Before the city of Chattanooga came to be the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the seat of Hamilton County in Tennessee, the area around the Moccasin Bend where the town stands today was home to Native Americans. The Cherokee tribe came here between 1776 and 1838 if the Chickamauga Mound close to the Chickamauga Creek is anything to go by. But there are signs of human occupation that go back some 10,000 years all around the Moccasin Bend. Historians unearthed evidence of an early civilization that used the river as a highway to establish a kingdom that stretched to the Gulf of Mexico known as the Moundbuilders.
John Ross is credited as being the first European to settle in modern times in 1815. He had quite the relationship with the Cherokee people who made him a chief. The pioneer established the first trading post (Rossís Landing) on the Tennessee River and named the area Chattanooga, which means ìrock rising to a point. While Chattanooga started as a river port, the arrival of the railroad between in the 1840s and 50s transformed it into a regional commerce hub. The river port acted as a cotton transit point for cargo going to Memphis. However, the arduous trip, especially around the Muscle Shoals, only saw a limited amount of freight being ferried through the river. The arrival of the railway made transportation much more manageable and served to increase the economic output of the small town.
The arrival of the railway also heralded the arrival of other industries. Chattanooga got its first iron, charcoal, and steel mills soon after the Western and Atlantic Railroad snaked into town. Craven House is a relic of this industrial era, built by Robert Cravens, one of the earliest ìironmasters.
The railway also saw Chattanooga's population grow by as much as 60%, even though the terrain of the city exposed residents to flooding. The Civil War period marked a historical moment for the small town. Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance of the expanding railway and leveraged it for the Southern Cause. By trying to control the railway in Chattanooga, Lincoln inadvertently spurred the Union Army to fight for the land on three separate occasions. The heroics of General Kirby Smith and Ulysses S. Grant defended the town against Ormsby Mitchell in 1862 and 1863.
Since gaining a charter from the state legislature in 1852, Chattanooga continues to play a critical role in the political, cultural, and economic development of Tennessee.