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


Chattanooga's Blues and Jazz Heritage Program is Monday, August 25

The Chattanooga Area Historical Association and the Local History Department of the Public Library invites all to a talk by Dr. Clark White on "Chattanooga's Blues and Jazz Heritage."  The program will be on Monday, August 25th at 6pm at the downtown Chattanooga Public Library. See the accompanying flyer for more information. CAHA events are free and open to the ... (click for more)

Tunnel Hill Foundation Seeks Volunteers to Help During Re-enactment

The Yankees and the Rebels could use a few more good volunteers. No, they don’t need any more soldiers. But they could definitely use a few more hands to help during the 21 st annual Battle of Tunnel Hill Civil War Re-enactment coming up next month. Tunnel Hill Historical Foundation President Boyd Whitfield says  the foundation would appreciate having more community ... (click for more)

Bradley, 24, Charged In Death Of Boy, 3; Child Had Numerous Injuries After Left With Boyfriend; Mother Was In Workhouse

Justin Dale Bradley has been charged with criminal homicide in the death of a three-year-old child, who was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday and later died. Police said Dakota James Arndt had numerous injuries over his body. Authorities said Bradley, 24, is the boyfriend of the child's mother, Brianna Kwekel, who was in the Workhouse at the time. Ms. Kwekel was serving 48 ... (click for more)

Helen Burns Sharp Asks Recovery Of Legal Fees In Successful Black Creek TIF Lawsuit

Helen Burns Sharp, citizen activist who sued to try to stop a $9 million Black Creek Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and won, is seeking to have her legal expenses paid by the city and the developers. Ms. Sharp said in a court filing that her legal bills to attorney John Konvalinka are $74,427 thus far. Chancellor Frank Brown ruled in favor of Ms. Sharp, saying the Sunshine ... (click for more)

The Many Lessons I Learned From Helen McDonald Exum

Helen McDonald Exum was my friend and mentor. As I think of her passing I can only imagine the celebration that is happening in heaven as the news of her arrival is being told. I am sure that there is a party that not only has she organized but that there is not a detail that has been left to chance. I am sure that it is the grandest of events, for you see, she has been planing ... (click for more)

Insurance Burden Should Not Fall On The Teachers

I have attended several Hamilton County School Board meetings over the past few months, including the recent special called meeting" to vote on teacher insurance changes. First, let me say I am very impressed with Superintendent Rick Smith and his staff at the Central Office.  Mr. Smith is a very dedicated public servant, working hard to provide services to our community ... (click for more)