From the Trail of Tears to the most crucial days of the Civil War, Chattanooga has been the center of some of America's most decisive and definitive moments in history. Whether you're standing on the spot of a Native American legend, reflecting at a touching memorial, or exploring a Civil War battlefield, it's not hard to sense the rich history and culture that permeates the city.
Right in between downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River is a unique memorial that's quite touching. It's called The Passage, and it features a huge waterfall stairway. While it's a fun and interactive feature (and a nice way to cool off on a warm day) the story behind it is heartbreaking. It marks the beginning of the Trail of Tears, the forced removal and relocation of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from the Southeast to lands further west. Thousands of Native Americans died during the brutal marches west. In addition to the waterfall staircase, The Passage also features a weeping wall, round ceramic murals on either side of the staircase that tell the history of the Cherokee people, and several statues of stickball players. Stickball was a game that was very important to the Cherokee, and held a special place in their culture. Interpretive plaques and signs add extra information and context to the memorial.
Rock City Gardens is a popular attraction that gained notoriety during the 1930s and 1940s for its "SEE ROCK CITY" ads painted onto barns across the area... but the history of this spot goes back much further. One of the main features at Rock City Gardens is the Lover's Leap overlook, which got its name from a heartrending legend. As the story goes, centuries ago, there were two young Cherokee lovers from warring tribes, a beautiful young maiden named Nacoochee and a young man named Sautee. Sautee was captured and thrown to his death from the top of Lover's Leap, and Nacoochee, heartbroken upon hearing the news, leaped from the outcropping as well.
All of Rock City and Lookout Mountain played a large part in the Civil War. During the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Union and Confederate soldiers alike speculated that the view from the top stretched into seven states. If you visit today, you can enjoy the views of the valley, cross the bridge over High Falls, and, allegedly, see into seven states from the Lover's Leap overlook!
During the Civil War, Chattanooga was known as the "Gateway to the Deep South,” It was a key city during the war and several battles took place here. These sites have been preserved as the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, America's first and largest military park. The two battles were turning points during the Civil War; despite a Confederate win at Chickamauga in September of 1863, a month later, a Union victory during the Battle of Chattanooga was considered the "death-knell" for the Confederacy. The park boasts 50 miles of hiking trails and two creeks for paddling, making it easy to explore the history here. Additionally, Lookout Mountain Battlefield and Chickamauga Battlefield each have a visitor center with displays and exhibits on the engagements that occurred at each site. Both battlefields have ranger-guided tours and living history events that you can take advantage of as well.
A special way to explore Chattanooga's past is on the water. Southern Belle Riverboat Cruises offers a few tours that let you board an old-school riverboat and get a new view of the city. Their daily sightseeing tour takes you from downtown to the foot of Lookout Mountain, around Moccasin Bend, and then back to Chattanooga, offering commentary on the sights and excellent views along the way. They also feature sunset tours, dinner cruises, and special events for various holidays.
Before you visit Lookout Mountain Battlefield make a point to stop at the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum. Located at the entrance to Point Park, the museum features a unique map experience that uses "multi media projection mapping with high color saturation, short-throw digital projectors, solid-state media players and 3-D modeling software" to give a unique perspective on this crucial battle. It's an experience unlike any other, and will give you a deeper appreciation of Civil War history. The museum also has weapons and other artifacts on display. Once you're done touring the exhibits, walk over to Point Park and see the site where the Battle Above the Clouds took place.
Riverboats aren't the only vintage form of transportation in Chattanooga; there's also the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. "Chattanooga Choo Choo" isn't a popular classic song for nothing, you know! Meant to preserve the so-called Golden Age of Railroading, the museum doesn't just want to display vintage equipment; they want to keep the experience of riding the rails alive. Tour the display yard to check out freight cars, passenger cars and locomotives, then take a ride on a train yourself. Each day, the museum offers different rides, including the most popular Missionary Ridge Local, which takes you through an 1858-era tunnel, on a tour of a railroad restoration shop, and lets you see the locomotive rotating on a turntable!
Chattanooga's history is, no doubt, unique, and the city has done an amazing job of preserving it. It offers a special lens through which to experience the city. Along the way, you'll get to hear the stories that make the city what is it today. In a way, a trip to Chattanooga is not just to another place, but another time altogether, and that's definitely something worth exploring.
Welcome to Chattanooga! Also known as Scenic City, it's the perfect blend of small-town charm and big city fun. Chattanooga's picturesque location and Southern soul give it a unique atmosphere. Explore its offbeat side, experience its history, or explore the boundless outdoor adventure available.