Three missing artifacts from Chattanooga’s history

There are much lost or misplaced items from Chattanooga’s history.  They include photographs of historic moments that were either never taken, in private collections, forgotten, or discarded over the years.  Also, there are objects that were often talked about and photographed but remain missing or publically unaccessible today.  Maybe a little awareness will help this history come to the surface?  Please contact us if you have a lead on where any of these photographs or object can be found.

The Big Book

The War Relic Museum was located across from the Point Park entrance on the property that Battles for Chattanooga currently occupies.  From the early 1890s, visitors to Lookout Mountain could visit the museum to see a collection of Civil War artifacts and purchase relics as souvenirs. One could sit in General Grant’s chair at General Thomas’ table to fill out a postcard with your name and page in the “Big Book” you just signed.  The Big Book was a 400-pound registry of visitors at the museum.  As the brochure below describes, it cost a hefty $425 to produce.  In 1910, that would equate to about $11,106.52 in today’s economy.

I’m not quite sure when the Big Book was retired, and where it ended up?  It’s hard to imagine that a valuable 400-pound book could be easily lost, but enough years have passed that it could have been ruined,  destroyed, or packed away and forgotten.  Like many pieces of local history, The Book could be in private hands or buried somewhere in a public collection.

On a side note, recently Grant’s chair left Chattanooga and is now in the collection at the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.

A photograph of Ed Johnson

The lynching of Ed Johnson has been in the consciousness of Chattanoogan’s for over 110 years.

In 1906, a young Black man named Ed Johnson was hung and murdered by a local lynch mob. Johnson had been sentenced to death for the rape of a White woman, Nevada Taylor. In a desperate plea for Johnson’s life, his lawyers persuaded The United States Supreme Court to issue a stay of execution. Upon hearing of the court’s ruling, a mob broke into the jail where Johnson was held and lynched him from the Walnut Street Bridge. In February 2000, Hamilton County Criminal Judge Doug Meyer overturned Johnson’s conviction after hearing arguments that Johnson did not receive a fair trial.

During the many newspaper accounts of the trial, not a single photograph was published of Johnson and there is no known image in public collections.  The Ed Johnson Memorial Project has set out to honor the faceless man who’s story has resonated with so many over the years.

A photograph of the Loveman’s fire or aftermath

On December 26, 1891, the D. B. Loveman & Co. building on the SE corner of 8th and Market was, by accounts, completely destroyed by fire.  It was only five-years new, opening in 1886. This forced store owner David Loveman to declare bankruptcy, but the store would be back bigger than before less than a year later.  Loveman’s would regain its footing and prospered, employing over 300 people by 1917.  In 1988, the department store would close after 102 years in Downtown Chattanooga.

There were many additions to the Loveman’s building and its facade over the 20th century.  The business remodeled often to keep up with the modern shopper and trends.  And there is a solid photographic timeline of its many changes.  However, lost has been any photograph showing the building ablaze or damaged by fire.  In the 1890s, photography studios packed the 700 and 800 block of Market Street.  It’s hard to believe that none had taken a photograph of the damage.

Left: Original Building, D. B. Loveman & Co. 1888.  Far right: New Building, D. B. Loveman & Co. 1900.


Three things in Chattanooga worth saving or putting back

Although the Picnooga project focuses on historic photographs, ephemera, and objects smaller than a bread box (for those who remember bread boxes) there are three landmarks near and dear to our heart that are endangered of disappearing or being forgotten forever.

The W. F. Fischer & Brother Clock at 8th and Market

I wrote about this clock and its history on a few years back and was able to track down the pieces to a firm in Ohio that specializes in antique street clocks. The estimated restoration cost was approximate $70,000. But a high-quality reproduction of its head and other missing pieces would be much less. With downtown Chattanooga poised for a renaissance, a return of the thirteen-foot iron clock, circa. 1912, would symbolize a rebirth of a once commercial dynamo.

The Hardy House on Lookout Mountain

Built in the 1920s for once Mayor of Chattanooga Richard “Dick” Hardy, the Tudor Revival-style cottage and carriage house located just south of the Cravens House sits empty and is mostly neglected. It’s currently owned by the National Park Service. A few years back the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park solicited the public for their opinions about tearing down or restoring the structure. Sadly, there are plans to raze the compound and replace it with parking for the Cravens House when funding becomes available. In 2015, an estimate by park officials to restore the property and bring it up to code was in the neighborhood of $1.3 million.

The home is beautiful and historic but needs immediate attention. It would make a fine historic photo gallery, educational and event space, and mini visitor’s center if the exterior was restored and the interior renovated. Also, it would be an appropriate home base for Picnooga and our digital preservation efforts. Photography was a steady cottage industry on Lookout Mountain from the 1860s through the first quarter of the twentieth century, and images from that period have provided a detailed visual documentation of the past that most cities could only hope for. The artistry of photographers who worked on Lookout Mountain are a large part of the Battlefield and Park’s early history and should be honored. Upcycling the Hardy House for that purpose would be very fitting and would save a historic structure stuck in the limbo of red tape and budget cuts. This nearly lost structure just needs a specific vision to sustain for another 90 years.

The Rivoli Theatre in East Chattanooga

This is another landmark that I’ve written about and drawn attention to in the past. The Rivoli Theatre at 2436 Glass Street in East Chattanooga is the last remaining movie house in Chattanooga. In the late 1940s and 1950s, for a few bottle caps, you could enjoy a first run movie if you didn’t mind sharing your popcorn with the rats.

Its time as a first-run movie theater is probably over, but it could be used as a neighborhood arts venue as its stage and original lobby and raked seating area remain intact, although the property is in very rough shape.  Again, with a specific vision and love the Rivoli could become the center of the community again, minus the rodents.