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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Chattanooga - A Complicated Past

This past trip down through Tennessee I stopped in Chattanooga for the first time.

Chattanooga’s first sky scraper, the James Building 1906, Sullivanesque style

Ruby Falls and the Chattanooga Choo Choo are the big attractions here, but I came for some Starbucks wi-fi and to see the downtown architecture.  On my way I drove along the Tennessee River, where Cherokee Chief John Ross started a trading post, warehouse, and ferry back in 1815.  Ross's Landing is now a public park along the river just below the Tennessee Aquarium, I wish I had known so I could have visited the site!

The area would remain known as Ross's Landing until after 1838, when the Indian Removal Act was executed, thanks to President Andrew Jackson.  The area around Chattanooga was a staging point during Indian Removal; more than 16,000 Cherokees started their long journey to Oklahoma from this part of the state.

Reflection of 1926 Georgian style Read House Hotel, designed by Chicago architects Holabird and Roche

Chief John Ross was only 1/8 Cherokee by blood, but in the Cherokee Nation of old that did not matter, what mattered was that you belonged and you were part of the people if they said you were.  Before opening that trading post on the river he fought in the War of 1812 and in the Creek Indian War along with General Andrew Jackson and 1000 other Cherokee.  The Cherokee fought in both wars without pay and still were not considered true Americans.  Oh, what irony.

Volunteer Life Building, 1917

He was noticed for his ability to negotiate and made his way up the ranks to become Assistant Chief of the Eastern Cherokee over the next few years.  He participated in the drafting of the Cherokee Constitution in 1827 which was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, including a Senate and a House of Representatives. John Ross was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1828, a position he would hold until his death in 1866.

Andrew Jackson above doorway of Volunteer State Life Building
The story is an old one, in 1828 gold was discovered nearby in Georgia and the government wanted the Cherokee and other nearby tribes gone so they could have the rich land to themselves.   Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee people remained adamantly opposed to removal.  A separate party believed removal was inevitable and started negotiations without approval from the majority. In the end, 500 of the Cherokee (out of thousands) supported a treaty to cede the Cherokee lands in exchange for $5,700,000 and new lands in Indian Territory in what we know as Oklahoma. 
From Legends of America websiteChief Ross and the Cherokee National Council maintained that the document was a fraud and presented a petition with more than 15,000 Cherokee signatures to congress in the spring of 1838. Other white settlers also were outraged by the questionable legality of the treaty. On April 23, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson appealed to Jackson’s successor, President Martin Van Buren, urging him not to inflict “so vast an outrage upon the Cherokee Nation." But it was not to be.

Read House behind sculpture under construction

 Along the 2,200 mile journey, road conditions, illness, cold, and exhaustion took thousands of lives, including Chief John Ross’ wife Quatie. Though the federal government officially stated some 424 deaths, an American doctor traveling with one the party estimated that 2,000 people died in the camps and another 2,000 along the trail. Other estimates have been stated that conclude that almost 8,000 of the Cherokee died during the Indian Removal.

Hamilton County Courthouse

I didn't mean to turn this post into a history lesson, but sometimes one little fact leads you somewhere you didn't intend to go.  As for the architecture I saw, it turns out much of it was probably designed by Rueben Harrison Hunt, Chattanooga's version of Louis Sullivan.  He built the above Hamilton County Courthouse, a Neo-Classical design of Indiana Bedford limestone that sits solidly on a hill.

He also designed the Maclellan Building, now a luxury apartment building as so many of the old ones in Chicago have now also become.  It was built in 1924 in the Beaux Arts style.

Here I will add that information on all the buildings in Chattanooga was hard to discover on the internet.  Most of them weren't even on Wikipedia, but I did find a link to this architectural walking tour - almost an exact replica of the walk that I aimlessly discovered just letting my eyes take me along.  Unfortunately it did not give much beyond the barest of details. Above is the Dome Building which dates back to 1892 and its dome roof is made of sheet copper weighing about 1,300 pounds and was gilded in gold.  I was so busy admiring it that I missed the Carnegie Library across the street!

The story behind the Tudor Gothic church tower of the First Methodist Episcopal Church was more easily located.  It was constructed on this lot in 1927 by R H. Hunt - Stone for the church was quarried on the Joshua Beck farm, loaded on barges, was floated down the river and carried by ox cart to the location.   The church was demolished when they merged with another church but the steeple was left intact.

Designed by R. H. Hunt the Tivoli theater was said to be an exact replica, but smaller, of the Tivoli
in Chicago.  Noticing a theme here?  No wonder I felt so at home walking around Chattanooga, much of the architecture is Chicago influenced. I also passed families on their way to see Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, the children chattering excitedly about the outing.

Besides families on their way to the theater I also saw quite a few weekend afternoon joggers and folks walking their dogs.  For a Saturday this area of town actually seemed quite empty, something must have been going on elsewhere that kept residents away or perhaps everyone left town for Spring Break.

Strangely empty streets

Built in 1971 the "Gold Building" was erected for Blue Cross Blue Shield but now is home to the Westin Hotel. It features live music on an open-air patio, mountain views, an atrium and a sky bar.  It turns out to be the only building I feel like I should have walked inside to poke around, but by that point I had been walking well over an hour and was ready to head back to the campground at Foster Falls.

Westin Hotel's gold exterior

I should have done a little research and not missed Ross's Landing, and I'm sure there is more I missed as well. If I drive past again I'll check it out and perhaps the famed Ruby Falls and Chattanooga Choo Choo as well. Keep your eyes open when you are in a new town, you never know what you might be missing!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting town, I only thought the place existed in the Chattanooga Choo Choo song and not for real. I feel for the Cherokee they really were dumped on by the white people