Chattanoogan: George Patten – All In The Family

Friday, July 12, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Lookout Mountain is rich with history and when discovering the early entrepreneurs who shaped much of the area, George Patten found he is related to many of them.

“I grew up on Lookout Mountain and, I guess like anyone else, they think where they grew up is the greatest place, but Lookout Mountain truly was. It was wonderful,” George says.

His father Rev. William (Bill) Patten worked at the Chattanooga Medicine Company (known today as Chattem) founded by Zeboim Cartter Patten.

“I used to go in there and go to the lines where they would make Solstice and Black Draught, Wine of Cardui and different medicines,” George recalls. “Zan Guerry was the past chairman of the board and his dad was president of Chattem. The Guerrys are from the Patten family. It was that company that really established the Patten family. There were a lot of other things, but Chattanooga Medicine Company was a big deal,” George claims.  

The Patten Chapel was built in honor of Zeboim Patten who, along with other members of the Patten family, served on the board of trustees for The University of Chattanooga for several years. John A. Patten was on the committee which helped to raise funds for the University.

Another landmark was the 251 room, skyscraper hotel - the Patten Hotel which is now the Patten Towers on E. 11th Street.

“Whenever I go into a place, a restaurant or something, I look to see if I know anybody and I almost always do.  I wouldn’t replace that for anything. Some of them are people I knew 40 years ago who were the leaders of the community and really made a difference," George says.

George spent his childhood swimming at the Fairyland Club along with playing tennis, golf and riding his bike. “You don’t see kids riding bikes anymore; we used to ride all the time,” George says.

He remembers being carpooled to school at Bright School when Jack Lupton would drive the neighborhood kids to school. George and his friends would then ride the city bus to the foot of Lookout and ride the Incline all the way up and take another bus.

While his father worked with the Chattanooga Medicine Company, he also started a side business in automobile sales. Ford Motor Company was coming out with the Edsel and soon after, the industry had hit a recession.

“Everything went down the tubes and Dad had to either get out of the car business or go 100% in the car business and leave the Medicine Company to try to pull out of this thing,” George says.

“Dad’s step-father, (we called him Uncle Paul) was Paul Kruesi who became one of the founders of American Lava where the Business Development Center is today. They made ceramics that held computer chips. Paul was a successful guy and he told my dad to hang in there - so he did,” George affirms.

Paul Kruesi’s father, John Kruesi, was a longtime associate to Thomas Edison.

Before the franchise sold for $200,000.00, Bill had to find cars that would sell. He sold Mercedes, Land Rovers, Avantis, Fiats, and the Studebaker through his dealership, “Patten Motor Company” on Broad Street where the Chattanoogan Hotel is located today.

“A guy who sold Ramblers in East Ridge had gotten terminally ill and asked Dad if he would like to take over, so he sold Ramblers in East Ridge and moved his dealership to Brainerd Road. Dad had the Rambler dealership and a Volkswagen dealership in Dalton, and he sold a lot of cars,” George says.  

Though appreciative of his family’s footprints, George didn’t want to be in the car business and he was the first Patten not to go to Baylor. “I went to McCallie had a great six years there. Dad suggested that I be a doctor, but I didn’t do well enough in school to be a doctor. When I was at Furman (University) I had told another student there, I would never be a traveling salesman, but I think that is all that I have ever done,” George admits.

His father went into the ministry when George was in his senior year at McCallie. The family moved to Sewanee leaving George to board at McCallie. When asked if he ever went into the military he jokes, “No I was in the military at McCallie – I had enough military there!”

He adds, “I wanted to be a golfer growing up. Dad had played golf and mom played golf - that is how they met. He played golf with her every day and finally asked her on a date.”

His mother, Lynn Chapin Patten, was the daughter of E.Y. Chapin who was the president of American National Bank (now known as Suntrust).

