In 1967, officials in Tennessee and Georgia battled in court over possession of the General, a Civil War-era steam locomotive previously at the center of a war adventure known as the Great Locomotive Chase.
A 2016 local history column by Sam D. Elliott in the Chattanooga Times Free Press explained the 1862 Civil War "chase" as "an episode in April 1862 in which Union raiders hijacked a train pulled by a steam locomotive, the 'General,' with the intention of destroying bridges, track and telegraph wire between Chattanooga and Marietta, Georgia.
But then, "a determined pursuit by Confederates frustrated the plan, and the General was abandoned by its captors just north of Ringgold," Elliott wrote.
The General was on display at Chattanooga's Union Station train terminal from the 1890s until the early 1960s and was considered a city heirloom until its corporate owners, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, took it on a nationwide tour in 1961 and then announced it would be moved permanently to Georgia in 1967. The move set off hard feelings — and eventually court action — here. (The state of Georgia had tried twice previously to win custody of the train in court, according to historian Elliott.)
The photo accompanying this article is believed to have been taken in the 1960s, according to Barbara Kelley, the widow of former Chattanooga Mayor Ralph Kelley, who tried to return the train to Chattanooga in 1967. Kelley died in 2004.
The image (photographer unknown) is in a collection of historical photos owned by the Kelley family and loaned to ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website dedicated to vintage photos. Sam Hall, curator of the website, said the photo appears to have been shot "in the Wauhatchie area, perhaps off Cummings Highway" based on landmarks visible in the image.
Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.
If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives or original non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.
According to the Kelley family, then-Mayor Ralph Kelley got a call from a Cincinnati, Ohio, newspaper reporter in the late summer of 1967, tipping him off that the General would pass through Chattanooga on its way to Kennesaw, Georgia, where it was set to become part of a permanent history display.
According to newspaper reports, at 1 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 11, 1967, "Mayor Ralph Kelley and [Hamilton County] Sheriff Frank Newell led a squad of 20 modern-day raiders to prevent the famed, 111-year-old engine from being retired to a Georgia railroad museum."
The incident sparked one of the more interesting interstate custody disputes of the 20th century.
The train was commandeered here by court order, but two years later, in 1969, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Wilson ruled the train should be moved to Georgia, where it remains. Wilson's ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court.
Interestingly, Wilson and Kelley — who later became a bankruptcy court judge here — were good friends who frequently ate lunch together, according to Kelley's wife. She said the story of the General became closely associated with her late husband's personal history.
"He was frequently asked questions about it, and enjoyed talking about it," she said in a telephone interview earlier this week.