Ross’s Landing in 1838, it’s not surprising that the city still holds several Native American Festivals throughout the year on this site. Nor is it surprising that it has a museum dedicated to the memory of the Empress of the Blues who was born right here in Chattanooga: The Chattanooga African/American Museum & Bessie Smith Hall.