If Georgia lawmakers succeed in moving their state’s border north into Chattanooga, it won’t be the first time the Peach State claimed land in the Scenic City.
Since 1836, Georgia has owned land in downtown Chattanooga, all related to railroad operations. The only Chattanooga property still in the state’s possession is the Western and Atlantic railroad right of way that extends from King Street downtown to the state line in East Ridge.
“We’ve had little parcels of land used for different things in the past, all having to do with the railroad, and over the years we’ve sold them off,” said Rod Bowlden, deputy executive director of the Georgia State Properties Commission.
Local architect Thomas Johnson bought the most recent property Georgia offered for sale, along King Street, in 2005 for $150,000, $25,000 above the appraised value. Mr. Johnson sold the property in September 2007 to Chattanooga for $195,000. It is now a gravel parking lot for the Development Resource Center, he said.
Dr. Daryl Black, curator of the Chattanooga History Center, said the railroad land was sold to Georgia because “it gave them the connection from Chattanooga to Atlanta. It brought the railroad to town.”
Mr. Bowlden said Georgia now leases the Western and Atlantic railroad right of way, which measures at least 33 feet from the center of the rail in both directions, to CSX. The lease expires in 2019.
In May 1972, then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter suggested his state look into selling Georgia-owned properties in Chattanooga, according to an Associated Press report. At the time, most of the properties were between Market and Broad streets and Ninth (now M.L. King Boulevard) and 11th streets. This area was the location of the Freight Depot, as well as the Plaza Hotel and other railroad-related infrastructure.
By 1978, Chattanooga had bought back most of the property, the AP reported. The properties are home to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, EPB, TVA and a number of businesses in the old Plaza Hotel building including Chattz Coffee and the Pickle Barrel restaurant.
The Western and Atlantic railroad was a Georgia-owned line made famous by the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862.
In that incident, several members of the Union army, under the lead of Capt. James Andrews, stole a train, The General, in Big Shanty, Ga., with the idea of bringing it to Chattanooga.
“They ran out of fuel near Graysville, though, and many of Andrew’s Raiders fame were captured,” Dr. Black said.
The General was recovered, and seven Raiders were hanged, including Capt. Andrews. All are buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery.
The General continued to serve the Western & Atlantic and Louisville & Nashville lines for 30 years until it was retired and put on display in the old Union Station in downtown Chattanooga. It was given to Georgia by L&N in 1967.
Mr. Bowlden said as long as trains continue to run, Georgia will hold onto its property, but there may be other properties owned by Georgia in Hamilton County.
“I’m sure we’ll identify parcels on some lost, abandoned line in the future, but I don’t know exactly where they are,” he said. “They don’t come up too terribly often because most parcels have already been identified.”
And, of course, there’s the disputed land along the Tennessee border.
“Maybe we can trade,” he said.