The Pie in the Sky Trail explores the best of Eastern Tennessee history, taking you along peaks and valleys with stunning views, through classic coal mining towns, past Civil War battlefields, and on to Lookout Mountain, site of the “Battle Above the Clouds” and home to world-famous Rock City. Explore the flavorful history of Chattanooga with the MoonPie®, and even relive the time of riverboats and railroads when you journey through Tennessee history on The Pie in the Sky Trail.
ONE - EARLY HISTORY and FIRST SETTLERS
Known as “The Grand Canyon of Tennessee,” the Tennessee River Gorge stretches across Marion County, and was first inhabited by humans as much as 10,000 years ago. The first inhabitants of the Chattanooga area were early Native Americans, and archeological evidence of their occupation dates as far back as 900 AD. Explorer Hernando De Soto passed through in the 1540s, and by the 1600s, the Tennessee River was an essential trade route for European hunters and trappers.
The documented Cherokee occupation of the area dates to the 1700s. In 1776 Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee War Chief who fought against the colonists in the Chickamauga Wars, moved downriver from the main tribe to help prevent further European settlement in the area. In 1816, John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, settled at a site along the Tennessee River above Chattanooga Creek and established Ross’s Landing as a trading post. Located along Broad Street in present-day Chattanooga, Ross’s Landing became one of the centers of the Cherokee Nation and one of the places where Federal troops gathered Cherokees before forcing them to travel to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) on the Trail of Tears in 1838. For its role in the Trail of Tears, Ross’s Landing has been memorialized as a river park on the banks of the Tennessee River.
After the Cherokee Removal, the post office changed the settlement’s name to Chattanooga. There are several different stories about the origins of this name. One late 19th century history says that it was originally the name of a small Native American fishing village near the base of Lookout Mountain, on the bank of Chattanooga Creek. In the Cherokee language “Chattanooga” means "to draw fish out of water.”
Another source says that the first part of "Chattanooga" is derived from the Muskogean word for “rock;” the latter may mean “dwelling place.” Some believe the name “Chattanooga” comes from the Native American word “Chado-na-ugsa,” which means “rock that comes to a point.” And yet another possible interpretation is that the name is derived from the Cherokee word “Clanoowah,” the name for a fierce small bird that nested in the area, leading to a folk belief that “Chattanooga” means “eagle’s nest.”
TWO - WAR COMES to CHATTANOOGA
As a vital rail hub and important manufacturing center, Chattanooga was a strategic target for the two warring armies of the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War; Chattanooga’s railroad junction connected Nashville and Atlanta to the rest of the South. As the two sides clashed, Chattanooga was the center of a number of battles, collectively referred to as the “Chattanooga Campaign,” and there are more than 30 preserved Civil War sites along the Pie in the Sky Trail route.
The area also features many caves once used as saltpeter mines during the Civil War. The nitrate-rich cave soil was the primary ingredient for gunpowder. Nickajack Cave in Marion County had one of the most valuable deposits of this precious resource.
In 1862, Mary McDonald and her younger sister Sidney joined a group of young women, roughly twenty to thirty strong, in forming the Rhea County Spartans. The Spartans mimicked military organization in establishing a chain of command and holding elections for officers, Mary being elected the company’s captain. The women formed the company with an aim to aid not only the Confederacy, but more specifically, their male family members who volunteered for the Confederate army. These women, all from prominent families, gathered and delivered supplies to the cavalry units in the area. One account claims the women were actually sworn into Confederate service and that they learned to provide medical care, and perhaps even served as spies. In April 1865, U.S. Capt. John P. Walker ordered the arrest of the Spartans and 16 were subsequently detained. They were marched on foot in groups to the river, then transported by boat to Chattanooga. Appalled that the women had even been detained, Gen. James Steadman fed the Spartans a good lunch and sent them back to their homes on one condition: that they take the oath of allegiance. On the steamer trip back to Rhea County, the Spartans learned of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender.
In September 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland under U.S. Gen. William S. Rosecrans executed a series of maneuvers in the Tullahoma Campaign that forced C.S. Gen. Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee to abandon Chattanooga and withdraw into northern Georgia. Rosecrans pursued Bragg and the two armies collided at the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19 – 20, 1863. Bragg achieved a major victory when a gap was opened mistakenly in the Union line and a strong column commanded by C.S. Gen. James Longstreet drove through it and routed a good portion of the Union Army.
By the fall of 1863, the U.S. Army controlled Chattanooga and the Confederates occupied Lookout Mountain, where they could monitor almost all of the Union Army’s activities. After their defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, Union forces under Gen. Rosecrans had retreated to Chattanooga leading Gen. Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to lay siege to the city, hoping to starve the Union forces into surrender. Bragg’s troops occupied Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, both of which could provide views of the city, the river, and the Union’s supply lines. Confederate troops launched raids on supply wagons heading toward Chattanooga, which made it critically important for the Union to find another way to feed their troops.
A Union force had seized Brown's Ferry on the Tennessee River, opening a supply line to the Union Army in Chattanooga. Confederate forces attempted to defeat the Union force defending the ferry and again close this supply line but were defeated at The Battle of Wauhatchie, on October 28 – 29, 1863, in one of the few night battles of the Civil War.
