Chester Martin: Tales Of Broad Street

Friday, October 6, 2017 - by Chester Martin
When Broad Street was blocked by railroad buildings at 9th
When Broad Street was blocked by railroad buildings at 9th

Did anyone ever tell you when you were growing up that Broad Street (in Chattanooga) did not always exist - except for nine short blocks from the river to 9th Street? Very hard to imagine that now, to be sure, but the street, as we know it today was not always there. My parents were both around, however, when that street only ran from the river (Aquarium area) to 9th Street, now called  Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Businessmen and ordinary folk alike felt the need for a wide city street to ease the burden of navigating a frequently muddy and unpaved road laid out for horse-drawn vehicles.

But Broad Street was blocked by a row of buildings across the south side of the present MLK Blvd preventing any kind of through traffic moving south. Perhaps it was with official approval - or maybe the city fathers simply turned their heads as plans were made to open up a passage for the increasing number of  automobiles; I do not remember the details. But the businessmen had their way and met one Friday evening after business hours to begin demolition of the buildings in question. They worked the whole weekend and by Monday morning were able to drive a vehicle through the new opening to declare a "thoroughfare"!

And there you have the key-word, folks - a "thoroughfare" was legalese to indicate a permanent roadway from town out to the new suburb of St. Elmo! The people rightfully got their way!  No more unpaved road down to St. Elmo and Lookout Mountain but a brand new straight shot from the city out to the burbs! It took some time to construct the new road of course, but the breach made in 1926 at 9th and Broad was seminal for Chattanooga's growth to the south. The new road would provide ample spaces for new industries and businesses to move into.

For all its new prominence and importance, however, it must be said that Broad Street never qualified in any way as an "elegant" boulevard. For it had no prominent feature or focal point to distinguish itself from many other such connector roads - except for Lookout Mountain on the southern end. That beautiful and benign presence is the one redeeming factor, though noticeable only when going south.

Largely industrial, as it led to a number of foundries, it was home to at least one of Chattanooga's original industries, Scholze Tannery and to the Southern Saddlery, whose building still stands and whose spaces have been subdivided for artists to use for studios - at least that is my understanding without being able to check for myself. I do not remember when the tannery stopped operation, but I definitely remember when it it was in full operation. For younger people reading this I will go into some detail just what a tannery really is: It makes leather products. (Duh!) But where does the leather come from? Animals, right? And when you are turning a dead animal's skin into beautiful leather (for belts, shoes, purses, etc.) it has to be boiled. And that boiling process is a never-ceasing 24-hour per day job - and chief among the effects given off is the fact that the process STINKS to high heaven! Riding past it many a night on the old St. Elmo streetcar line I have watched as every passenger in the car would be holding their nose - and even the car's motorman would be giving full throttle to get past Mr. Scholze's tannery! Those were in the days when windows stayed open all summer as air-conditioning did not exist - certainly not on streetcars! You wanted nothing more than to get home and strip off everything you were wearing as the odor permeated every stitch of clothing you had on! That happened on many, many hot and humid summer nights - and I still pity the poor souls who (either willingly or unwillingly) worked inside the tannery!

The tannery must have employed a great many people, as witnessed by the size of the building. The Scholze family was of German extraction, and tanning leather was an old-world trade which they transplanted to Chattanooga. The Scholze family was very prominent, as devout Roman Catholics, founded (or assisted in the founding of) Notre Dame schools - the first parochial schools of our city. Some of the original family is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery.

Long before Broad Street was opened at 9th Street (MLK) the streetcars to St. Elmo came up from the car-barns near the Aquarium (and where you can today sit and eat delicious meals in at least one of them), also on Market Street, then turned right onto 9th. At Chestnut Street the tracks went left and followed Chestnut Street to St. Elmo. Very near the foot of the mountain my mom and all her family lived in a tiny house immediately beside the "St.Elmo car line" (as it was commonly called at the time). That is where my grandfather, James Lyde Young, died - in 1903 - a few months before the brothers Wright flew their first aircraft at Kitty Hawk, N.C. My grandmother, Mattie Smith Young, then became the bread winner for herself and two children - my mom, 7, and her brother, 10. Chattanooga Medicine Company (now called Chattem) hired only single women at the time, so she felt very glad to get employment there! My grandfather Young died of "grippe" - a common cause of death at the time; he was only 43.

