While I am a “Marine Corps Brat” and have lived in numerous parts of the United States throughout my young life, we always came back to Chattanooga, TN. Twice in my father’s career he was stationed as the active duty first sergeant at the Chattanooga Marine Reserve Center. When he retired we all moved back to Chattanooga, where he purchased the house that he lives in today. When I turned 17 I left Chattanooga to join the military myself and then moved to South Mississippi to be with my mother. For 20 years I stayed in Mississippi and I enjoyed it. Being on the Gulf was a great experience with many things to do, but I got tired of going through hurricanes every year, including Katrina. So, one day, two years ago this Thanksgiving, I made a rather rash decision to move back “home.” Luckily, due to my father’s connections and my sister’s job at the time, I was able to secure a job in my field and get an apartment before I even left the Gulf Coast.
Coming back to Chattanooga, I got many surprises. The city has grown by leaps and bounds, both for the residents’ benefit and tourism. Driving downtown, a place I used to know like the back of my hand, I got lost and had to ask for directions on numerous occasions. Chattanooga has always been a beautiful city, but today it is even better. I would like to share some of the things that make this city my favorite and why I call it home.
1. Chattanooga Choo Choo: Probably the best known attraction due to the song made popular by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. It opened in 1908 as a passenger terminal. Over the years, the bustling terminal greeted Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. It was closed in 1970 for lack of business that began in the ’60s, automobiles having become the preferred mode of travel. In 1973 it was converted into what it is today, a fabulous hotel and convention center with indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, gardens and on-site shopping. 48 of the passenger cars have been converted into hotel rooms. “Although you may be reminded of a past era while staying aboard our rail cars, you will have all of today’s conveniences. All hotel rooms offer high speed wireless internet access. Each car includes a queen size bed, and some cars also have a daybed with a pull out trundle bed. The only thing missing from your night in a Victorian Train Car is the ‘clickety-clack’ of the rails!” (Chattanooga Choo Choo Web site) Hotel suites and standard rooms are also available.
2. Walnut Street Bridge: Not far from the Chattanooga Choo Choo you will find the first bridge that connected Chattanooga to the Northshore area. It was built in 1890 and has a rather interesting history, including being used as a “lynching” platform. It was closed in 1973 and during my childhood was in severe disrepair, not open to the public. Recent renovations have converted it into a walking bridge. It spans 2,376 feet, making it one of the longest “walking” bridges in the world. The view is spectacular as you walk across the Tennessee River with Lookout Mountain in the background. Benches are provided the entire span of the bridge and it is very well lit for night time strolls. It’s a perfect place to take your date for a romantic walk.
3. Rock City: In 1823, sightseers routinely rode mules through the natural “streets and avenues of Lookout Mountain and named it “Rock City.” In 1928 Frieda Carter began marking paths using only a string to mark her way among the rock formations and opened her unique gardens to the public as “Rock City Gardens.” As advertising was difficult in that era and the location was not somewhere people simply happened by, Garnet Carter hired a painter and offered to paint farmers’ barns for free with the proviso that he be allowed to paint the words “See Rock City” on the roofs. The tradition continues and you can still see barns along the highway with the words in big bold letters as far north as Michigan and as far south as Texas. It is now run by Bill Chapin, a third-generation descendant of Garnet and Frieda “Since its beginnings, Rock City has continued to attract an increasing number of tourists from all over the world. Each year, more than half a million people visit the attraction to enjoy the many natural splendors that abound. Over the years, several features have been added to the original attraction, including the popular Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, the Cornerstone Station, as well as a myriad of shops and restaurants. In addition, annual events such as the Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights during the holiday season bring guests in by the droves. And the gardens Frieda so lovingly planted have also grown through the years to include more than 400 different species of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.” (Rock City Web site)
4. Ruby Falls: “The story of Ruby Falls begins with the original Lookout Mountain Cave whose natural entrance is located at the foot of Lookout Mountain on the banks of the Tennessee River. Tales of this cave’s huge chambers and winding passages have long been passed down from one generation to the next, and the cave’s whereabouts have been known by Chattanooga inhabitants for centuries. The rich history of this cave includes Native Americans, cave explorers, notorious outlaws, civil war soldiers, and even a president of the United States. There were many reports of explorers traveling deep into this cave, as far as 12 miles without reaching the end.” (Ruby Falls Web site) A limestone cave located deep in the heart of Lookout Mountain, you will see many things that took millions of years to form. Stalactites and stalagmites, awesome rock formations and a 146 foot waterfall located inside the mountain itself. Well worth a visit and not far from Rock City.
5. Chickamauga Battlefield and Museum: Chattanooga changed hands many times during the Civil War. It was a highly sought after area because it offered both road and water transportation and is very well protected by the mountains. The 5,300 acre Chickamauga Battlefield, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the American Civil War, contains numerous monuments, historical tablets, wayside exhibits, and trails. Major points of interest can be reached by following the seven-mile auto tour located in the official park brochure. Additionally, visitors can choose to use the park’s “Dial and Discover” cell phone tour to enhance the experience. The Visitor Center includes various exhibits, an orientation film, a fiber optic battlefield map, a bookstore, and the Claud E. and Zenada O. Fuller Collection of American Military Shoulder Arms , which is an incredible display of hundreds of weapons used during that time. Throughout Chattanooga and North Georgia you will find statues and tablets on the battle that took place here, both in public areas as well as in resident’s yards. Each year the Battlefield hosts a reenactment that is both educational and fun.