Chester Martin Remembers Some Chattanooga And Regional Trivia

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - by Chester Martin

Former Chattanooga mayor Rudy Olgiati used to appear frequently on early TV "talking heads" shows, and on radio. He often told how his name should be pronounced. He would start by saying he was Swiss, from Gruetli-Laager, Tn.,, which is an old Swiss enclave in Grundy County. Switzerland proper - the one in Europe - included German, French and Italian-speaking regions - and his family name was of Italian origin. He always said the "L" was not to be pronounced, and was therefore most correctly said as "O-jotty." I have never been to Gruetli-Laager, but have heard that the old Swiss industry of cheese-making is still carried out there.

Perhaps I should investigate as I am a Swiss cheese junky! Meantime, next time you go across that westernmost Chattanooga bridge, think "O-jotty."

Sale Creek is a small community beside U.S. 27 between Chattanooga and Dayton, Tn. A few years before 1800 there was a raid by Native Americans - followers of the renegade Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe, who ravaged some white settlements in Alabama. Later, with a lot of help from Andrew Jackson, the whites got vengeance by first pilfering, then burning, several of the Lower Cherokee towns. All the Cherokee booty of any value was taken north into Tennessee - to the banks of a creek - where it was sold at auction. There was a lot of weaponry included in this sale which made it very attractive, and the event was commemorated by naming the site "Sale Creek". Go find the actual story in a "real" history book as I have only hit the high spots here.

Then, there is the quixotic and enigmatic disappearance of an entire - once thriving - town of Washington, Tn. It was on the Tennessee River and had been an important cotton port in Rhea County. In fact, it was their FIRST County Seat, with Court House, jail, churches, and grid of residential streets, which included much brick construction. It lost its importance, however, when a railroad line was put through connecting nearby Dayton to Chattanooga, Atlanta, and the Port of Savannah, obviating the much longer and slower river route. When Washington lost its status the population gradually moved away and people started calling the place "Old" Washington. There had been a ferry on the river for over 100 years - "Washington Ferry" - until a bridge was constructed sometime in the 1970's. Road construction for that bridge seems to have swept away every trace of the historic buildings, and even the town cemetery virtually disappeared. I hope to write more about Old Washington in a future "Memories" story.

Can you imagine that Rossville, Ga., had a U.S. Post Office before Chattanooga? Can you imagine that the U.S. virtually stopped at Crest Road on Missionary Ridge at one time? Crest Road was then known as a "Federal Road" which denoted the old frontier. On the east side of it you had the "white" side, and to the west was the Native American side, called "Indian Territory" on old maps. That included most of present-day Chattanooga. The only white people who could go in legally were licensed Scottish traders. John Ross's family was Scottish, and he had 1/8th Cherokee blood, so his family could live there - legally - at a town which came to be called Ross-ville. With Cherokee Removal in 1838, whites could legally move in - and they founded the town of Chattanooga, revising  the old Cherokee name, Tsatanugi.  John Ross moved west with his tribe on the infamous "Trail of Tears", and Rossville joined the United States. William Walden, who gave his name to Walden's Ridge, was almost certainly a licensed Scottish long-hunter.

All my young life there was a brass benchmark embedded in the sidewalk at the northeast corner of 9th Street (now MLK) and Broad Street. It marked the northeast corner of Georgia land, and it was difficult for me to wrap my brain around the fact that Georgia extended so far up into Tennessee. My father informed me, however, that a Georgia railroad had purchased the land many years before the Civil War, and the purchase was perfectly legal. The Chattanooga Union Depot (located across 9th Street to the south of the Read House) actually sat on Georgia land although seemingly in the heart of Chattanooga! Behind the train station, to the south, there was a large, enclosed "car-shed" which once served as a hospital area during the Civil War. It is said that the entire length of McFarland Gap Road which connected the Chickamauga battlefield with Chattanooga was lined with injured soldiers from that battle. The intent was to gradually move all the wounded north to the car-shed at Chattanooga for dispersal to Nashville, or elsewhere, that had medical facilities. That same, identical - and historic - car-shed was used daily until demolition of Union Depot in the early 1970's. It had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Passenger trains were gone, and the empty Union Station was unused. So, Chattanooga developer, Thomas A. Lupton, acquired the property to build a new office building. This he called the "TALLAN" Building - which stood for Thomas A. Lupton, Louisville And Nashville.

(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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