Chattanooga's Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum archive expands as rail history hub

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Crews discuss placing the trucks, the name used for a assembly of wheels for a rail car, on the tracks at a siding along Holtzclaw Avenue in January 2020. Crews from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and B&B Crane Rental moved the recently acquired office car former Norfolk Southern 8/Southern Railway 5 to its new home at the museum. The East Chattanooga facility houses a growing archive of Southern railroad history.

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in East Chattanooga will soon house the archive and headquarters of the L&N Historical Society, which had been located in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

This marks the second time an outside railroad archive has made the museum its final stop. In 2018, the Southern Railway Historical Association moved its archives to the building on Turntable Road, which the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum acquired and renovated in 2018 for just that purpose.

"There's a fear that, as all of us are getting older, where is this stuff going to go?" said Tim Andrews, president of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. "This becomes a facility that can acquire, curate these materials and not worry about the family not knowing what it is and it ends up in a dumpster or for sale on eBay."

David Orr, the vice president of the L&N Historical Society and a retired CSX executive, said the railroad museum in Chattanooga is the perfect place for their collection, which has outgrown its space.

"Our group assesses it as one of the premier railroad museums in the country, and getting better all the time," Orr said.

The L&N archive will occupy about 2,500 square feet in the 6,000-square-foot building on Turntable Drive, adjacent to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's campus on Cromwell Road.

The growing archive facility isn't open to the public, but is part of a larger effort to preserve and protect railroad history, with Chattanooga as a hub for that work, Andrews said.

"People have that view of Chattanooga, anyway, with the Chattanooga Choo Choo," he said. "With this facility, Chattanooga becomes the place to go to find out what you need to know about railroad history and development in the Southeast."

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“With this facility, Chattanooga becomes the place to go to find out what you need to know about railroad history and development in the Southeast.” — Tim Andrews, president of Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

The materials range from letters and historical records to drawings and business records documenting the construction, expansion and mergers and acquisitions through Southern railroad history. There is also a growing collection of railroad history books in the archive, Andrews said.

The collection will likely expand, and eventually much of the material will be converted to make is accessible online, Andrews added. That doesn't mean, however, that other groups are giving up ownership of their archives, he said.

"As other groups and organizations decide they want to put their materials here, those things still belong to those organizations," he said. "It's more of a consortium or a coalition."

Contact Mary Fortune at Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.