Chester Martin Remembers Cameron Hill

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Every time I see a picture of Cameron Hill from years past I sicken just a bit. It was such a beautiful little miniature version of Lookout Mountain that they made me think "mother and child." Its brutalization should never have been allowed to happen, at least in my opinion. Other cities would never have allowed such an atrocity to happen - certainly not another "Scenic City."

It was sometime about 1960 that the "Golden Gateway" project started; the Olgiati Bridge was new, and "great" new things were beginning to happen in Chattanooga.

Perhaps only the Tennessee Highway people in Nashville had any clear idea what was going to happen in our city, though, and it was all planned out in advance, and in distant places.

Bulldozers duly arrived and started the wrecking process, cutting away at the top, "to get fill-dirt" we were told, for the construction of all the new freeway systems being built throughout the city. The hill would not be entirely leveled - only the top - which would allow for "beautiful new architecture" to be constructed there.

The "beautiful new architecture" amounted to a low series of two- or three-story apartment buildings, very poorly proportioned to the former elegant sweep of the hill and doing nothing to enhance the city's beauty. The present insurance company complex is but slight improvement over the apartments that were there before. But developers loved it.

It is true that there were decaying neighborhoods at the foot of the hill (the old "West Side" on Chestnut and Pine Streets, and south along East 9th (MLK) as well. These were ultimately wiped off the map by construction of U.S. 27 and the widening of 9th Street (MLK).

But in its glory days the top of Cameron Hill had seen some good times. Industrialist Gordon Street, Sr.'s home was there overlooking the city, and a public park at the northern crest of the hill overlooked the Tennessee River and North Chattanooga in the direction of Cherokee Boulevard and Stringers Ridge across the river. The park had a large, white pavilion built in rotunda form, if I recall correctly, with tall, slender columns supporting the roof. It gave a distinctive character to the western side of town, and there was a grassy lawn for picnics where children could play.

My old high school, Kirkman Vocational HS, stood at 216 Chestnut in the exact spot where the Creative Discovery now stands! Our Alma Mater included the words, "Outlined 'gainst the Hill of Cameron." Kirkman HS students came from all over the region, but a few of them came from Cameron Hill, and they all mourned the loss of such an historic landmark.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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