A General Question about Former Chattanooga City Seal

Friday, October 26, 2012 - by Harmon Jolley
City seal shown on 1916 letterhead of Mayor Jesse M. Littleton
City seal shown on 1916 letterhead of Mayor Jesse M. Littleton

Chattanooga has a long association with trains.  The terrain dictated that trains would have to pass through the city, which led to Chattanooga’s growth.  The rail infrastructure encouraged local manufacturing.  Many passengers from distant places were given many chances to see what Chattanooga had to offer.  Some came back to stay.

By 1975, however, Chattanoogans and their elected leaders may have wanted a make-over for the city’s image.

  In an age of freeways, jets and spaceships, trains were associated with bygone times. 

Passenger train service had been discontinued locally.  Though there had been efforts to preserve it as a history museum and open-air market, Union Station and its train shed had been demolished.  A railroad relocation program had resulted in fewer trains crossing busy streets.

Then, there was the loss of that historic Civil War locomotive, the General, which had been so disappointing to Chattanoogans.  The General had been displayed at Union Station since 1901, and became deeply associated with the city. 

However, in the 1960’s, the L&N Railroad announced that the General would be given to Georgia.  The state had owned interests in railroads and property in Chattanooga since before the Civil War. 

Mayor Ralph Kelley and other leaders contested the action of L&N, both by taking possession of the General and fighting its removal in court.  The case ultimately was heard by the United States Supreme Court, which in November, 1971 upheld a lower court ruling that gave the General to Georgia. 

I had the opportunity to hear Judge Ralph Kelley address the Chattanooga Area Historical Association about the General a few years before his passing in 2004.  It was insightful to hear of his tense conversation with Governor Lester Maddox after the General had been intercepted by “Kelley’s Raiders.”  Gov. Maddox was irate that news media were arriving in Kennesaw for the unveiling, yet the locomotive wouldn’t be there.

Judge Kelley recalled the difficult question that confronted him after learning of L&N’s plans.  He pondered what he was going to do with boxes and boxes of official letterhead, business cards, coffee mugs, tie clasps, and other items that depicted the General.

At the time, the city’s official government seal was based on that famous locomotive.  Local drivers saw the General each day, since the city sticker on the windshield contained the city seal.  Losing the locomotive meant that the city seal featured an obsolete image.

In the summer of 1974, Mayor Robert Kirk Walker suggested a public contest to design a new corporate seal.  On February 11, 1975, the Chattanooga News-Free Press reported that George Little, a prolific illustrator of Chattanooga’s scenery, won the first-place prize of $500.  The new city seal featured a view of the city from Point Park.

After researching the previous city seal, however, I am uncertain that the General was actually the locomotive that the artist had in mind.

The Public Library has a clipping on files from the “Revised Ordinances and Code of the City of Chattanooga.”  The document was printed in 1892 by the Times Printing Company.  Note that the year is prior to 1901, when the General was first displayed at Union Station.

Section 485 of Chapter XLII, Sundry Regulations, said, “A seal is hereby adopted as the official seal of the city of Chattanooga – the said seal being circular, being in circular form around the outer portion of the words, “Corporation of the City of Chattanooga,” and in the center the figure of a locomotive engine, with pilot at the right.  And it shall be unlawful for any person to use another seal as the corporate seal of the city of Chattanooga.”

Note that the General is not named in that section.

It is possible that there was a later ordinance to amend this ordinance that specifically described the locomotive as being the General.  I grew up hearing that it was the General on the city sticker that was in front of me when I rode in the front seat of my parents’ cars. 

If you have information on the former city seal and whether the locomotive was ever officially named as being the General, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

By the way, Section 486 made it a misdemeanor to keep or maintain any jackass or stallion within the corporate limits.  Section 487 deemed it a nuisance to let dogs run at large between June 1 and October 1.

Current city seal of Chattanooga was designed by George Little, and shows a view of the city from Point Park on Lookout Mountain.
Current city seal of Chattanooga was designed by George Little, and shows a view of the city from Point Park on Lookout Mountain.


Chester Martin: Tales Of Broad Street

Did anyone ever tell you when you were growing up that Broad Street (in Chattanooga) did not always exist - except for nine short blocks from the river to 9th Street? Very hard to imagine that now, to be sure, but the street, as we know it today was not always there. My parents were both around, however, when that street only ran from the river (Aquarium area) to 9th Street, now ... (click for more)

Montagues Led In Chattanooga Banking, Industry; Fine Homes Were Knocked Down On Cameron Hill

One of Chattanooga's first banks opened after the Civil War's end was a project of two Northerners, who had first eyed Cincinnati for their First National Bank. The First National opened Nov. 15, 1865, in an unpretentious brick building between Third and Fourth streets. The founders were Theodore Giles Montague and William Perry Rathburn. They had moved on to Chattanooga because ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain To Hold Public Meetings On Idea Of Setting Up Own School System

Discussion about follow-up public meetings regarding the Signal Mountain School System Viability Committee (SMSSVC) report dominated the council’s work session on Friday afternoon. Council member Dan Landrum’s opinion about how to proceed differed from the other four council members. Mr. Landrum argued to end the study and to hold no public meetings. His reason was that of the 738 ... (click for more)

Man Shot Multiple Times In Cleveland; Jesus Teague, 14, Is Arrested

On Saturday, at 6:12 a.m., Cleveland Police Department responded to 1210 Elrod Place SE in reference to a domestic disturbance.   A man sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was transported to Erlanger by Life Force. His condition is stable, at this time.   The suspect, Jesus Tyler Teague, 14, was located and was in custody as of 3:25 p.m. ... (click for more)

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Myth And Fact Check

My husband and I recently had the privilege of participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Chattanooga. I listened as my husband told the audience about how his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was nine and how she died from the disease when he was fourteen. As a child, my husband didn’t understand what breast cancer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Bill Pennington, a sports writer for the New York Times, was lamenting the “huddle” is slowly disappearing in football due to the faster pace of the game and, during his search for more information, he called former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. Bill wrote that Joe couldn’t stop laughing about the funny things that would happen between plays. Joe told this story: ... (click for more)