John Shearer: Ceremony Celebrates Chief John Ross Bridge’s 100th Anniversary

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - by John Shearer

With a scenic backdrop of the Tennessee River and surrounding ridges and mountains, the 100th anniversary of the Chief John Ross (Market Street) Bridge was observed Tuesday.

About 15 people -- mostly representing local Daughters of the American Revolution societies and local Trail of Tears heritage groups – were on hand for the brief ceremony, which included the laying of a memorial wreath in honor of Chief Ross’ 227th birthday.

“Today we recognize the importance of the Chief John Ross Bridge in the development of our thriving community and, equally important, the significance of Chief John Ross’ contributions,” said Chief John Ross DAR chapter regent Jessica Mines Dumitru amid the hum of passing automobiles near the southwest corner of the bridge.

James McKissic, the city of Chattanooga’s director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, pointed out that Chief Ross was certainly a man worthy of being remembering positively.

Mr. McKissic pointed out that the leader became president of the Cherokee National Council before age 30 and later principal chief of the Cherokee nation. As the Cherokees’ lands were taken and the Native Americans were being relocated, he joined the Trail of Tears expedition, even though he could have chosen to remain in the Chattanooga-Rossville area, he said.

“It is important that we commemorate our city’s Cherokee heritage and that we remember Chief John Ross on this 100th anniversary of this bridge’s opening,” Mr. McKissic added.

The unique bridge, which has been greatly restored/repaired in recent years, had been renamed for Chief Ross in 1950.

Its actual opening occurred on Nov. 17, 1917, amid ceremonies attended by 1,500 people. On that day, American flags lined the bridge, and a 50-foot flag of the city of Chattanooga was flown from the south end of the bascule/drawbridge, where Chattanooga as the “Electricity” signs were painted in the mid-20th century.

Hamilton County Judge Will Cummings (whose job is now called county mayor) said of the bridge during the 1917 ceremony, “May it ever stand as the link that binds the two great communities of this county, and as the years roll by, that it will serve the useful and convenient purposes of our great and growing citizenship.”

Constructed during World War I and with some opposition, as most major building projects in Chattanooga have been, the bridge was designed to aid with a growing mode of transportation – the automobile. It was also intended to help link the various paved automobile highways being built or planned between cities and towns.

During the 1917 ceremony, the bascule was open, but once the speeches ended, it was brought down and automobiles began going across it and continued throughout that day.

According to some old articles, the concrete part of the bridge was designed by B.H. Davis of New York and later by J.E. Greiner of Baltimore, while the bascule was designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Co. of Chicago.

With its unique drawbridge that is still raised four times a year for maintenance, the bridge has almost looked like a giant toy to many children over the years.

Others think it is pretty special, too.

“This is one of our city’s most iconic landmarks,” said Mr. McKissic after the ceremony.

* * * *

To hear Jessica Mines Dumitru discuss Chief John Ross, listen here.

To hear James McKissic talk about the bridge’s importance to Chattanooga, listen here.

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