John T. Read - From Physician to Innkeeper

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 - by Harmon Jolley
Early advertisement for the Read House.  Click to enlarge.
Early advertisement for the Read House. Click to enlarge.
- photo by courtesy of Chattanooga-Hamilton County Library

By 1865, Dr. John T. Read was on the back side of forty, and ready for a different way to spend the rest of his days.

A native of Rutherford County, Tennessee, Dr. Read had been trained in the healing arts at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. When the Mexican War erupted, he enlisted as a soldier, following the example of his father, who had been a major under Gen. Andrew Jackson at New Orleans. Not many years passed before he became a surgeon in the 16th Tennessee Regiment during the Civil War.

After the war, with the help of his wife, the former Caroline Rankin of Jasper, Dr. Read became Innkeeper Read by opening the Warren House in McMinnville.

After a few years in the travel industry, the Reads moved to Chattanooga and opened the Read House in 1872. Dr. Read had persuaded T.G. Montague and other investors to build a replacement hotel – instead of an office building - on the site of the antebellum Crutchfield House.

Dr. and Mrs. Read sold the hotel to their son, Sam R. Reed, in 1879. The Reads continued to maintain a residence at the inn, and were also active in its daily management.

The Reads were known for helping the many strangers who stayed at the Read House, which sheltered many rail passengers from the nearby Union Depot. Acts of kindness were balanced with the nightly walkabout of the hotel by Mrs. Read, who made sure that vagrants were promptly evicted.

The Reads celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at the hotel in 1898. Two years later, Dr. Read passed away, and his funeral was held at the hotel that carried his name. Among many praises mentioned in his obituary was the comment, “He was a kindly though not excessively demonstrative neighbor, friend, and companion.”

A new Read House opened in 1927, and its dedication recalled Dr. and Mrs. Read by stating that they were "woven into the woof of Chattanooga’s history. May their memory never grow dim.”

If you have memories of the Dr. John T. Read House, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.



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