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


Sons of Co-owner of Service Auto Parts Share Their Memories

Don and David Maddox, sons of Service Auto parts co-founder Owen Maddox, shared their memories in response to my recent article on the business. From Don: Again, thanks for putting this in the Chattanoogan. It brought back many good memories of the days I worked with my father selling auto parts here in Chattanooga. Both Hollin Williams and my father, Owen Maddox ... (click for more)

Service Auto Parts Once Kept Chattanooga's Cars Running

When I think about working on cars, I think of the times that I helped my father (or vice versa, after I started driving).  Engines were simpler then, with enough space under the hood for a mother cat and kittens to ride as stowaways one day to my father's work.  "Where is that meowing coming from?" he thought.  Fortunately, the felines were fine, though their nine ... (click for more)

Black Creek Developers Say They "Followed The Rules" On $9 Million TIF: To Continue Project

The developers of the Black Creek project at Aetna Mountain said Thursday they "complied precisely by the rules when we applied for and received approval of the TIF district." Doug Stein said the group plans to continue on with the project, which he said earlier would include the creation of a small town on a huge undeveloped tract on the mountain above Black Creek (formerly ... (click for more)

WTCI Says Fleischmann Ad Included Unauthorized Use Of Logo

Officials of WTCI TV said a Chuck Fleischmann TV ad contained an unauthorized use of the public TV station's logo. Officials stated in a letter to WTCI viewers: "We understand that members of our community may have received a printed communication from the Chuck Fleischmann for Congress Committee featuring the headline "Weston Wamp Supports Amnesty for Illegal Immigration." ... (click for more)

Cell Phones And Roundabouts

I read the article written by Chris Morgan about the use of cell phones in vehicles and the Chattanooga Roundabouts. Cell phone use in vehicles especially in crisis intersection situations is extremely dangerous. I also agree with his assessment about the roundabouts. One problem I see with roundabouts is that on the two-lane roundabouts where they are coming in from ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Two Wrongs Not Right

Scottie Mayfield is a delightful friend of mine but he’s the last guy in the world who should be aiming at anybody’s character. He’s always had class but today Scottie is the “star” of a shameful political commercial in which he assails challenger Weston Wamp on behalf of a panicked Chuck Fleischmann. Mayfield, you’ll remember, ran against the two in the last race for the District ... (click for more)