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A Short History of Lookout

Early Settlements

For centuries, Lookout Mountain served as a hunting ground for the Indians who lived in the valleys surrounding it. With the coming of white settlers, many of the Cherokee adapted to his ways, building schools, stores, and churches. Others, watching their land and possessions being slowly stripped from them, resisted. In 1788, renegade Cherokees under Chief Dragging canoe won a victory on the northern slopes of Lookout, but their cause was doomed. In 1838 the Indians were removed in the shameful "Trail of Tears" and their land sold or given away to settlers and speculators.

By 1855 much of the north end of Lookout Mountain belonged to two men: Chattanooga industrialist Robert Cravens, who built a home overlooking Moccasin Bend, and Col. James A. Whiteside, who owned most of the mountain above, including the Point. In 1852 Col. Whiteside constructed the Whiteside Turnpike up the eastern slopes to the community known as Summertown. The remains of this old road can still be followed today as the Whiteside Trail.

The Battle Above the Clouds

In the Fall of 1863, the Union Army under Rosecrans had retreated into Chattanooga following their disastrous defeat at Chickamauga. Besieged by Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army, which held Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, they were reduced to one quarter rations. With the arrival of reinforcements and a new Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, the situation began to change rapidly. Federal troops broke the siege by taking control of Browns Ferry and Lookout Valley to the west. On the night of October 28, they successfully defended this ground in the midnight Battle of Wauhatchie.

In the early morning hours of November 24, 1863, Union soldiers under the command of General Joseph Hooker crossed Lookout Creek at Lights Mill and ascended the western slopes of Lookout Mountain. Admist the fog which gave the struggle its poetic name of "The Battle Above the Clouds," two more brigades joined them. Forming three lines which ran vertically from nearly the top to the bottom of the mountain, the Union men advanced north towards the Cravens House across rocky, laborious terrain. There a smaller force of about 2,700 Confederates in Walthall's and Moore's Brigades were entrenched, supported by sharpshooters and one battery of artillery on the bluffs above.

Under fire from Federal artillery in the valley below, charged by enthusiastic soldiers in blue, the Confederates fell back to a line a few hundred yards south of the Cravens House. Under cover of darkness, they retreated down the Whiteside Turnpike toward Missionary Ridge. When Union soldiers scaled the palisades at the Point on the morning of November 25th, they found the top of the mountain deserted, and the stage was set for their success at Missionary Ridge later that day.

Later, General Grant was to downplay the events of November 24 in comparison to those of larger, more bloodied fields elsewhere. "There was no action worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain," he said. But the taking of Lookout Mountain, considered by many to be impregnable, was a significant turning point. As Robert Sparks Walker later wrote, "It was here that the war was won by the Federal army. The morale of the Confederate troops was broken...and the war was lost to them."

The Turnpike Wars

Not long after the Civil War a skirmish of another sort broke out: the Turnpike Wars.

For many years, there had been just one easy route up or down the mountain: the Whiteside Turnpike. With the opening of the Johnson Pike (today's Ochs Highway) in 1879, profits from the Whiteside road suffered and Mrs. Whiteside, now widowed, began to charge admission to the Point. Fences were built; armed guards patrolled, later denying entrance to those who had not been transported by the livery service with which Mrs. Whiteside had an exclusive contract. The conflict escalated into a series of court battles.

In the meantime, a group of investors decided build a hotel directly beneath the Point, from which the view would equal that of the Whiteside property. To reach the hotel, an Incline Railway was constructed up from St. Elmo, beginning regular service in March of 1887. A narrow gauge railway was built around the western bluff to gain the top of the mountain at Sunset Rock. During this same period another group of investors constructed a broad gauge railroad which for the first time allowed regular railcars to reach the summit. Today, this railbed can still be seen as the Guild and Hardy trails.

Although by then Mrs. Whiteside had sold her property at the Point, she perhaps took some satisfaction in financing the construction of a second Incline which was opened in 1895 and operates to this day. For a few years the two Inclines were in competition and the Turnpike War flared up one final time. Advertisements for the Incline No. 1 advised visitors to avoid the "long tiresome walks made necessary by using other lines," warning of the inevitable "feeling of intense and bitter disappointment" which would result. The owners of the second Incline, meanwhile, tore down the steps leading from the hotel to the Point.

By the turn of the century the Point had been purchased by the Government and opened to all. The owners of the second Incline purchased and closed the original. The bed of the old Incline can still be seen today as it crosses several of the trails and roads on the mountain.

The Hanging Gardens of Lookout

It has been argued that much of the preservation of Lookout Mountain can be traced directly to the vision of one individual: Adolph S. Ochs.

In 1877 Adolph Ochs, then nineteen, came to Chattanooga to work for a local newspaper. The following year, Ochs borrowed money to purchase a half interest in the Chattanooga Daily Times for the sum of $250. Because he was underage, his father had to sign the papers for him. Starting with just $12 in his pocket, Ochs built the circulation of his paper and by 1896 was the publisher of the New York Times.

In 1887, Adolph Ochs was one of several investors who purchased sixteen and a half acres at the Point from Mrs. Whiteside and reopened it to the public. Eleven years later, the Point was sold to the government for the sum of $35,000 and added to Lookout Mountain Battlefield Park, some 85 acres surrounding the Cravens House which had already been deeded to the government in 1893 following the death of Robert Cravens and his widow.

Adolph Ochs left Chattanooga to oversee the New York Times, but he made frequent visits to his old home, never losing interest in Lookout Mountain. In early 1920's Ochs began promoting the idea of preserving and improving the sides of the mountain. In 1925 the idea grew contagious.

Ochs envisioned a seven mile "Hanging Gardens" in a terrace on the eastern slopes stretching from Rock City to the Cravens House. These gardens, he said, would "rival the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon and become a modern wonder of the world." As the idea took shape, a twenty foot wide photographic print of the eastern slope was offered to help in planning. Architect Henry Herts spoke of piping water up from the river for a waterfall which would cascade down the palisades into a fountain below. While the eastern slopes were to be landscaped and improved, the western side of the mountain was to be kept as a forest preserve.

With assistance from his brother Milton, who oversaw much of the acquisition and improvement of land, Ochs played a key role in the purchase of 2,720 acres of land on Lookout Mountain. In 1934 this land was officially added to what became known as the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. All told, Adolph Ochs personally contributed at least $230,000 for the purchase and improvement of this property.

While the concept of the Hanging Gardens has faded as the Park Service has allowed the mountainside to return largely to its natural state, Adolph Ochs' vision of a natural retreat accessible to all citizens is very much alive today on the slopes of Lookout Mountain.