Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad

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The Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad (formerly the Wills Valley Railroad and North-East & South-West Alabama Rail Road) was an early railroad which crossed northern Alabama from Tennessee and Georgia to Mississippi through Jones Valley.

Wills Valley Railroad

The Wills Valley Railroad was chartered on February 3, 1852 to connect the Alabama & Tennessee River Railroad near James Hampton's farm in DeKalb County to the Georgia and Tennessee Railroad in Lookout Valley.

No part of the railway was constructed or operated under that name. Legislation authorizing the sale of its franchise and property to the North-East and South-West Alabama Railroad Company was passed in 1858 and the merger was completed after 1860.

Northeast and Southwest Railroad

The North-East and South-West Rail Road Company was chartered on December 12, 1853 with initial stock of $7 million and a plan to connect the Mobile & Ohio Railroad with Knoxville, Tennessee through Alabama's mineral district. L. C. Garland, a professor at the University of Alabama, raised $68,000 in capital and slave labor during the summer of 1854 by speaking at a series of barbecues in communities along the anticipated route, including Livingston, Eutaw, Tuscaloosa, Jonesboro, Elyton, Ruhama Church, Hagood's Store and Trussville.

Ground was broken for the construction of the railroad at Tuscaloosa on December 7. Chief engineer E. R. Sandford was hired in January 1854, and work proceeded slowly amidst squabbles between subscribers. In 1860 the line was completed from Meridian to York, where it connected with the Alabama and Mississippi Rivers Railroad (which leased the new section and operated the first trains). Grading for additional sections was completed, largely with slave labor, before progress was ended by the onset of the Civil War.

A group of Boston investors led by John C. Stanton gained control of the company soon after the war's end. Robert Jemison Jr served as president of the railroad from 1863 to 1869. On October 5, 1868 the combination of the Wills Valley and Northeast & Southwest Railroads were approved by the legislature as the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad.

After lobbying efforts that included bribes for legislators and the intervention of Governor William H. Smith, who served on the company's board of directors, the company won a $2 million direct subsidy in 1870, financed by state-issued bonds. By that time another route was being surveyed for the South & North Alabama Railroad. The location of their crossing was anticipated to become the site of a future industrial city, and the founders of the Elyton Land Company arranged to control the location, where they soon established the city of Birmingham.

In January 1871 the company, which struggled to operate the roadway on any regular schedule, defaulted on its interest payments. The following June, the state seized ownership of the faltering railroad's Alabama trackage and assumed payment of the bond obligations itself. Soon the company was forced into bankruptcy. The state purchased the remaining property at auction in September 1871 and placed it in receivership.

The section between Chattanooga and Meridian, Mississippi was soon returned to operating condition. It was sold to George Ingraham, president of the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad Company on April 14, 1873, but fell again into bankruptcy and was sold at auction on January 22, 1877 to a group of English investors acting as the Alabama Great Southern Railway Co., Ltd. and rechristened the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. It remained under their control until 1906.