Chester Martin Remembers The First Brainerd Road

Saturday, December 26, 2015 - by Chester Martin

Long forgotten is the "original" Brainerd Road, and we find it in the state of Georgia! Oldest maps of both Walker and Chattooga Counties have it marked variously as "Brainerd's" Road and "Broomtown" Road. That road has long been designated by the State of Georgia as "Georgia Highway 337" although the older name, "Broomtown Road" still persists.

The famous Mission to the Cherokee Nation was located on the exact site of Eastgate Center here in Chattanooga, and, Ta-da, on the second Brainerd Road! It was named for the New England missionary David Brainerd.

Apparently, the Cherokee Nation included a very large territory in Colonial times with communities in very far-flung areas. Much has been made of their settlements near Dahlonega, Ga., where gold was discovered in the early 1800s and eventually led to their removal because the white men wanted that gold. That was the origin of the phenomenon known as the "Trail of Tears." It is true that enough gold was discovered there that the U.S. Mint set up a branch there, and if you should find a gold coin with the "Dahlonega" mint-mark in your grandfather's jacket you could become very rich!

The Cherokee had a number of towns named for animals, such as Wolf, Deer, or Duck Town. They could also name their towns for a famous person of the community - like one Georgia chief, "The Broom." The Broom's town was somewhere in the vicinity of present Menlo, Ga., on or near the Alabama line. He must have been a chief of some importance because he was summoned from that distant place to Tellico Blockhouse, south of Knoxville, to sign one of the treaties of Tellico between 1756 and 1760. One can only imagine what an honor that was to be so recognized! Anyway, his fame has endured for 250 years, commemorated by the name "Broomtown Road." (It runs from Menlo to LaFayette, Ga., where it joins US Highway 27).

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My dad was born very near Broomtown Road about half-way along its route. That entire area was replete with much Native American lore - remembered by, and transmitted to me, by the old folks of their day. Addy Martin Bailey of Rock Spring, Ga., told me a story related to her by her grandfather, Enos Martin, who was a teenager in 1836 when his family came to Walker County from Greene County. They came as "squatters", doubtless, as did many other families, anticipating the removal of the Native Americans. These Native Americans were herded into a compound at a place which barely exists anymore, on Ga. Hwy. 337, called Center Post. My Great-Grandfather, Enos Martin, heard the Indian Agent give the command to "Get on your horse, Chenowee!", and so commenced the Trail of Tears from that area. I have often imagined that they were sent toward Ross's Landing in Chattanooga, but actually have no idea.

Once, as a child while visiting relatives in the area, I was taken through a genuine "forest primeval", to use the words of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to an ancient oak tree where the outline of a turkey was carved into the bark. It was obviously very old, as the ancient scars  had healed into large welts.  I have read long since that this carving was not unique. Seemingly, the Cherokee  either revered the wild turkey, or carved its image for some ritualistic "good luck" charm.

There is a good deal more to tell about that area, with many references to the Cherokee - of the Native American brave who returned unannounced from parts unknown to observe, silently, the construction of the new Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia Railroad, (known to my dad as "The TAG"). But I need a show of hands to do it!

But next time you drive along Brainerd Road in Chattanooga, though, please remind yourself that it is, historically, at least the second road of that name that is shown on any map.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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