On November 24, 1863, Union forces under Gen. Joseph Hooker defeated Confederate forces commanded by Gen. Carter L. Stevenson at the Battle Of Lookout Mountain. This battle is often referred to as the “Battle Above the Clouds” due to the fog and mist that encased the mountainside during the engagement. Following the Union victory on Lookout Mountain, Union forces under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Missionary Ridge near modern-day downtown Chattanooga on November 25 and defeated the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
The loss of Chattanooga represented a major turning point in the fortunes of the Confederacy. One of the Confederacy’s two major armies had been defeated, and the Union now controlled the important transit hub of Chattanooga, the "Gateway to the Lower South." Chattanooga soon became the base for Gen. William T. Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign, which led directly to the capture of Atlanta and to Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”
For the entire Chattanooga Campaign, Union casualties amounted to 753 killed, 4,722 wounded, and 349 missing, while Confederate casualties amounted to 361 killed, 2,160 wounded, and between 4,146 to 6,142 missing or taken prisoner. The National Park Service has preserved many of the Chattanooga battlefields as part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
THREE - BLACK DIAMONDS
In the late 19th century, coal was the most important fuel for industry, commerce, and home. Factories needed the fuel delivered constantly, and even the railroads ran on coal. A large portion of the Pie in the Sky Trail was once known as the South Tennessee Coal Field, part of the larger Great Appalachian Field that stretches from Pennsylvania to Alabama.
Ancient coal seams thread through these rock formations, which were being heavily mined by the mid-1800s. Coal towns like Tracy City, South Pittsburg, Monteagle and others began to boom in the later 1800s, when railroad travel became possible over the tall ranges and coal could be more easily exported. A large cluster of mining operations were concentrated on Fredonia Mountain, just above Dunlap, where Coke Ovens Park still demonstrates today how raw coal was brought from the nearby mountains to be converted into coke, which was a cleaner fuel.
Building the railroads put Tennessee under crushing debt. In the 1870s the state tried to relieve some of that debt by leasing convicts to coal mining companies to work in the mines. The majority of these convict-miners were African-American, and their labor was used in part to help undermine the coal miners unions. The state also increased punishments for many petty crimes, ensuring a steady supply of cheap labor for the mining industry.
In 1871, white paid coal miners struck against the use of convicts in the Tracy City mines, and even attacked the prison compound with the goal of freeing the convicts but they were unsuccessful. In 1891, striking coal miners in Briceville were successful in their attempt to free coal-mining convicts. The convict lease system was abolished in the following year, but was replaced by a substitute system in which convicts would mine coal for the state itself at Brushy Mountain Prison.
Even into well into the 20th century, the life of a coal miner was not an easy one. Hours were long, conditions were dangerous, and pay was very low. “Sixteen Tons,” a song made famous by Bristol native Tennessee Ernie Ford, described the hard life of a Tennessee coal miner. The industry left its mark on the culture and the landscape all along the Pie in the Sky Trail.
FOUR - FROM the CHOO CHOO to the MOONPIE
For one week in 1925, Dayton caught the nation’s attention with a controversial court case centered on the teaching of evolution. Tennessee had just passed the a law forbidding the teaching of evolution in schools. The American Civil Liberties Union sought to test the law in court, and Dayton seized the opportunity to host a high-profile case in the hopes it would attract attention to the economically struggling town.
Town leaders rushed to find a teacher to stand trial, settling on John Scopes, a young football coach who had taught biology only as a substitute. The town got the attention it wanted as the trial featuring famed Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan began in the sweltering Tennessee heat; Dayton was crawling with people, and WGN Chicago made it the first trial to be broadcast live on the radio.
Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, then won an appeal hearing in the Tennessee Supreme Court. The verdict was overturned based on an unrelated technicality. In 1955, the story of the trial was the basis of the hit play Inherit the Wind, and in 1960 the play was realized as an Oscar-winning film staring Spencer Tracy as the fictional Darrow and Fredric March as the fictional Bryan.
As a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Cumberland Homesteads Project was designed to help more than 200 “economically stranded” families of miners, timber workers and farmers during the Great Depression. The project began in 1933 with the federal purchase of 27,802 acres, which were then divided into small farms. In order to qualify for a farm, a person had to come from a rural background, possess good character and have a true desire to be a homeowner but no means to do so.
The interview and application process was rigorous, narrowing down several thousand applicants to 256 families. Each farm came with all the essentials for self-sufficiency, including livestock, tools, and the expectation of hard work. The program lasted five years, at which time the Homesteaders had the opportunity to buy the land and houses they’d built and occupied. The finished product—stone cottages dotting the landscape—was reminiscent of the English countryside. The buildings stand as a testament to the best qualities of the American people: determination, diligence, and a strong work ethic.
Back in the early 19th century, two missionaries went to Lookout Mountain to spread the gospel to Native Americans inhabiting the mountainside and reported that they found a “citadel of rocks” on top of the mountain. By the early 1900s a local entrepreneur and hotel owner named Garnet Carter attempted to develop a residential neighborhood on Lookout Mountain called “Fairyland.” Later Carter’s wife transformed much of the central area into an enormous rock garden that followed a winding trail past plants, wildflowers, and fairytale statues.
