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How to
Use the Activities


Inquiry Question

Historical Context




Table of

Putting It All Together

Chattanooga provides a particularly good example of the railroad’s importance to American development, but evidence of this influence exists across the country. The following activities should help students better understand the many ways railroads shaped and continue to affect U.S. history and culture.

Activity 1: The Roles of Geography and Promotion
It is easy to claim that Chattanooga’s success was "natural," that geography guaranteed its success. Yet many other sites with physical advantages were never able to capitalize on them. Cairo, Illinois, for example, never developed into a major city despite its location at the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers.

Begin by having students create two lists from the materials they covered in the lesson. The first should describe the natural features that would make Chattanooga a good place for businesses to locate. The second should include those man-made factors that offer other benefits. Then have each student write a paragraph on whether man or nature was more important in the city’s growth. Have them discuss their answers. The following questions can be used to facilitate the discussion: Would the man-made advantages alone have been able to attract business? Should active promotion to attract business be included in the man-made advantages? Would the natural advantages still appeal to businesses today? Do towns and cities still actively encourage businesses to settle there today? If so, what incentives do they provide?

Activity 2: Literature, Art, and Music
Try to locate a recording of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. (Many of his recordings have been re-released.) Play the song for the class. On a map of the United States, have students trace the route described in the song.

Continue by having students find other places in popular culture where railroads appear. Have them develop lists of books, songs, poems, movies, and artworks that are about trains. Why were--and are--trains such popular subjects?

Activity 3: Researching Your Community’s Railroad History
Have students find out more about the history of railroads in their community by investigating local and state histories, newspapers, and photograph collections at the library. Ask them to find answers to the following questions: When did the railroad first arrive? How did that happen? How did the community respond? If the railroad never appeared, find out why.

Then have students examine the long-term effects of the railroad by completing the following exercises: What railroad-related buildings, structures, place names, or features still exist in your community? Photograph and identify them. Look for old photographs of buildings that have been demolished. Interview people employed by the railroad or by businesses that depend on the railroad. Ask them questions about their work and the significance of the railroad to the community and to their lives. Discuss the current impact, or reasons for lack of impact, of the railroad on your community.

Finish the activity by asking students to consider what the main transportation routes in their community are today. Are shopping areas of their town related to these routes? Are those connections similar to the ones with the railroad? Have students ask local business owners how important transportation is to their business, and how it is provided. See if they can determine whether the availability of transportation affected decisions about where to locate or relocate local businesses.



Comments or Questions

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