Remembering the Miller Brothers Subway

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - by Harmon Jolley
Diagram shows how the subway connected the two Miller Brothers buildings.  Click to enlarge.
Diagram shows how the subway connected the two Miller Brothers buildings. Click to enlarge.

On December 15, the reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield has sold their office building which once housed the Miller Brothers Department Store The article stated the following, “The Miller Brothers Department Store building was built in the late 19th century and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The building is said to have Chattanooga’s only subway, an underground shopping area that tunneled beneath Broad Street.”

A subway in Chattanooga? That’s correct, though not a subway that is an underground passenger railway. This one is a subterranean passageway that once allowed shoppers to walk between the Broad Street and Market Street buildings of Miller Brothers. “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” no longer was a time of great decision.

The Sunday, March 4, 1951 Chattanooga Times reported that the new Miller Brothers subway would open the following day. George Blackwell-Smith, secretary-treasurer of the retailer, said, “Our customers may drive their automobiles into the Broad Street Garage for parking, enter our recently opened complete Home Furnishings Center and shop there or pass directly through the subway with its attractive shops into the main department store for their purchases.”

Broad Street had to be closed to traffic during construction of the reinforced concrete walls of the subway. Dimensions of the walkway were 130 feet in length, 19 feet in width, and 7.6 feet high. Acoustical tile ceilings concealed the concrete roof, which had the layers of Broad Street immediately above it. Shops selling everything from fishing tackle to pots and pans lined the subway.

The retailer’s history in Chattanooga dates to 1889, when brothers Gus and Frank Miller opened the New York Racket Store at 510 Market Street in the former W.B. Barnes Saloon. After an 1897 fire destroyed the Richardson Building, the Miller brothers built a new store at Seventh and Market streets.

Miller Brothers carried the finest fashions and home décor, and sponsored events in keeping with their image. In 1967, they hosted a “Hail, Britannia” collection, which included replicas of English jewelry and china. Representatives from Great Britain attended the gala. Miller Brothers was already known for its tea room, so the Britannia event was natural.

My elementary school made a field trip to Miller Brothers in order to be exposed to British culture beyond the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, and Rolling Stones. In those years, I’m not sure that the Chattanooga City Schools had their own school buses. Instead, we relied on parent volunteers to transport students.

I recall that we parked in the Miller Brothers parking deck, and then walked as a group through the subway. Many were amazed that we were walking below the heavily-traveled Broad Street. That transportation experience was soon rivaled by trips on the escalators inside Miller Brothers.

The downtown Miller’s store closed in 1986, the same year that Hess Department Store acquired Miller’s.. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee had offices in the building until relocating to the new campus atop Cameron Hill.

If you have memories of Miller Brothers, particularly its subway, please send me an e-mail at

Miller Brothers shopping bag.  Click to enlearge.
Miller Brothers shopping bag. Click to enlearge.

Chester Martin Remembers Llewellyn Evans

Llewellyn Evans was from the Dakotas, but had gone to University in the Pacific Northwest. He got a degree in Electrical Engineering, and became employed by TVA in its early days, soon determining electricity rates for the entire TVA system. The EPB's slogan of the day was, "Electricity is Cheap in Chattanooga", and we can thank our Mr. Llewellyn Evans for that! He was "Chief ... (click for more)

Chester Martin Remembers Chattanooga's Enriched Society

With that title I am referring directly to the Jewish population of our city. This population had apparently begun its good work long before my time. My father was born in a very rural community in1884 and his family remembered "Leboits" - a peddler, who spoke with a strong "old world" accent. "Leboits" traveled to the most rural parts of North Georgia well before 1900, reaching ... (click for more)

Larry Schumacher Named Chief Executive Officer Of CHI Memorial

T he board of directors of CHI Memorial and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) have chosen Larry Schumacher as the chief executive officer (CEO) of CHI Memorial effective Jan. 4, 2016 . Mr. Schumacher comes to CHI Memorial from Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) based in Springfield, Illinois where he served as system chief operating officer for the past eight years.  ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Under Flood Watch Through Wednesday

With a steady rain set to continue through Wednesday, Chattanooga is under a flood watch. Over four inches of rain are expected in some areas. Here is the advisory from the National Weather Service: ...LOCALIZED FLOODING POSSIBLE ACROSS EAST TENNESSEE AND SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA THROUGH WEDNESDAY MORNING... .THE COMBINATION OF DEEP SUBTROPICAL MOISTURE AND A SLOW MOVING FRONTAL ... (click for more)

Why Are We Allowing Poor Architecture And Urban Design Downtown?

   Over the past four decades our fair city has enjoyed striking improvements to our City Center and Northshore areas in large part due to citizen input and the guidance of the former Urban Design Studio. We are now widely recognized as a hotbed of entrepreneurship, neighborhood revitalization and good Urban Design. At the most recent City Council meeting, the leader and ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: My Great Thanksgiving

In order for you to best understand this, last Thursday was the first Thanksgiving I have ever spent alone.  Don’t misunderstand, I had a fistful of kind invitations but I am the only remaining member of my immediate family around here and I guess I started dwelling on that a little too much as the holiday neared. Making out my “thankful” list helped, and I ate enough with ... (click for more)