Chester Martin Remembers The Sites And Sounds Of The Stokes Collection

Thursday, March 10, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Market Street in 1910
Market Street in 1910
- photo by Will Stokes

It is an amazing book, folks! If you missed out on getting YOUR copies of the old "Chattanooga Yesterday and Today" four-book series, then you are in luck!. John Wilson made a stupendous addition to his long-and-growing list of publications on the Chattanooga area when he acquired and published the Stokes Collection.

All the photos in this book are crystal clear and sparkle in the quality of their reproduction.

There are views of Chattanooga which you probably never saw before - and should definitely see!

Whenever I look at these old views of town I think of my family - including the ones I never knew - as they moved about through these very streets - to their jobs, to shop, or simply enjoy being there. The early vehicles depicted appear to be immaculately clean, and the highlights just glitter, indicating a spirit of prosperity and well-being. The buildings - many painted with the signage of past eras - all show the same spirit.

I never get tired of looking at those vintage pictures of Market Street where you can compare one view to another. You can plainly see how little the city changed from the earliest photos until about 1960. Even afterward, only the storefronts of a few buildings were modernized rendering them unrecognizable. And I never get tired of seeing images of Lookout Mountain and Cameron Hill. Those two features of our landscape always make me think of a "mother and child" relationship between the two, for surely the same forces of Nature must have carved them about the same time. It was well after 1960 that tree-planting became popular on a national basis, and they added shade-trees to the downtown (while removing them from McCallie Avenue and elsewhere!)

Although impossible to tell the season of the year in most of the Stokes Collection photos, one can note how, although seemingly summer, you cannot find a single short sleeve in the photo on page 10, nor on page 11. Men and women are all well-clothed, and are all wearing hats. My dad always had to keep two "outside" hats ready: the darker felt hat for winter, and a light-colored straw Panama hat for summer. There were set dates to make the change from "winter" to "summer" hats...and you can see how my mind is wandering as I look at those old photos!

On page 11, also, - over on the left - you see a sign that says, "Pastime". I think that is an arcade which included many differing features. Nearer to the sidewalk entrances (on both Market and Broad) were elevated shoe-shine chairs - elevated so the shoeshine person did not have to stoop too low to do his work. Further on, inside the arcade, would have been pinball machines and other things my parents did not approve of. Not sure if I ever walked through it.

The "D.B. Loveman's" sign appears on page 11 also - and on many other pages as well. It was one of our two department stores which virtually defined downtown Chattanooga. We had two of them, and in the old days they were the "life" of the town - much as malls such as  Hamilton Place are today. The other department store was Miller Brothers.

The Bijou Theater on page 32 (of the Stokes Collection) was where I first saw the Wizard of Oz. My mother had told me we were going to see "How Green was my Valley" - again. I had hated that film and she knew it. I was therefore VERY happily surprised when the house landed and Dorothy stepped out into the Merry old Land of OZ! The entire town grieved for the loss of this theater - by fire. (But the first Krystal appeared about the same time - one block away, downhill, to the west).

Page 59 shows a picture of the gray stone building I knew as "Firehall Number 1". It kept an ancient horse-drawn "fire wagon" on display, which was in immaculate condition. Sadly when #1 fire hall was moved, the vintage fire-wagon could not go along. It was placed on display elsewhere and gradually deteriorated in the elements. I remember fireman Charles Weigel telling me stories about his life with the Chattanooga Fire Department. Mr. Weigel was the uncle of my neighborhood friend, Bill Jackson.

The two-page layout, 162 and 163, shows all the churches that used to be located there at the corner of McCallie and Georgia Avenue. Only the two-spired Catholic church remains - and the spire of First Methodist Church. I have told elsewhere how Chattanooga industrialist Gordon Street Sr., used his own good money to spare that small portion of the original "Stone Church". The church at extreme right burned.

Pages 218 and 219 show a building that had become the main post office by my dad's time - after 1913. It has had a rich history, opening as a customs house, originally, then becoming a post office, a TVA building and now Bankruptcy Court. I have pictures of groups of postal workers taken there under the arching main entrance (on the right). This downtown post office moved to what is now known as the Solomon Federal Building about 1935. (I could write a book about that newer building!)

Yep, I could keep on going, the book is that interesting! You get the idea, though: if you are a true Chattanoogan you will never get tired of looking at all those pictures!. There is hardly a page I cannot relate to in some way...

ONE other point: there on page 509 is the Erlanger Hospital of my time - where I was born. No advertising to ignore, folks, just 583 pages of picture after picture!

Copies of the Stokes Photo book, as well as the Chattanooga Railroad book, are still available from Shannon at Zarzour's Restaurant on Rossville Avenue behind Fire Hall #1.

(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 )


Car pulls out of Erlanger Hospital
Car pulls out of Erlanger Hospital
- Photo2 by Will Stokes

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