While looking for information relating to Rhea County, I came across some hand-written notes which are significant to the history of Spring City. These statements were written by a Historical Society member who is no longer living, but who cared enough about history to preserve the information for future generations.
According to the notes, there was a Button Factory on Walnut Grove Cemetery Road; this factory made pearl buttons from the shells of the large mussels that were caught in the Tennessee River. When the Button Factory closed, the lumber from it was given to build the African-American Baptist Church in Spring City. This happened in approximately 1896, and the notes show that Claude Johnson was pastor.
Another entry states that a Mr. Barton owned and ran the Flour Mill in Spring City. It was located on the lot in front of what is now the new Post Office. Another interesting side note relates to the mail: when building the railroad, an upstairs room at the Waterhouse residence was used for keeping the mail for the men working on the building of the railroad. Other information from the notes tells the reader that the railroad was begun by the City of Cincinnati in 1869, and took ten years for completion to Chattanooga. The first depot was built in Spring City in 1879, and was a two room, rough lumber building. The name which was given to the station was Rheaville, in honor of Rhea County; however, Rhea Springs objected to this, and the railroad changed the name to Spring City. This first depot burned in 1892, and was replaced with a larger one. The new depot was used until 1907, when a new building took its place at a cost of $7,762.00.
In 1879, the first train traveled through Spring City, but very few people would risk riding it because they were afraid of this new mode of travel! At that time, a round trip ticket to Chattanooga cost fifty cents. Then in 1880, the first freight train service came south loaded with clothing, drugs, meats, hats, furniture and other goods for buyers in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta and Birmingham. A week later that freight train returned, and was loaded with cotton, corn, strawberries, lumber and other products for the northern cities.
Also, in 1880, the first passenger service began with three train loads of guests, including the Governor of Tennessee and the mayors of several Southern cities. This was a four day celebration of a new era in travel. The train engine was a wood-burning engine with open cars; sparks flying back into those open cars burned holes in clothing, hats and anything else that would burn. When the engine stopped, the cars all bumped together, and seats turned over. And trains stopped at every crossing at that time!
By 1915, there was so much freight shipped that the railroad had to have a crew of operators at the depot around the clock. During its greatest prosperity, the railroad had a schedule of trains going north which would leave Spring City at 5:51A.M., 12:25 P.M. and 5:49 P.M. The schedule from Spring City going south included leaving at 8:26 A.M., 4:40 P.M. and 5:06 P.M.
Then, in 1964, passenger service was discontinued. By December of 1966, Spring City was notified that the station would be closed and dismantled. Hearings were set and cancelled, and eventually the fight was ended for keeping the depot in the town. The station did remain open until September, 1971, with Mr. Oscar Oney as station operator, and there was only freight service.
Today, we hardly think about traveling by train, unless it is a special excursion complete with a meal and trip to some unique place. However, the railroad was the only means of public transportation during the early days of our history, and is a type of travel many of our citizens have not experienced. Hopefully, these notes will give some insight into the kind of life our ancestors experienced as they lived during the early years of Rhea County’s history. This just shows the importance of studying our past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at email@example.com