Washington, Adams, Jefferson, ... there is a presidential pattern in the names on street markers that one sees when heading east on Main Street. This being the election year of 2016, it is timely to explore the history of these streets. The Chattanooga grid maps have featured the names of certain chief executives for at least six score and seven years.
In A History of Hamilton County, Dr. James Livingood stated that the original street grid of Chattanooga was within the boundaries of the Tennessee River, Georgia Avenue, and Cameron Hill. The fledgling city was about to grow as a result of the announcement that the State of Georgia was considering extending their Western and Atlanta Railroad to the Tennessee River.
Following the end of the Civil War, a boom in industrial development and influx of families occurred. Former farms on the edge of the city were subdivided, and streets and lots for homes were surveyed. The names of Washington through Madison appear on the 1889 plat map and are indicated as being part of the Montague Addition. This was in the vicinity of Fort Negley, a Civil War fort named for Gen. James S. Negley.
The June 15, 1884 edition of The Chattanooga Times had advertised the Montague Addition as being “An Opportunity to Secure a Home” in that area of town. There were 120 lots “fronting on Montgomery Avenue (Government Road), Louisa and Catherine streets” ready for purchase. The agents Brown and Divine, with offices in the Central Block that is still located at Seventh and Market streets, expected that the lots along Montgomery Avenue (later renamed Main Street) would become sites for businesses.
The presidential series of streets on the 1884 plat map ends with Madison, with the Chattanooga Union Railway, Slayton (not a president) Street, and East End Avenue (later, Central Avenue) filling out the area on the east side of the plate. Research did not identify who decided to use the names of the first four presidents as street names. It can be speculated that with 1884 being a presidential election year (Grover Cleveland won), someone was inspired to use the names of founding fathers.
The plat map of 1901 shows that Chattanooga had grown to include the Orange Grove addition and several subdivisions which comprise Highland Park. Montgomery Street was now called Main, and Louisa and Catherine streets had been renamed as Sixteenth and Seventeenth. There were new presidential streets but the series wasn’t continuous or orderly. Street names were shown for Taylor (presumably, Zachary, who was the 12th president in order), Polk (11), Fillmore (13), and the very short street called Pierce (14). Fagan Street, which wasn’t named for a president and is shown with a former name of Citron like the fruitcake fruit, is a street that extends with some non-consecutive blocks all the way to Alton Park.
So, why were some presidents omitted and the series never completed? Some theories are the following. There were multiple developers who may not have embraced the presidential theme. Railroad lines helped to break up the continuity. Prior to the railroad relocation of the 20th century, Chattanooga Creek meandered very close to the Main Street area and its periodic flooding made some areas unsuitable for development.
By the time that the map for 1928 was produced, Polk Street was extended to East 23rd Street. As is the case today for the presidential streets, only Washington and Polk are more than a few blocks in length. On the 1928 map, Polk runs alongside Montague Park from Main to 23rd as it does today.
The commemoration of President Franklin Pierce was removed by the time of the 1928 map, and is an historical mystery. The map shows that Pierce Street became Golf Street. So, why Golf? There is an undeveloped road extending from Golf into Montague Park. Possibly, golf was played at the park, and Golf Street was the entrance road for golfers. By the mid-1930’s, however, Gulf Refining had a facility near the railroad and near the former Pierce Street. The 1935 city directory shows the same name that the street has today - Gulf Street. Did the city leaders decide to rename the street again in honor of the new oil facility?
While Chattanooga doesn’t have a complete series of presidential streets, the history of the streets that we do have is a legacy of the city’s growth. Coincidentally or not, another Chattanooga – the one in Oklahoma – included names of presidents in its original street grid.
Thanks to my friend, Tom Carson, for his work in digitizing historic Chattanooga documents such as plat maps, and for his help with the images for this article.
If you have additional information on our presidential pathways, please send me an e-mail at email@example.com.