Local history: Chattanooga touring hints from 1889

Contributed photo / This early postcard shows the entrance to the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

(Editor's note: Second in a series)

National readers responded with interest when Professor Francis M. Parker, renowned educational leader, wrote a series of articles in 1889 promoting Chattanooga as the "ideal laboratory site" for understanding history, business and other significant "lessons."

What could be learned through the Chattanooga experience and what sites were most educational? The professor created a list for intrigued readers.

First, he suggested a visit to Lookout Mountain, where one could view "various points of interest." He confessed that Lookout Mountain "cannot be called a mountain in any proper sense of the term," noting instead that it was actually a 100-mile-long Tennessee ridge extending "into the state of Alabama." But from this mountain, visitors could view the "water of the Tennessee which has been, and is, the sculptor of the mountains. Chattanooga at our feet is in the ancient bend of the river ... ."

From that vantage point, Parker noted one could begin to plan the sites to visit, including Orchard Knob, Cemetery Hill [the Chattanooga National Cemetery], Fort Wood, Lookout Valley, Raccoon mountains [sic], Walden's Ridge and the Suck. But before descending to the valley below, Parker suggested a careful study of the mountain through both a geological and historical lens.

"The upper part of Lookout Mountain is made of conglomerate sandstone, which cracks into huge boulders. These boulders were hurled down steep walls, forming an immense talus, thus changing the precipitous sides of the mountains to steep slopes, upon which trees grow." Parker wrote poetically about "the hills, rock ribbed and ancient as the sun, the vales stretching in quiet pensiveness between the venerable woods, rivers that move in majesty, and the complaining brooks that mark the meadows." He marveled at being able to see the "blue tops" of the mountains in North and South Carolina. But it was the "three curves" of Tennessee River that most intrigued him, creating a "perfectly shaped moccasin, with even the strings shown by little knobs on the instep."

Parker suggested that all travelers should visit the "oval-shaped island, Williams Island, an ancient burial place of the Indians." To understand Chattanooga and its history, one should also view the valley from another location — "a long, straight, low ridge of miniature mountains 800 feet high, with an abrupt slope to the west ... covered with green trees, fine mansions and ... a place Uncle Billy Sherman well remembers." He then proceeded to explain that, while the locals refer to it as Missionary Ridge, he suggested that the more accurate name should be Mission Ridge to honor the "Moravians who built a mission" nearby for the conversion of the Indians.

Looking at the land between Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, Parker returned his thoughts to Cemetery Hill from which "waves the flag of the Union and serves as the final resting place for thousands of boys in blue, who fell at Chickamauga and Chattanooga." From Cemetery Hill, he recommended visitors make the short trek to Orchard Knob, "where the invincible Grant watched the storming up Mission Ridge" and to Cameron Hill from which "Chattanooga, a picture of the New South," can be viewed as it prepares for a "glorious future." But before descending from Cameron Hill, one should turn around and remember that only decades earlier the "Moccasin point at your feet, now so green and bright, was covered with batteries."

Parker shared a few favored images by recalling that "down the river from Chattanooga, General [William] Hazen floated his pontoons to Brown's Ferry on the left ... and, with the assistance of General Baldy Smith, the famous 'Cracker line' was opened from Bridgeport ... ." He continued, "You can almost see the plain of Chattanooga covered with the shelter tents of the Union army ... ."

Parker identified other sites of interest for tourists — Fort Wood, Fort Negley, Chattanooga Creek, Rossville Gap, North Chickamauga Creek, Shell Mound, Chickamauga and the "ridge tunnels" — before returning to the Chattanooga National Cemetery. "There in the National Cemetery sleep the noble heroes who died for the Union liberty, and there under our feet is a great city rising from the ashes of the terrible past."

In a stirring conclusion to the series, the famed educator connected that past with the present by proclaiming that the mountains were now "yielding" their rich stores, and the furnaces, factories, railroads and farms heralded a new Chattanooga rising to lead the South into prosperity. The Gateway to the South had become the Gateway to the Future.

Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga and Hamilton County historian, serves as secretary of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council. For more local history, visit Chattahistorialassoc.org.