“After living here for 10 or 15 years I realized that Chattanooga was not a normal city” but has “perhaps the largest amount of wealth per capita,” said Author Dean Arnold.
Mr. Arnold told guests gathered at his book signing Thursday evening in Artist Gordon Wetmore’s studio that his curiosity about the wealthy families of Lookout Mountain inspired him to write his newest book Old Money New South: The Spirit of Chattanooga.
Mr. Arnold said places such as Nashville may have around 100 extremely wealthy families, but Chattanooga has about eight to 10 families that are “a hundred times wealthier.” Through research Mr. Arnold said he discovered the “keystone fortune” is the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
His audience listened to his brief account of the advent of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company and how this enterprise led to an accumulation of wealth primarily among Lookout Mountain families (i.e. the Lupton family), which is thoroughly explained in his new book.
Lookout Mountain stands as an icon for “the old money,” he said, while the Tennessee Aquarium is an icon for the “new South.”
In spite of Chattanooga’s extreme wealth, in the 1960’s Walter Cronkite named Chattanooga the most polluted city. Leaders of the city, led by the Lupton family, rallied together and worked to improve the city. Later developments such as the Aquarium were created.
Mr. Arnold said today the Hunter Art Museum represents three phases of Chattanooga’s last hundred years. The original Hunter mansion, with its pillars, represents the aristocratic old money. The next addition to the museum “captures an era of little growth.” Lastly, the most recent addition is “out there. We’re not really sure what to do with it and that is the phase we’re in now.” Mr. Arnold said he believes this phase needs to be “rooted in the same ideals of the old money.”
The wealthy families of Chattanooga are different because they are extremely “philanthropic and charitable,” he said.
Mr. Arnold said in his book he attributes the charitable spirit of Chattanooga’s wealthiest to the Presbyterian conservative tradition. “They believe that you should give money to God. That’s why Chattanooga leads the country in foundation money and giving. They leave Lookout Mountain, they work and they believe it’s their civic duty to make a difference.”
Artist Wetmore said he finds the book “utterly fascinating.” He said he wishes he could have read the book in the 1960’s when he moved from Memphis to Chattanooga. “The book unravels many mysteries about Chattanooga.”
Mr. Wetmore said, “This book is good for Chattanooga but it’s not a puff piece. Dean is very frank.”
Mr. Arnold also wrote America’s Trail of Tears, which looks at the prehistory of Chattanooga. He said researching the Cherokee Indians sparked his interest in local history.
Old Money New South is not in stores yet, he said, but copies can be ordered from his website www.oldmoneynewsouth.com or bought from him personally.
Speaking to group
- Photo2 by Suzanne Walker