The border dispute between Tennessee and Georgia that has bubbled to the surface over ownership of the Tennessee River this week was not the first disagreement between the two states.
Indeed, from the Civil War to today there has been a rivalry between the states, and between Chattanooga on Tennessee’s southern border and Georgia’s capitol of Atlanta.
“It’s just a pride thing,” Chattanooga City Councilman Manny Rico said. “The two states are very Southern and very proud, and it just seems like they’re always competing against each other.”
Before the Civil War the cities were similar in size, and both grew based on their strengths as transportation hubs, according to various history books drawing on U.S. Census figures of the day.
The Western & Atlantic Railroad that connected the two towns was completed in 1849.
Atlanta grew to a population of 2,572 in 1850, while Chattanooga reached a population of 2,545 in 1860.
In the 1890s, the consolidation of 10 radiating rail lines, including five divisions of Southern Railway, established Atlanta as the South’s dominant railroad center.
By 1920, the Peach State’s largest city had grown to 200,616, a figure the Volunteer State’s fourth largest city has yet to eclipse nearly 90 years later.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield is hopeful there may yet be a partnership between the cities.
“We have always had a connection with Georgia,” he said. “The economic possibilities of having a high-speed rail (line) between Chattanooga and Atlanta are limitless.”
The Civil War itself was the setting for a dispute between the states that continued for more than 100 years.
Today, the Kennesaw, Ga., Civil War Museum houses one of history’s most well-known locomotives — the General. But many people feel that locomotive should be housed in Chattanooga.
The General was a part of what became known as the Great Locomotive Chase. In 1862 Andrews’ Raiders, a group of Union Army volunteers, hijacked the General in Kennesaw in an effort to disrupt the railroad route to Chattanooga during the Civil War.
After the war, the locomotive was housed in Chattanooga. But in the 1960s, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad moved the General to Georgia.
The city of Chattanooga filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the move, but a federal appeals court ultimately ruled the railroad company could do what it wished with the engine. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, and in 1972 the General was taken to Georgia.
When the Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005, attendance at the then-14-year-old Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga was down for nearly a year. Since then, according to Thom Benson, the Tennessee Aquarium’s communications manager, the numbers in the Scenic City have been steadily rising.
“It’s been a slow process to get the Atlanta visitors back to Chattanooga, but we know they enjoy Chattanooga and what we offer,” Mr. Benson said.
Chattanooga now is “a good destination city for Atlanta,” he said.
Staff writer Michael Davis contributed to this story.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...