What Did That Building Used To Be? - Southern Saddlery

Sunday, February 23, 2003 - by Harmon Jolley
Southern Saddlery. Click to enlarge.
Southern Saddlery. Click to enlarge.

In the field of Economics, the term “vertical integration” refers to a company owning multiple stages of the production process, usually including the point of raw material becoming available. For example, a company which owns orange groves as well as juice-processing plants is practicing vertical integration. At 3001 South Broad Street is a building which once housed the Southern Saddlery Company, once vertically-aligned with the Scholze Tannery, the processor of the raw material for saddles.

At the end of the Civil War, Robert Scholze came to Chattanooga. His previous experience and career pursuit in his native Germany was as a tanner. He initially worked in a dairy, but his career again came calling when a job became available at the Chattanooga Leather and Manufacturing Company at the foot of Lookout Mountain. Scholze was able to buy the company’s assets when it failed in the panic of 1872. In 1878, he started Southern Saddlery as a finished goods division. Robert Scholze trained his employees in leatherworking. Their products became widely known for quality of workmanship. Southern Saddlery remained a part of the tannery until Mr. Scholze died in 1907, at which time his survivors established it as a separate business.

At the time of the founding of the company, and for many years thereafter, transportation and agriculture were dependent on the horse or mule. Southern Saddlery was ready to meet the demand, with hand-crafted saddles, collars, and other riding equipment. When automobiles became available, the company supplied leather fan belts. When the Great Depression caused families to be unable to afford the purchase or upkeep of cars, some returned to the horse or mule, and Southern maintained a steady business in saddles.

In 1929, Southern Saddlery opened a retail store at the manufacturing plant. The saddlery store was not the first to be in business on that property. Daniel Ross, father of John Ross, had operated a store there along Chattanooga Creek in the early 1800’s. To manage the store, Southern chose Mrs. Kate McGrail. She continued as store manager, with additional duties as treasurer and manager of the retail division, until her retirement in 1966. In a February 19, 1966 interview with the Chattanooga Times, Mrs. McGrail noted that when she joined Southern Saddlery in 1918, the company was the principal supplier to the cavalry post at Fort Oglethorpe, and lost a good customer when the army base was later closed.

As the horse-power of automobiles won out over real horse-power, the saddlery industry declined. There was a brief renewal of interest during the era of Western movies (starring John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, and others) and TV shows ( “The Virginian,” “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide,” and many others), and the market eventually concentrated on supplying the horse enthusiasts. Though machinery had been applied to the manufacturing process, the business was still very labor-intensive. The Scholze family sold the company in 1976. Then, two years later, in what would have been the year of its 100th anniversary, it was put on the auction block. The Alpine-Rice Moving and Storage company used the building for storage for a while. Today, the former saddlery building is awaiting its next use, along with the neighboring Wheland Foundry site.

If you have memories of Southern Saddlery, and would like to comment on this article, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@signaldata.net.

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