With the Great Depression dragging the economy to a halt, Carter saw an opportunity and opened the trail to the public in 1932, calling it “Rock City.” The path through fairyland includes gardens, ancient rock formations, and more than 400 species of plants, flowers and shrubs. The park claims that visitors can view seven different states from atop the park, though this seems to be an exaggeration that has persisted since the Civil War era when Confederate troops held the mountain to monitor Union activities below in Chattanooga.
The park received numerous visitors from the region, but it wasn’t until Garnet hired sign painter Clark Byers to travel the nation’s highways, offering to paint farmers’ barns free of charge, as long as he could paint “See Rock City” across the roof. By the 1950s, there were over 900 barns from Michigan to Texas emblazoned with “See Rock City” on their roofs. Only approximately 80 barns painted by Byers remain today; two of them are located along the Pie in the Sky Trail in Grassy Cove.
The Chattanooga Bakery, which has been in business since 1902, is the home of the MoonPie®. In 1917, a bakery salesman realized that miners needed something to pack in their lunch pails. A winning combination of marshmallow crème sandwiched between graham crackers and dipped in chocolate made the perfect lunch to go, and was priced affordably at a nickel apiece. The snack became known as the “Working Man’s Lunch,” and long before fast food was commonplace, the combination of an R.C. Cola and a MoonPie® was one of the first “combo meals.” It’s still a favorite pair and beloved tradition in Tennessee —inspiring a 1951 country music hit by Big Bill Lister and later sparking a festival dedicated to the combo in Bell Buckle. Today, MoonPies come in several flavors, and nearly one million are produced every day in Chattanooga.
Another great southern tradition, cornbread has been cooked in cast iron cookware since the first generation of American settlers made their homes in Tennessee. And part of that tradition has been a company that was founded in 1896 here in Tennessee: Lodge Manufacturing is one of America’s oldest cookware companies in continuous operation. It is still owned and managed by the descendants of the Lodge family, and much of the cast iron products sold by Lodge are produced in its foundry in South Pittsburg, which has been in continual operation since the company was founded.
South Pittsburg celebrates its cast iron heritage every April at the National Cornbread Festival. According to the festival’s cook-off contest rules, every entry must be cooked in a Lodge skillet with a package of Martha White Cornmeal as part of a main dish recipe. The Cornbread Festival is a major source of revenue for South Pittsburgh, helping to improve the community though building, maintenance, and preservation.
The geography of the Chattanooga region made it a natural junction for transporting goods and passengers. Once the railroad arrived in 1849, Chattanooga quickly became a major regional transit center. By 1909, a grand new Terminal Station had been completed, which grew to serve nearly 50 passenger trains a day.
Over the years, the beautiful and bustling terminal greeted Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. A local newspaper reporter dubbed one of the local steam locomotives as the “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and big band maestro Glenn Miller and his orchestra made the “choo choo” a household name in the 1940s with a popular song of the same name.
Passenger train traffic slowed severely in the 1960s with the rise of auto and air travel, and the grand old building was boarded up after the last train departed the station in 1970. It was assumed that Terminal Station would meet the same fate as Union Station, the city’s other historic station, which was demolished in 1973. Fortunately, Terminal Station was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of local investors who recognized the value and potential of the location.
In an incredible transformation, this classic building that had been all but left for scrap was recreated as a beautiful and welcoming Chattanooga destination. The terminal's immense dome room has been converted into a huge dining hall. Authentic sleeper cars are furnished as unique hotel rooms. And a first-class hotel and convention center complete the complex. The Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel is widely considered one of Chattanooga’s finest historic preservation projects, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Chattanooga Music Across the World
The sounds coming from Chattanooga’s neighborhoods are known around the world. At the turn of the 20th century Roland Hayes grew up in Chattanooga and received his first musical training here before launching a career that would make him one of the best known opera singers in the world. Bessie Smith, the remarkable blues singer, was born in the Blue Goose Hollow neighborhood at the foot of Cameron Hill. This story, and legacy of Chattanooga music, is celebrated at the downtown Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Lovie Austin, who is also from Chattanooga, moved to Chicago and became one of the greatest female jazz pianists of the 1920s and 1930s. Another jazz legend from Chattanooga is Jimmie Blanton, who revolutionized bass playing in the 1930s and performed with Duke Ellington. From the modern era of jazz comes Yusef Lateef, also born in Chattanooga, and his world renowned tenor saxophone and flute recordings.
Chattanoogans also have influenced pop and rock music. Modern R&B icon Usher grew up in Chattanooga and first sang in a local church choir. Michael Houser graduated from Hixson High School before he helped to start famous jam rockers Widespread Panic.
The true history of Tennessee is here for you to enjoy and experience all along this remarkable trail: Natural wonders from pre-history, Appalachian culture and flavor, well-preserved Civil War sites, and true Southern hospitality abound on The Pie in the Sky Trail.