The TN Valley Railroad and The Southern Belle Riverboat
The mission of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is to collect for preservation, operation, interpretation and display, railroad artifacts in an authentic setting to educate the public concerning the role of railroads in the history and development of our region.
Chattanooga welcomed its first rail line with the arrival of the Western and Atlantic Railroad in 1850. A few years later, in 1858, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad also arrived in Chattanooga. The city quickly became a railroad hub with industries springing up in the area to take advantage of the new transportation corridors.
During the Civil War, confederate and union leaders recognized Chattanooga’s strategic advantage because of its railroads, and in subsequent decades, the city’s railroad reputation gave rise to the iconic song “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
By the late 1950s, railroads were waning as interstates and airlines made travel faster and more personal. With automobiles, Americans could choose their own schedule and stop as little or much as they wished. Passenger operations all but ended in the 1960s and freight operations suffered as big trucks hauled much of the freight across the country.
During this period, railroad museums formed to save some of the history of this most iconic mode of American transportation.
In Chattanooga, as steam made its last appearances on the country’s major railroads, a few railroad fans began buying steam engines and passenger cars that the railroads would otherwise have scrapped. This small collection was the beginning of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which was founded by a small group of local residents in 1961 who were intent on trying to save some American history by preserving, restoring, and operating authentic railway equipment from the “Golden Age of Railroading.”
Railroads like the Southern Railway also made generous donations of obsolete rail cars to museums like TVRM, expanding their collections and the story the museum could tell. In addition, Southern Railway donated the original East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia roadbed (absorbed into the Southern Railway System in 1894) on which TVRM could operate.
TVRM’s passenger trains run on the historic route which includes Missionary Ridge Tunnel, completed in 1858 and on the National Register of Historic Places. The tunnel is the primary reason TVRM runs on the three-mile section of the former Southern Railway. As railroad equipment grew too large to pass through and the single-track tunnel became a traffic jam for an other wise double-track railroad, Southern Railway abandoned the three mile portion of the line and built a new section around the end of Missionary Ridge, avoiding the tunnel altogether.
Today, TVRM preserves railroad equipment not only to preserve machines, but to preserve an experience as well. In providing this historic experience, TVRM hopes to educate our visitors about the importance of this industry and how it helped create the modern world in which we live.