Sam Burnham, Curator
The first time I ever visited Dade County was by accident. At least it was somewhat by accident. I was one of a group of guys headed to hike at Cloudland Canyon. The guy who knew where we were going wasn’t with us yet. We were going to pick him up from Covenant College which is atop Lookout Mountain but definitely in Georgia. But we weren’t sure exactly where. Our directions were foggy at best and we wound up in Chattanooga - I-24, then 59, then an exit somewhere in Dade County where a polite man in a shirt and hat that each read “Praise Yahweh” put us on the right road with clear directions. We went back into Tennessee up the mountain, into Walker County, Georgia, retrieved our companion who directed us southwest along the mountain ridge, back into Dade County, where we enjoyed a lovely day of hiking.
That’s a fair introduction to Dade.
The border of the county tracks Lookout Mountain from the state line of Alabama to is counterpart at the disputed border of Tennessee (how hard is it to understand “35th Parallel?”). The most direct routes into the county are via I-59 from Alabama or Tennessee. The only other real option is to take GA 136 up over the mountain, past Cloudland Canyon State Park and down through the switchbacks into Trenton. If it’s foggy up there, that’s a bad idea. It’s the perfect geographical and geological barrier for the “Independent State of Dade.”
There’s a legend (probably at least partially based on actual events) that says Dade County leaders got a little anxious during the secession debates of 1860 and voted to secede from Georgia and therefore the Union. They we're either tired of waiting or worried that Stephens and his types would keep Georgia in the Union. The legend continues that the county leaders in 1945, some 85 years later, realized Dade’s secession had never been reversed and then voted to rejoin Georgia and therefore the Union.
Today Dade County is still a bit remote with the natural barriers and all. The courthouse square in Trenton is about a 20 minute drive from Downtown Chattanooga. That’s not a bad commute by any stretch. But this area has not seen the development and growth that closer border towns like Rossville and Ringgold have experienced. Perhaps out of sight is out of mind.
While the development has mostly overlooked Dade, that’s not always a bad thing. Downtown Trenton has maintained its small town feel. There are local businesses and traffic along Main Street certainly isn’t dead. You can find plenty of old architecture in the area. Vernacular and Folk Victorian homes are commonplace. Several older commercial buildings are occupied while more seem to be vacant. While the bones are there to offer promise of building a stronger economy, sometimes the better option is to be left alone. Dade can offer an opportunity to get away from the noise and bustle of Chattanooga or their fellow Georgia counties over the mountain.
As my younger brother said, “Beautiful place. Tough place to get a win in any sport. People that live there LOVE being from there. Shame they got left off of the Georgia state quarter.” (Fact check: Dade was indeed omitted from the depiction of Georgia on our state quarter.) Danny has been there several times and has a pretty good feel for the place. My experiences there pretty much reflect his sentiments.
I stopped in at Cloudland Canyon on my way up. The ceiling was high for the overcast conditions so I took the 136 route up. The park was being well utilized. There was not a single available campsite, I encountered several hikers, and I can only assume the cottages were all booked as well.
The canyon is a gem of Dade County. The rift in the face of Lookout Mountain opens up allowing Daniel and Bear Creeks to join and flow through Sitton’s Gulch and out into Lookout Valley. The fall colors are breathtaking. I was reminded as I heard the falls on the canyon floor of the description in Ezekiel 43:2 of God’s voice as the “noise of many waters.” The sound was substantial and powerful. It could not be ignored, yet it was still peaceful and calming. That is the essence of the canyon. The vast breach, the roaring waters, and yet, peace. A stop there is highly recommended.
All in all, we consider this county, up in the far northwest corner, “The TAG (Tennessee , Alabama, Georgia) Corner,” if you will, to be among our favorite places. How could we not?
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire