Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in the U.S. state of Tennessee, with a population of 167,674 as of the 2010 census. It is the seat of Hamilton County. Located in southeastern Tennessee on Chickamauga Lake and Nickajack Lake, which are both part of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga lies approximately to the northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, to the southwest of Knoxville, about to the southeast of Nashville, about to the northeast of Huntsville, Alabama, and about to the northeast of Birmingham, Alabama. Chattanooga abuts the Georgia border and is where three major interstate highways meet: I-24, I-75, and I-59.
The city, which has a downtown elevation of approximately , lies at the transition between the ridge-and-valley portion of the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. The city is therefore surrounded by various mountains and ridges. The official nickname for Chattanooga is the "Scenic City." Several unofficial nicknames include "River City", "Nooga", "Chattown", and "Gig City", demonstrating that Chattanooga currently has the fastest internet service in the Western Hemisphere.
Since 1990, Chattanooga has been recognized as a Tree City USA community.
The first inhabitants of the Chattanooga area were American Indians. Sites dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period showed continuous occupation through the Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian/Muskogean (900–1650), and Cherokee (1776–1838) periods.
The first part of "Chattanooga" derives from the Muskogean word cvto /cható/ – 'rock'. The latter may be derived from a regional suffix -nunga meaning dwelling or dwelling place.
A late 19th century history recounted:
In 1838 the US government forced the Cherokees, along with other American Indians from southeastern U.S. states, to relocate in what is the state of Oklahoma. Their journey west became known as the "Trail of Tears" for their exile and fatalities along the way. The US Army used Ross's Landing as the site of one of three large internment camps, or "emigration depots", where American Indians were held prior to the journey on the Trail of Tears. One of the internment camps was located in Fort Payne, Alabama and the largest was at Fort Cass, Tennessee.
In 1839, the community of Ross's Landing incorporated as the city of Chattanooga. The city grew quickly, initially benefiting from a location well-suited for river commerce. With the arrival of the railroad in 1850, Chattanooga became a boom town. The city was known as the site "where cotton meets corn," referring to its location along the cultural boundary between the mountain communities of Southern Appalachia to the north and the cotton-growing states to the south.
During the American Civil War, Chattanooga was a center of battle. During the Chickamauga Campaign, Union artillery bombarded Chattanooga as a diversion and occupied it on September 9, 1863. Following the Battle of Chickamauga, the defeated Union Army retreated to safety in Chattanooga. On November 23, 1863, the Battles for Chattanooga began when Union forces led by future United States President and Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant reinforced troops at Chattanooga and advanced to Orchard Knob against Confederate troops besieging the city. The next day, the Battle of Lookout Mountain was fought, driving the Confederates off the mountain. On November 25, Grant's army routed the Confederates in the Battle of Missionary Ridge. These battles were followed the next spring by the Atlanta Campaign, beginning just over the nearby state line in Georgia and moving southeastward. After the war ended, the city became a major railroad hub and industrial and manufacturing center.
The largest flood in Chattanooga’s history occurred in 1867, before the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system was created in 1933 by Congress. The flood crested at 58 feet and completely inundated the city. Since the completion of the reservoir system, the highest Chattanooga flood stage has been nearly 37 feet, which occurred in 1973. Without regulation, the flood would have crested at 52.4 feet. Chattanooga was a major priority in the design of the TVA reservoir system and remains a major operating priority in the 21st century.
In December 1906, Chattanooga was in the national headlines as the United States Supreme Court, in its only criminal case in its history, ruled that Hamilton County Sheriff Joseph H. Shipp had violated Ed Johnson's civil rights when Shipp allowed a mob to enter the Hamilton County Jail and lynch Johnson on the Walnut Street Bridge in United States v. Shipp. Chattanooga grew with the entry of the United States in the First World War in 1917, as the nearest training camp was in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Chattanooga suffered the effects of the Influenza of 1918 from before the end of the First World War in November 1918 to February 1919 by having movie theaters and pool halls closed, among other effects. By the 1930s Chattanooga was known as the "Dynamo of Dixie", inspiring the 1941 Glenn Miller big-band swing song "Chattanooga Choo Choo".
The same mountains that provided Chattanooga's scenic backdrop also served to trap industrial pollutants which caused them to settle over the community, so much that in 1969, the federal government declared that Chattanooga had the dirtiest air in the nation. But environmental crises were not the only problems plaguing the city. Like other early industrial cities, Chattanooga entered the 1980s with serious socioeconomic challenges, including job layoffs due to de-industrialization, a deteriorating city infrastructure, racial tensions, and social division. Because of these factors, Chattanooga's population declined by more than 10% in the 1980s. However, Chattanooga was the only major U.S. city to lose this proportion of its population in the 1980s and then regain the same proportion in the next two decades.
In recent years, substantial private and governmental resources have been invested in transforming the city's tarnished image. They have worked to revitalize its downtown and riverfront areas, making use of its natural resources. An early cornerstone of this project was the restoration of the historic Walnut Street Bridge. The Walnut Street Bridge is the oldest surviving bridge of its kind in the Southeastern United States.
Efforts to improve the city include the "21st Century Waterfront Plan" – a $120 million redevelopment of the Chattanooga waterfront and downtown area, which was completed in 2005. The Tennessee Aquarium, which opened in 1992, has become a major waterfront attraction that has helped to spur neighborhood development. Chattanooga has garnered numerous accolades for its transformation of its image. The city has won three national awards for outstanding "livability", and nine Gunther Blue Ribbon Awards for excellence in housing and consolidated planning. In addition to winning various national and regional awards, Chattanooga was the profile city of the August 2007 edition of US Airways Magazine, Volkswagen announced the construction of its first U.S. auto plant in over three decades, the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant, in July 2008, Chattanooga was ranked 8th out of America's 100 largest metro areas for the best "Bang For Your Buck" city, according to Forbes magazine, which measured overall affordability, housing rates, and more, in December 2009, and got the first one gigabit a second Internet service in the United States in September 2010 through the city-owned utility of EPB, among other major events.