Remembering Jo Conn Guild

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 - by John Shearer

One of the unique local residents of the past was Jo Conn Guild Jr.

As a businessman, he was successful, and as a personality, he was quite colorful.

Josephus Conn Guild Jr. was born in Chattanooga in 1887. His grandfather, George Guild, had been a Confederate Civil War veteran and later mayor of Nashville.

Jo Conn Guild’s father, Jo Conn Guild, was considered an engineering genius. He had helped develop the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway and the waterpower plant at Hales Bar Dam.

The dam, the first on the Tennessee River, was built in 1913 through the efforts of the elder Mr. Guild, Chattanooga millionaire C.E. James and a wealthy New Yorker named Brady. The three had organized the Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power Company to build the dam.

The area in Marion County where the construction workers lived became known as Guild.

The elder Mr. Guild was also a close friend of John Roy Baylor and helped finance the construction in 1899 of the new Baylor School campus on Palmetto Street in Fort Wood, a facility that was later used by Girls Preparatory School.

Mr. Guild Jr. attended Baylor for eight years – from 1897 through 1905 – until enrolling at the University of Virginia. He later studied engineering at Vanderbilt and eventually helped in the construction phase of Hales Bar Dam.

He soon began building up his resume by going to work for the power company, becoming general manager in 1915. The company merged with Chattanooga Railway and Light Company in 1922 to become the Tennessee Electric Power Company, also known as TEPCO.

Mr. Guild continued to help grow the combined firm as vice president. In 1933, he was elected president. (The firm’s landmark Market Street office, which later housed the Electric Power Board, was recently torn down.)

The Chattanoogan knew how to succeed in the business world, but he ran into a greater challenge in the realm of government bureaucracy.

The U.S. government decided to take over the company’s power system by eminent domain and make it part of the government controlled Tennessee Valley Authority.

Mr. Guild vehemently – but unsuccessfully -- fought the move. One of his allies was another utility company president named Wendell Wilkie. Mr. Wilkie ended up being the unsuccessful1940 Republican presidential nominee against Franklin Roosevelt.

Mr. Guild held on to the railway phase of the business and reorganized it as Southern Coach Lines. It converted from using streetcars to buses about the time of World War II. He retired as president in 1961.

Besides helping Chattanoogans stay on the move, he kept on the go himself through the numerous sports cars he owned. At his home at 264 Stephenson Ave. on Lookout Mountain, he had a Jaguar, a Ferrari, a Lancia, a British-made Metropolitan and a Fraser-Nash, which had been specially made to fit his tall and large frame.

Seeing him go up and down the mountain in these cars – even in his later years -- was a familiar sight to residents of that time period.

Besides the fumes from these speedy cars, this man known as a natural storyteller also created smoke at his Lookout smokehouse, where he cured hams and sausage from his 320-acre cattle and hog farm near Columbia, Tenn.

He reportedly used some old family recipes.

His recipe for life was apparently to work hard and enjoy it to the fullest. He was a member of a number of social clubs and civic groups.

His 28-year marriage to Sarah Lamb Nichols produced one daughter, Mrs. Rupert Colmore Jr., and three grandsons, Rupert, Jo and John Colmore.

Mr. Guild had divorced his first wife in 1940 and remarried May Bondurant Young in 1942. She died in 1967.

Late in his life, Mr. Guild was confined to a wheelchair due to arthritis brought on by an old hunting accident.

Death for Mr. Guild came on June 26, 1969, at the age of 81. His obituary in the Chattanooga News-Free Press ran next to a funeral story about noted actress Judy Garland, who had died four days earlier.

His services wee held at Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Lookout Mountain, with the Revs. Harold E. Barrett and M.C. Nichols officiating.

Burial was in Forest Hills Cemetery.

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