Governor Phil Bredesen on Monday morning signed a letter of intent to convey approximately 220 acres of state land on the Moccasin Bend peninsula to the National Park Service to create the Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, a new park that will be a unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Mayor Bob Corker and County Mayor Claude Ramsey said they will act soon to transfer 571 acres of city and county property at the historic Bend for the new federal park.
The state land transfer is near the tip of Moccasin Bend, but does not include the main campus of the mental facility.
Gov. Bredesen said, “The state of Tennessee is very pleased to partner with the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and the National Park Service on this important project. The Moccasin Bend property has invaluable historical and cultural significance. Working together, we’re going to protect the property for the education and enjoyment of future generations.”
Archaeologists and historians consider Moccasin Bend to be one of the most compelling and significant historical sites in the region, he said. Native Americans occupied the peninsula for more than 10,000 years, leaving behind evidence of camps, villages and burial grounds. During the Civil War, Union artillery placements on the Bend played a critical role in the Battle of Lookout Mountain.
Rep. Zach Wamp, who spearheaded federal legislation to make the long-sought park a reality, praised Gov. Bredesen while noting that a former governor would not go along with the park idea. In the 1950s, the site was almost a park but Gov. Frank Clement did not complete the deal.
“We are very appreciative to Governor Bredesen and the State of Tennessee,” said Pat Reed, superintendent of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. “We share in the desire to have this property protected and preserved, and to provide a greater understanding of this area’s heritage.”
Rep. Wamp said, “For more than a half-century, stakeholders have waited and many have worked to see Moccasin Bend protected and preserved. The commitment by Governor Bredesen and the state of Tennessee virtually seals the agreement to proceed with the implementation of the Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District created by federal law.”
Rep. Wamp added: “It wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of the state of Tennessee, the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.”
As part of the agreement, the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute will retain 110 acres for its facilities and grounds. Moving forward, the Institute and the Park Service will work cooperatively to identify and mark boundaries between the public-use areas and the Institute, it was stated.
Gov. Bredesen told the group gathered under a tent near the Winston Building that the mental health facility "will have a new neighbor."
County Mayor Ramsey said he was thankful that the mental hospital "will remain at this beautiful place for many years to come."
Mayor Corker thanked the governor and Rep. Wamp as well as fervent citizens who had kept the park cause alive.
Park Supt. Pat Reed called it "a very large step in realizing a dream of over 50 years." He said it will be "one of the finest units of the park in the nation."
He said a new road will be built along the east edge of the Bend past the Pete Serodino property where a visitor center is to be constructed. The road will take visitors along a route that will not have them going by the city's sewage treatment plant.
Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, which was constructed in 1961, serves 24 counties in Southeast Tennessee and utilizes up to 170 beds daily. Bredesen reaffirmed the state’s commitment to quality mental health services in the Chattanooga area.
“Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute has a long and successful history in this community,” Bredesen said. “Strong relationships have been fostered through the years. What has been accomplished here is a testament to the cooperation and hard work of both the State and the citizens of Chattanooga.”
Moccasin Bend loops in the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout Mountain. Appropriately named, the peninsula sports the shape of an Indian moccasin. The land is a treasure trove of Native American history. Studies of the Bend traces habitation back 10,000 years, making it one of the oldest archaeological finds in the United States.
During the 1500s, Spanish explorers found the Bend to have the largest population of Native Americans in the region. In the 1700s, the Chickamauga Cherokees inhabited the area. During the Civil War, Moccasin Bend played a key role in the Battle of Lookout Mountain. The site’s Civil War “earthworks,” or artillery entrenchments, are recognized as the best preserved in the state.
Disputes regarding the future of Moccasin Bend erupted in the 1900s. Some people in the region wanted to see the property developed for commercial and industrial use, while others campaigned for preservation. The Bend was in a largely agricultural state until the 1960s, when the State of Tennessee began acquiring land on the peninsula for a mental health facility.
Moccasin Bend is listed as a National Historic Landmark and now will become a unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
View of Lookout Mountain from Moccasin Bend signing site.
- Photo2 by John Wilson