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


Civil War Historical Marker Ceremony To Be Held In June In Cleveland

The latest Civil War-related historical roadside marker will be dedicated during a special ceremony next month in Cleveland. The marker commemorates the difficult time during the Civil War when much of Bradley County lay between Union and Confederate lines. During this period, homes and businesses were vandalized and robbed by both pro-Union and pro-Confederate forces who took advantage ... (click for more)

Catoosa County Historical Society Meeting May 11

The Catoosa County Historical Society's May meeting will be this coming Monday May 11. 2015 at 07:00 PM at the Old Stone Church Museum. Our speaker will be Mr. Charles (Charlie) Harris,one of our members.He is also a member of the Dixie Relics Recovery Club. His topic will be "Confederated Coinage" during the Civil War. All are welcome to come and enjoy our fellowship and learn ... (click for more)

Winning Bid For Huge River Tract Near Dayton Is $4,370,000, But Sellers Not Willing To Accept

A huge tract on the Tennessee River/Chickamauga Lake near Dayton, Tn., brought $4,370,000 at auction at the site on Saturday. However, the auction firm later said the high bid was not accepted by the sellers, John and Edyth Buxton. Henry Glascock of the John Dixon firm auction firm said, "It was a gorgeous piece of property, but we just didn't quite get there. "We had a willing ... (click for more)

Olympian Kristin Armstrong Sets Course Record; Talansky Is Men's Winner

Two-time Olympic goal medal winner Kristin Armstrong won the USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championship in a record time at the Volkswagen course on Saturday morning. She finished the 19.2-mile course in 42 minutes, 8 seconds. The time trial victory assures the 41-year-old Armstrong of a spot as one of three American women to compete in the world championship time trial ... (click for more)

Shame On The Housing Authority - And Response

With Chattanooga and other cities around the nation struggling to find solutions to chronic homelessness it's cruel to evict families likely with children over a fight.   When you evict the adults you're also evicting any and all children in the household.  Intelligence would dictate looking for a root cause. Compassion would dictate looking for alternatives. Both ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Great Orthopedic Success

Mark Freeman, the chief of orthopedic surgery at Erlanger Hospital, shared a dazzling look at our area’s Level One Trauma Center Friday morning. Yet, as he described the dramatic changes that have occurred in just the past 12 months, the promise of what will happen within the next year was even more appealing. Believe this, our flagship hospital is getting well in a hurry. “If ... (click for more)