100th Anniversary Of John Ross Bridge Commemorated Tuesday

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR and the city of Chattanooga joined Tuesday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of opening of the Chief John Ross bridge. Jessica Dumitru, regent of the Chief John Ross Chapter, presided over the wreath-laying ceremony and the presentation of the bridge’s history and significance. 

Ms. Dumitru opened the commemorative event with a glance back at the forces at play leading to the construction of a second major bridge across the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.  She reminded attendees that “1917 was a significant year for the people living in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The war that had been raging in Europe since 1914 continued with U-boat attacks against the United States and in April, the US joined Great Britain, France and Russia in their fight against tyranny. The population around Chattanooga swelled as thousands of young men came to Fort Oglethorpe for training prior to the Expeditionary Forces leaving for France and the fighting in the Argonne Forest. “ 

She noted that Chattanooga’s general population was growing too and the number of automobiles increased.  The Walnut Street Bridge, which had been built for horse and buggy use, had quickly becoming inadequate for handling the flow of people from Chattanooga across the Tennessee River into Hill City. In their planning for the future, the leadership funded the design and construction of a new, wider bascule bridge, often referred to as a drawbridge that would still allow large boats to use the river. 

The bridge cost $1 million and, at the time of its construction, it was the longest rolling-lift span in the world and its traffic included streetcars which operated until the 1930s. Chattanooga Mayor T. C. Thompson presided over the planning of the bridge while Mayor Jesse Littleton would be present to cut the ribbon in 1917. 

In 1950, the bridge was officially renamed the Chief John Ross Bridge in honor of Chattanooga’s founder, Chief John Ross.  The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 and continues to be a major artery into and out of downtown Chattanooga. It has become a frequently photographed Chattanooga site, perhaps second to the now-pedestrian traffic Walnut Street bridge, and even now the bridge is closed four times per year so the U S Coast Guard can test its drawbridge mechanism. 

James McKissic, director of Multicultural Affairs for the city of Chattanooga, addressed the crowd with an acknowledgement that the city of Chattanooga was excited to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, Chief John Ross Chapter, in celebrating a beautiful bridge and, even more importantly, the Chief’s leadership in this community and with the Cherokee nation. 

Mr. McKissic recalled that on the previous Saturday, the city of Chattanooga had sponsored a Walking History tour of the Tennessee River and one of the stories including the tragic story of the Trail of Tears and Chief John Ross’s pivotal role in that historic moment. Mr. McKissic noted that John Ross was born in the shadow of Lookout Mountain and that as a young man, he demonstrated those leadership talents that would propel him into Chattanooga’s history. 

At age 27, Ross was elected to the Cherokee National Council and two years later, he became president of the council. In 1827, Chief John Ross helped write the Cherokee Constitution and, within two years, he became the principal chief of the Cherokee nation. 

Formerly a close friend of President Andrew Jackson when they had fought alongside each other in the Creek Indian Wars of 1812, they would find themselves at odds 20 years later. Jackson knew Ross would never agree to the land swap and the forced removal of the Cherokee so he bypassed Ross and went to others on the Council. Most citizens know how the story of the Trail of Tears ended and that Chief John Ross joined expedition even though he could have chosen to remain in the Chattanooga-Rossville area.  

Mr. McKissic paused during the presentation before concluding that “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.”  

The ceremony culminated in the placement of a wreath in memory of Chief John Ross

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