Remembering Signal Mountain's Walter Marr

Monday, October 13, 2008 - by John Shearer

Chattanoogans have enjoyed the automobiles made by the creative Detroit manufacturing engineers for decades, but they also once enjoyed the company of one of these creative minds.

For a number of years, Walter Marr, Buick’s chief engineer, lived on Signal Mountain.

His arrival came after he had climbed his own figurative mountain of success.

Born on Aug. 14, 1865, in Lake Huron, Mich., just days after the Civil War ended, he came from humble origins, In fact, Mr. Marr began working at a young age to help support his family.

He soon became accustomed to both physical and mental hard work.

While working at a sawmill and steamboat engineering company in Saginaw, Mich., he developed an interest in steam engine cars.

About this same time, he married Abbie Farrar. They would have three children: Olive Elizabeth Marr Mathes, Walter Durant Marr, and Sarah Ashelford Marr Hays.

Mr. Marr later became a bicycle manufacturer and was literally on the road to success.

He also continued to look at engine development as a hobby. Around 1898, he produced a four-cylinder gasoline motor wagon.

While doing some of this work, he became acquainted with another neighborhood engine enthusiast by the name of Henry Ford. Mr. Ford would be the first of several automobile pioneers with whom Mr. Marr became well acquainted.

Mr. Marr continued his automobile engine development and soon produced an engine in which the valves were placed in the motor head. Mounting it there helped develop better horsepower, he realized.

This would be a forerunner to the well-known overhead valve engine,

He later helped develop a boat engine for a man named David Buick. Mr. Buick was interested primarily in stationary engines, but his business was sold to a wagon company interested in developing one of the early automobiles.

Mr. Buick never became much of a business success after selling out, but his name lives on with the Buick automobile.

Mr. Marr stayed on with new Buick owner William “Billy” Durant through the early days of the automobile industry and after Mr. Durant helped merge several companies to form General Motors. As a result, he became quite wealthy.

Mr. Marr served as Buick’s chief engineer until 1918 and consulting engineer until 1923.

Although he enjoyed much success in the automobile industry, the stress and strain of his creative work often kept him from enjoying much sleep.

In 1914, while visiting Chattanooga with a Buick zone manager, he spent the night at the Signal Mountain Inn. He reportedly slept better than he had in months.

He later spent a few months there with his family and the next year purchased a cottage near the inn. The cottage was named “It Suits Me,” after the comment his wife made when asked if she wanted to live in Chattanooga permanently.

Mr. Marr’s granddaughter and grandson-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William B. Close, have lived in the cottage since 1952.

Nearby, Mr. Marr later built a palatial home called Marrcrest. Because of a fire that had occurred at one of his plants in Illinois, he constructed Marrcrest of fireproof materials, including poured concrete and marble floors.

An even larger home had been planned at one time, but a downturn in the automobile industry halted those plans.

As the years passed, he became a popular Signal Mountain resident. He donated the money to build Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, and the chapel was later called Marr Memorial Chapel.

He was also a flying enthusiast, and Marr Field was named in his honor. Located near the south end of Amnicola Highway, it was once the scene of a visit by Charles Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis plane after the noted pilot’s first transatlantic flight in 1927.

Mr. Marr, who soared to amazing heights himself in his work, died on Dec. 11, 1941.

Jcshearer2@comcast.net



Solomon Boltons Were Of Melungeon Origin; Robert Bolton Was Among State's Earliest Settlers

Solomon Bolton was a Melungeon and was a soldier in the War of 1812. His lovely daughter, Jemima, had a tragic story. The Melungeons were a dark-skinned people of mysterious origin. Another Bolton pioneer in Hamilton County was Robert Bolton, whose father was among the state's earliest settlers. Solomon Bolton was born Sept. 17, 1791, at Georgetown District ... (click for more)

Chester Martin: Tales Of Broad Street

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 ... (click for more)

Chattanoogan Hotel Sold By City To Lexington, Ky., Hospitality Group For $32 Million

The city has reached agreement to sell the Chattanoogan hotel for $32 million. The buyer is Schulte Hospitality Group of Lexington, Ky. The firm has 102 hotels in 26 states. Daisy Madison, city chief financial officer, said the proceeds would be enough to pay off all the city's remaining debt for building it. She said there had been interest in buying the hotel before, ... (click for more)

Janice Raper, 69, Killed In Accident On Lee Highway

Janice Raper, 69, was killed Sunday evening in a car accident on Lee Highway. Chattanooga Police responded at 7:54 p.m. to a traffic crash at 6800 Lee Highway. A Toyota Sienna, driven by Ms. Raper, was traveling northbound, attempting to make a left turn onto Hickory Valley Road.  A Dodge Challenger, driven by Charise Nash, 26, was traveling southbound on Lee Highway, ... (click for more)

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Myth And Fact Check

My husband and I recently had the privilege of participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Chattanooga. I listened as my husband told the audience about how his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was nine and how she died from the disease when he was fourteen. As a child, my husband didn’t understand what breast cancer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘All Hat, No Cattle’

A very long time ago there was a philosopher in Greece named Plato. He was really good at it; founded the first organized school in the world, this around 400 BC. He is also thought to be the founder of spirituality, which later became Christianity, and had a dandy bunch of other great ideas. He was taught by Socrates and then Plato, in turn, taught young Aristotle. He was evermore ... (click for more)