My mom used to tell of a day when her father was still in good health - and she could have been no more than 5 or 6 at the time: "Papa" was going to walk into town - and my mom wanted to go. Papa protested, as it would be a very long round trip. But she persisted, and he finally agreed to let her go along. Of course she had to get dressed up for the big event and put on a brand new pair of black patent leather shoes. They set out along the path that would later become Broad Street, the sun beating down on those black shoes to the extent that Papa had to give up on the trip to town, as my mom began to cry from her burning feet! They turned around at about where the present bridge over Chattanooga Creek is today. It was a wooden bridge back then, and my mom always remembered what happened on that bridge that day! I will bet that she went home barefoot, but I never got that part of the story.

On a pure "Local History" note, I have long since mentioned that Alice Milton, a true local historian, had a number of disagreements with Chattanooga history as it is commonly written. One of those sharp disagreements was in the placement of "Ross's Landing", so dear to the hearts of present day Chattanoogans, as being several miles off its actual site. A good map will confirm her theory. She used to ask her followers to find Rossville, Georgia, on any map (and, in case there are newbies in the neighborhood, let it be known that ROSSville, Georgia, is named for John ROSS, Cherokee Chief of the Trail of Tears era. His log house is still standing in Rossville, though removed 100 yards or so from its original site. Ms. Milton would show you on the map how close the Tennessee River is to Rossville by going due west. It is MUCH further to the Aquarium area which is the place we call "Ross's Landing" today, and she would ask why anyone would want to drive their horse or mule so much farther - especially over muddy streets, rain, snow, or ice? No, she would say, that made no sense; that the true Ross's Landing was at approximately the same place as where Chattanooga Creek empties into the Tennessee River. That would coincide with the later site of "Cravens's Yard"  - visible from Craven's House (a Chattanooga historic landmark) below the bluff on Lookout Mountain, and probably a perfect layout for Mr. Craven's needs. Fact is that I have just found a roadside historical marker on Chattem property only a foot from the curb which tells how the home of Daniel Ross - father of John  - was just about 250 yards east (behind Chattem). A line drawn from Rossville through the Chattem site is in perfect alignment with the toe of Moccasin Bend. I personally think Alice Milton was right in her judgments, but who am I to quibble with the commercial success of "our" modern Ross's Landing? So long as people flock there to see all the great things - to eat, enjoy music (as in the River Bend festival), and where families can relax together; how could I ever want to spoil all those good things?

As a kind of preservationist, while I am still thinking of Chattem, Inc., (the former Chattanooga Medicine Company), I have to take off my hat to them for acquiring the old Double Cola Bottling Company building and property. Same goes for Channel 12 - next door to Chattem - for acquiring the former Glass House Restaurant and adapting that building to their needs. If my memory serves me correctly, the Glass House might have been the earlier site of Howard Johnson's Ice Cream place. Howard Johnson's later dropped their focus on ice cream for motels.

Somewhere in that area near Channel 12 and Chatttem there was the well-remembered Alamo Plaza Motel, virtual last of the single-story motels in America. It was finished in beige/brown stucco and every unit had its own arched entry way resembling "the" Alamo at San Antonio, Texas.

What Broad Street may lack in beauty, there is a kind of vague "romance" to it that can't easily be defined. To me, I have usually driven along its arrow-straight route in anticipation of some kind of good time. Either with friends in St. Elmo, or for one of those exhilarating days exploring on the side of Lookout Mountain. Hiking straight up to the top with Dr. Karel Hujer from his one-time home on Lower Cravens Terrace, (Czech-born, he never gave up his love of hiking!) Chatting over the fence with Estell Rockwood, or John Robere....these were great moments for me. And to think of all the famous people who have either lived on, or visited, that  mountain is amazing: Babe Ruth, Adolph Ochs, Grace Moore, Liz Taylor, YOUR mom or dad!. Yes, for a few minutes while you are driving down Broad Street you are breathing the same air, and sharing the same space, as those famous people and countless more.


Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter, sculptor and artisan as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at
Glass House Restaurant is now used by WDEF TV
Glass House Restaurant is now used by WDEF TV

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