Historic Highway 58/Harrison Pike

Sunday, March 11, 2007 - by Harmon Jolley
Pre-Chickamauga Lake route of Highway 58/Harrison Pike
Pre-Chickamauga Lake route of Highway 58/Harrison Pike

In the days of horse-powered transportation, area roads were often named according to destinations. The list included the Dallas Road, the Rossville Road, Lafayette Road, and Ooltewah-Ringgold Road. Those names survive today.

Cities were eventually connected by ribbons of new types of paving material over very long distances. When it became impractical to name roads by its terminating points, state highway numbering systems were devised. Today, simply say “I live off 58,” and people know that you mean “Tennessee State Highway 58” which connects Chattanooga and Oak Ridge.

Highway 58 gained its route number designation in the late 1920’s. However, its predecessor was called the Harrison Pike, which dates to the 1800’s. In 1839, settlers poured into the lands east of the Tennessee River following the Indian removal. Land formerly owned by Chief Joe Vann was sold at auction. The area had become known as Vann’s Town or Vannville.

In 1840, the county seat was moved from Dallas across the river to a new community stipulated to be one mile from Vann’s Town. It was named “Harrison,” after President William Henry Harrison.

As river landings, Harrison and Ross’s Landing (Chattanooga) competed for economic growth. Harrison had an early edge in the years leading up to the Civil War. There were two hotels, a tavern, attractive homes, an academy, and a newspaper. At the time of the war, the Harrison, Selma and Cincinnati railroad was being planned.

Harrison’s rapid rise, however, was met with an even greater fall. The community generally favored the Confederacy. In an historical article about Harrison on August 27, 1933, The Chattanooga Times reported, “A wing of Sherman’s army, on its destructive march to the sea, swung through this section. Many of the buildings were burned. Most of the citizens fled, some not to return to claim their property until years after.”

In 1870, the county seat was moved to Chattanooga. In a move which surely made the Harrisonians even angrier, the courthouse at Harrison was torn down, and the bricks were taken to Chattanooga to use in building a new courthouse there.

The outrage grew so intense that residents in the eastern third of Hamilton County joined with a portion of Bradley County to form James County in 1871. Ooltewah was established as the county seat of James County. Highway 58 travels through much of what was James County, which included the communities of Harrison and Birchwood. James County was reabsorbed into Hamilton County following bankruptcy in 1919.

The route from Chattanooga to Harrison was not exactly a straight shot during the early 1900’s. Riverside Drive once terminated at farmlands along the Tennessee River. There was no Amnicola Highway; which wasn’t completed until the late 1950’s. Instead there was “Amnicola” (Latin for “riverside”), the former farm of Chattanooga mayor, Thomas Crutchfield.

Thus, Highway 58 had to be routed along Third Street to Dodson Avenue and through East Chattanooga. In those years, a traveler on Highway 58 could stop for a night of baseball at the new Engel Stadium or later, see a movie at the Highway 58 Drive-in Theater. The flow of traffic created a thriving business district in East Chattanooga.

Passing through Sherman Heights along Missionary Ridge, Highway 58 took the traveler through the Kings Point and Bartlebaugh communities. Here, in the 1930’s, my mother’s family were tenant farmers (sharecroppers), two of many stops along the way to owning their own farm.

Prior to the 1940 completion of the Chickamauga reservoir, Highway 58 followed the route of old Harrison Pike through the hills and hollows along the way. Both the Harrison community and Highway 58 had to be relocated as part of the Chickamauga Dam project.

The June 26, 1939 Chattanooga Times reported that citizens would be gathering for a final time in the old Harrison community before flooding commenced. “We are going to have plenty of fried chicken and other good eats,” said resident Rex Richey of an event that was being planned.

A new Highway 58, described as a parkway in some reports of the day, was built to the east of the lake. The business district of Harrison was also moved, and a new elementary school and post office were constructed. Two state parks, Booker T. Washington and Harrison Bay, were built along the shoreline. In 1969, Central High School moved to Highway 58 from Dodds Avenue. A segment of Highway 58 was named the David M. Eldridge Highway in 1970 in memory of a former Hamilton County councilman and county trustee.

Today, one can venture away from the four-lane, very commercialized Highway 58 and still find traces of old Harrison Pike. One section still exists off Bonny Oaks Drive near Highway 153 in the Kings Point community.

Another portion of Harrison Pike is near North Hickory Valley Road. There, Harrison Pike ends at a slough of Chickamuga Lake, while the road itself continues to Glover Road. Some may remember this as the route to the former Provident Lake Club property.

If you have memories of Highway 58/Harrison Pike, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Post-Chickamauga Lake route of Highway 58/Harrison Pike
Post-Chickamauga Lake route of Highway 58/Harrison Pike

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