“People talk about how I am related to so many people and I like the fact that I am related to a lot of people and have family ties in the community. My grandmother’s brother Garnet started Rock City – they were the Carter family and her name was Dorris Carter Chapin. I used to go to Rock City and felt like it was my own. I still enjoy going to it when I can,” George says.

“There was a book written by my great uncle, Paul Carter. Paul and Garnet also developed the Fairyland Club. Paul was quite a character. He ran the hotel nicknamed the Castle in the Clouds. It is the most prominent landmark at Covenant College and they now call it Carter Hall,” George maintains.

As he explains the Carter and Chapin ties, it brings him to his cousin, Garnet Chapin. “Garnet is a very smart guy. Without Garnet, there wouldn’t be a Walnut Street Bridge, I will tell you that,” George voices.

“When you are growing up and involved with influential people - the movers and the shakers - all you see are people getting things done. You don’t realize their impact until later,” he says.

When George married, he managed a dollhouse manufacturing company called, “Halls Lifetime Toys” which his uncle, Blackwell (Blackie) Smith, had owned.

“Every now and then when I show a house and we go into a room or the attic, I have seen one of the dollhouses that we used to make,” George says.

“Blackie took an interest in me and helped me. When you have somebody who cares about you like that, you learn to care about others in a similar way and you want to do that with somebody else and help them out when you can,” George vows.

He went to work for his father in-law’s company, Sherman & Reilly, Inc. which manufactures tools and equipment for the power and telecommunications industries. My uncle had sold the doll house company and then it went out of business. I have one of the doll houses and all the furniture. My grandson, Liam, played with it the other day,” George laughs.

Today, George is a real estate broker and enjoys working alongside his daughter, Margaret. His son, George, is an environmental scientist and lives in Colorado.

“I had left Sherman & Reilly and went into a business that took me away from home a lot. That was a rough point in my career and when I went through my divorce. Someone suggested real estate and I have been in it ever since,” George says.

“My wife Shana also has two kids close to the same age as mine. Her son lives in Denver too and we go out there and visit them,” George says. “We like to play tennis at the Racquet Club in Hixson and we also play at Manker Patten. That is kind of how we met - playing tennis.”

Another Patten connection, David Manker Patten, was John A. Patten’s son who was a tennis buff and contributed in many ways to the Chattanooga Tennis Club. When Manker died, the club was named after him.

Patten is more than a well-known name. To George, it means family and he realizes how important that is.

“After you raise your children, your passion becomes what they are doing. My best memory with my son was climbing the Grand Tetons. We had taken kayaking lessons at the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club. My son learned to kayak - I didn’t,” George laughs.

“He went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he was a raft guide and I would go out and visit. I looked up at those mountains and said, ‘I bet we could climb them, it doesn’t look that difficult,’ and we did. It took two days to go up. We got to the top and it was great; here we were up the top of this famous mountain,” George beams.

“My fun with Margaret is being in the real estate business with her and being around when she had Liam. He spent the night recently and it was so fun. Shana and I were wondering if we would hear him in the middle of the night, but we never did. The next morning she got up to check on him and he was sitting up in his play pen just waiting on us,” George laughs.

George has four siblings, Mary, Anne, Tommy and Dorris, with George the second oldest. He gets together with his brother Tommy and sister Mary to perform around town dressed in lederhosen as Mary plays the accordion and they sing folk tunes.

“We sang at Rocktoberfest at Rock City and we sing all over at different places. I know all the verses to ‘Good King Wenceslas’,” George laughs. “It is a tradition to sing it every year at my sister’s house at Christmas.  Growing up, we used to sing around the piano every Saturday night with dad. He played and we all sang from a folk song book.”

“We have a big family and we all get together when we can. We usually have a Patten reunion down at Ashland Farm. We had one fairly recently at the Patten Chapel and had a Sunday service there. Then another fellow went around and told us about houses that Pattens either lived in or built,” George says.

“My family means more to me than anything.”

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