The rugged North Georgia mountains stood tall, and they alone blocked the southern push of the railroads in the 1840s. Chetoogetta Mountain was most formidable of all. To connect Atlanta (History of Atlanta, GA) and Chattanooga (History of Chattanooga, Tennessee) a tunnel must be dug by the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Plans for the tunnel began in the late 1830's, but a great panic and depression delayed construction for almost 10 years. The railroad provided passenger and freight service during this time, carrying the freight, and letting the passengers walk, over the mountain. A town came to life in the area to service the needs of the passengers from the train and the "sappers" building the tunnel. As unimpressive as it may seem now, this 1477 foot tunnel was the engineering marvel of its time. A plaque at the west end of the tunnel reads:
"The Excavation of the west end begun July 15, 1848 & the first opening effected Oct. 31, 1848. The first train of cars passed through May 9, 1850. Length of excavation in this end 575 feet and of the tunnel 1477 feet."There are actually two tunnels in Tunnel Hill, the "new" tunnel was begun in 1926 and completed in 1928 and is 1527 feet long.
The tunnel at Tunnel Hill(sometimes called Tunnelsville) was a major target of James Andrews and his men in The Great Locomotive Chase. By the time the raiders reached here the Texas was in sight so the tunnel was spared.
During the battle of Chickamauga the Clisby-Austin house, which still stands, was used as a hospital. Confederate General John B. Hood was sent here after the amputation of his leg which accompanied him on his journey (if he died of infection they could be buried together). The leg is buried in the family cemetery near the house.
In December, 1863, after the Confederate defeat at Chattanooga, Patrick Cleburne wrote his proposal to draft slaves into the army in return for their emancipation at Tunnel Hill.
Gen. George Thomas approached the area in May of 1864 and ran into Confederate skirmishers defending the hill on May 6. After testing the line, Thomas sent a division to battle the rebels. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, the Confederates did not have time to damage the tunnel as ordered. Although relatively minor, the skirmish marked the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign.
General William Sherman used the Clisby-Austin house as his headquarters during the battle of Dalton. It was here that Sherman was having a early supper on May 9, 1864 when General James McPherson sent word that he was within sight of Resaca and moving towards the town.
The tunnel remained the centerpiece of the town until it was closed early in the 20th due to the increase in size of railroad rolling stock. This was forcing the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad, lessee of the line at the time, to either off-load larger cars into smaller ones in Chattanooga and Atlanta, or send cars over the Central Of Georgia Line from Chattanooga to Rome, GA.. The new tunnel had been drilled through Chetoogetta Mountain and the older tunnel fell into disuse. On May 9, 2000, the 150th anniversary, the tunnel was reopened for a few hours. A park, constructed on the original right-of-way gives visitors access to the engineering marvel of 1850. A museum nearby is open by appointment