Remembering James T. Arnold and Loomis & Hart

Saturday, April 2, 2005 - by Harmon Jolley
Loomis & Hart office.  Click to enlarge.
Loomis & Hart office. Click to enlarge.

History comes alive when it’s read or heard in the words of those who witnessed it. Mr. Richard Arnold of Virginia, whom I recently met at the downtown library, has graciously shared with me a copy of his family history. Profiled in it is his great-grandfather, James Townsend Arnold, who was an executive with the Loomis and Hart Company. This was a manufacturer and dealer in lumber and furniture, and one of Chattanooga’s earliest industries. The following are some excerpts of the family history, which was brought up-to-date in 1944 by J. T. Arnold’s son, James S. Arnold.

James S. Arnold introduced the history with a Foreword that stated, “You will find that the work is largely a biography of my father, interlarded with anecdote piled upon anecdote, in an effort to make him live again for you, as he has lived for me for so many years. My father always insisted that it had been his good fortune to live in the most interesting period of the world’s history, and considering that the ninety years of his life covered the development of industrial America, from the electric telegraph to the radio, and all that lay between, his claim was not entirely without foundation.”

James T. Arnold was born on April 5, 1844 at the family farm near Greenville, Ohio, along with twin sister, Lydia. They were the youngest of thirteen children. In 1866, Mr. Arnold left the farm and moved to Indiana, where he entered the mercantile business. He later married, and became the father of three sons. Tragedy struck the family, however, when J. T. Arnold’s wife died from pneumonia following what had been a successful surgery.

His son observed that his father “soon developed a restless dissatisfaction which rapidly crystallized into a determination to pull his life up by the roots, and start anew in some other locality. Particularly, he had his eye on the (then) territory of Washington. In fact he had his mind all made up to go there, when an old boyhood friend and college mate, John A. Hart, who had gone to Chattanooga, Tennessee at the close of the (Civil) war (in which he served) wrote to my father and suggested that, before he finally made up his mind, he ought to come to Chattanooga and look the situation over. In February, 1885, my father had liquidated his affairs … and he gathered together about $60,000 in cash and moved to the seemingly green pastures of Chattanooga, Tennessee.”

“Late in the spring of 1885, we all visited in Chattanooga…. I was dazed by the size of Chattanooga – 21,000 population … and all the wonders of the big city.” James T. Arnold became the secretary of Loomis & Hart. “I recall that my father’s office was in an enormous unpainted frame building at Third and Market Streets, which, my father somewhat pridefully explained, had been built as a government warehouse during the civil war.”

“Originally Loomis & Hart was a partnership of J. F. Loomis and John A. Hart, organized to operate a saw mill in Chattanooga, receiving their logs by enormous rafts floated down the Tennessee from away up in the mountains of East Tennessee and western tip of Virginia. They made money selling their first class lumber but had a terrible time finding a satisfactory market for their second class lumber, culls, etc. Eventually they conceived the brilliant idea of making it up into cheap – and I mean CHEAP – furniture …theirs was really the first of the southern furniture factories, although a concern in North Carolina claims that honor, but the latter started considerably later than 1869, when Loomis & Hart began.”

James T. Arnold was well-respected by his co-workers. His son noted, “When times of real stress came – the panic of 1893, the fire in 1912, and the reorganization that followed – his partners came to him with their hats in their hands and listened to his words of wisdom as a father.” He also observed that “Father’s sound sense and judgment kept the firm on an even keel throughout the panic of 1893, and, except for a few years about that time, they made considerable money – around 10% on their capital – paying out their profits as dividends and, owing to the high and increasing value of their real estate, able to get deeper and deeper into the local banks for expansion funds.”

Mr. Arnold remarried in 1886, and moved to a new home at 927 East Terrace. This was on the brow of Boynton Hill, south of Cameron Hill and roughly where the Jaycee Towers are today (urban renewal has greatly altered the terrain since then). His son recalled the home: “It was built in 1886, on a lot seventy-five feet wide and around one hundred and fifty deep. The front yard consisted of terraces, steps, and slope to such extent that the ground floor was on a level with the house-tops across the street. This gave an unobstructed view from the veranda, looking over the city of Chattanooga.”

“Exclusive of the somewhat expansive halls on both floors, there were only eight rooms in the house as originally built. In 1889, an extension was constructed, adding two more halls and about four more rooms. The original part was solid brick and the new part, brick veneer.”

”It wasn’t a mansion, in any sense of the word, but the first floor rooms of the older part had the most beautifully finished woodwork that I have ever seen. There were fire-places on this floor and the four mantles were cherry, with the most wonderful finish imaginable… How this wood-work and finish came into existence is worthy of being recorded.”

“In the first place, Father being in the lumber and building material business, was able to select the very cream of the available wood for the trim. About the time all was in place, the foreman of the finishing department of the furniture factory went on a drunk (spree in those days) and Mr. Loomis very unsympathetically fired him. Father got hold of the scamp, sobered him up and put him to work finishing the wood-work of the new house. The instructions were that nobody cared what it cost and no one was going to hurry him, but the wood work finish must be nearly perfect as it was humanly possible to get it.”

“Apparently the old drunk appreciated the treatment, for he went to work soberly and diligently and put into his job all of the gratitude and price of craft that he was able to muster. The poor fellow has been resting in his grave these fifty years (as of 1944), I have no doubt, but the finish that he put on that trimming lives on, a monument to his skill and appreciation and to my father’s tolerance of other people’s frailties.”

“When we moved there in 1886, there were a lot of little saplings set out in the front yard. We used to joke (with) Father about them. Now the house stands back in a grove of magnificent elms – regular wine-glass type. Father grew inordinately proud of them and never allowed anyone except the Davy Tree Surgeon people to touch them.”

The years between 1885 and 1910 were fairly peaceful and happy for James T. Arnold, and his son noted that “happy lives make dull biographies.” His son said, “Not that he didn’t have his worries… (but) Father traveled the even tenor of his way, contented and happy at home and taking his business worries in his stride.” He and his wife traveled to Europe. Unlike many Chattanoogans, J. T. Arnold survived an attack of typhoid fever in the early 1890’s.

In 1910, tragedy again struck James T. Arnold when his second wife died of pernicious anemia. In the summer of 1912, “the big blow fell in the form of the burning of the factory… Fortunately, it burned at night. It went like a pile of excelsior and I tremble to think what the result would have been – in the way of human life – if the fire had come in the day time when crowded with employees.” Both Mr. Loomis and Mr. Arnold were now in their seventies, and retired after getting the affairs of the business back in order. Mr. Arnold then set sail on an around-the-world cruise.

James T. Arnold passed away at his East Terrace home on March 26, 1934, just a few days short of his ninetieth birthday. His obituary stated, “His life was given to his home and his business. He was generous and charitable to those who came to him for counsel and aid, instilling into the employees of his plant thrift and economy.”

Thanks to Richard Arnold for sharing his family history with us. If you have additional information on James Townsend Arnold or the Loomis & Hart saw mill/furniture business, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@signaldata.net.

The homes of East Terrace are shown at the top left of this 1886 sketch of Chattanooga.  Click to enlarge.
The homes of East Terrace are shown at the top left of this 1886 sketch of Chattanooga. Click to enlarge.

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