TUNNEL HILL — Hundreds of people came out for a day-long celebration of Tunnel Hill’s 150th birthday on Saturday. And while temperatures soared after the 11 a.m. parade, visitors from as far as Chattanooga and Chatsworth took part in the bash, which had the feel of a family reunion.

“A lot of people have been impressed with how Tunnel Hill and the Heritage Center have grown, and today was a great reason to visit,” said Janet Cochran of the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau, whose office is located at the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center, near the pre-Civil War train tunnel that played a role in the infamous “Great Locomotive Chase” and is the town’s namesake.

“We’ve been packed since I opened at 9 a.m.,” said the center’s Ralph Jones. “I’ve been amazed at the sense of enthusiasm everyone has brought.”

Visitors to the Heritage Center could tour the displays of historical artifacts from the railroad’s construction, the Civil War, and the “Peacock Alley” days, when tufted bedspreads were sold along Dixie Highway. They could also view a new, 30-minute DVD titled “Memories of Tunnel Hill,” a first-hand account of local history given by area residents.

“As one resident says to end the DVD, Tunnel Hill is growing to be a better place for young people,” Cochran said. “We actually have a lot more footage than we could use; the mayor (Kenny Gowin) said he’d like to develop a series, so we can do something like this every year.”

A walking tour of almost 30 nearby historic sites was also available.

At noon, after the parade, citizens gathered in Griffin Park for more activities.

“We followed the parade to the park. The kids said they got more candy in this parade than they did at the Dalton Christmas parade,” said Bob Marquardt, a machinist who has lived in Tunnel Hill for 10 years. “I love the location on the interstate. Either Dalton or Chattanooga are convenient for us.”

Marquardt’s daughter, Bayley, 10, enjoyed horseback rides in the park and an inflatable water slide — one of five inflatables set up in the park.

Other activities available included kickball games, a dunking booth, a live band, air-brushing, face-painting, and a petting zoo in the shade of the Sloan Picnic Area.

Ryan Townsend, a 9-year-old student at Tunnel Hill Elementary, said he enjoyed all the food — from a chicken biscuit he picked up at the Burger Den, to nachos he bought at the park. Folks lined up for hot dogs and hamburgers off the grill, served from the park concession stand, located inside a bright-blue train car.

Alex Heffner, 9, played on the playground as his dad, Greg, and grandmother, Mary Painter, looked on. He was in a good position to hear the band — Larry Motley, keyboard; Rusty Bridges, drums; Al Harvey, bass and vocals; and Sam Hill, lead guitar. Guest vocalists took on the Judds’ “(Grandpa) Tell Me ’bout the Good Ol’ Days,” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” railroad song.

Artists from the Civic Arts League, a group of artists and art enthusiasts from the greater Chattanooga area, were selling their work.

“We’re recruiting new members,” said Cathy Cooksey, whose oil paintings range from Civil War and railroad history to SEC football. “You don’t have to be a painter, just interested in any of the fine arts.”

Members of Tunnel Hill Lodge 202 were selling 150th anniversary bronze ($10) and silver ($25) coins; Milton E. “Red” Smith said the lodge’s 150th year just happens to coincide with the town charter.

Martha Nuckolls sat in the shade, watching her grandchildren — Kyle McCutcheon, 7, and twins Asa and Aimee Cleghorn, 3 — with daughter Beth McCutcheon.

“It’s good to be able to live and work in Tunnel Hill,” said Nuckolls, a clerk at Tunnel Hill Elementary and a 40-year resident.



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