Tennessee River in Hamilton County

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - by Chuck Hamilton

Here you’ll find listed, in order of occurrence moving downriver, all of the ferries, fords, landings, islands, and navigation hazards on the Tennessee River when it was king, before the locks closed on the Hales Bar, Chickamauga, and Nickajack Dams.  Sites designated as landings served steamboats, flatboats, keelboats, and other craft moving passengers and cargo up and down river.  Ferries had landings too, and occasionally one would double as the other kind, but mostly were just used to transport passengers and goods across river.

I’ve had an interest in river culture since I first saw, then read, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  I’m glad I had the chance to take my son on both the Blythe’s Ferry and the Old Washington Ferry, before they closed, as well as a lengthy ride on the Chattanooga Star.  The Tennessee River played more of a part of life in Hamilton County north and east of Chattanooga, especially the eastern side, than the county south of it due to the lack of railroad.

I’d originally intended to write separately about the islands and river hazards (most of which are gone due to the dams) on the one hand and about the former ferries and landings on the other, but realized both would make more sense in context.  I’ve used left bank/right bank terminology rather than north bank/south bank because it has the benefit of always being precise and staying the same whether you are pointing descending the river at the first leg of Moccasin Bend or ascending it on the other side.

It starts north in the vicinity of Jolly’s Island and Blythe’s Ferry, which was actually in Meigs County, because much of the northern extreme of the county relied on the ferry and Blythe’s Landing on the left bank.  I continued downriver all the way to Hale’s Bar because it didn’t make much sense to stop at the Marion County line which split a former hazard known as The Kettle, or The Suck, and leave out the rest of the hazards of Cash Canyon, aka Tennessee River Gorge.

Locations of many are approximate due to their actual sites being underwater.  A couple I could only guesstimate by their known geographic relation to other sites.

Zeigler Island is and was just upriver from Jolly’s or Hiwassee Island

Jolly’s Island sits at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers, named for John Jolly, adopted father of Sam Houston and later Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation West, who was headman of the Cherokee town here.  While people here knew it by this name for well over a century, since the archaeological work in the New Deal era it is more commonly known now as Hiwassee Island.

Hiwassee Shoals are north of Jolly’s Island on the opposite side of the mouth of the Hiwassee River.

Cayuga Island was a tiny island, or towhead, just below Jolly’s Island, so-called after the Cherokee name for John Jolly’s town and for the ante-bellum community on the mainland just south of it.

Blythe’s Ferry ran just below Jolly’s Island.  Founded in 1809 by William Blythe and Nancy Fields, and operating until 1994 when it was replaced by a bridge, Blythe’s Ferry was not only the earliest ferry in the vicinity but the long-running.

Blythe’s Landing, on the left bank of the river, was for decades the main trading post of the quad-county area (Hamilton, Bradley, Meigs, Rhea).

Daughtery’s Ferry, or Doughty’s Ferry, served those travelling between Birchwood in the east and Sale Creek in the west.  Its memory survives in a Daughetry Ferry Road on either side of the river it crossed for a century, 1830-1930.

Daughtery’s Ford was just below the path of the ferry.

Daugherty’s Island was halfway between Daughtery’s Ferry and Sale Creek.

Sale Creek Shoals lie along the left side of the river across from Daugherty’s Island.

Roark’s Ford crossed the river just above Sale Creek Island.

Roark’s Landing, named for John Roark, lay on the left bank of the river just below the ford.

Sale Creek Island once rose above the water just below the mouth of the Sale Creek.

McCallies Hayshed Landing, named for W. T. McCallie, was on the left bank of the river just above McCallie’s Ferry.

McCallie’s Ferry crossed the river in the vicinity of Hobo Bluff on the right bank and Johnson Slough on the left bank.  Earlier, it was known as Campbell’s Ferry.

Old Hickory Landing, established by Joseph Roark, was on the left bank of the river, below McCallie’s Ferry

Eldridge’s Landing, named for John Eldridge, was on the left bank, northeast of the current mouth of Eldridge Slough.

Thatcher’s Ford was on the left bank roughly halfway between Eldridge Slough and the mouth of Opossum Creek on the right bank.

Thatcher’s Ferry crossed the river below the ford.

Thatcher’s Landing sat on the left bank of the river just below the ford.

Upper Biggs’ Ford crossed the river just above the mouth of Possum Creek on the right bank.

McGill’s Ferry, established by William McGill and inherited by his children, crossed the river near the mouth of Possum Creek.

Churcher’s Landing, named for J.C. Churcher, was on the left bank of the river, possibly in this vicinity.  This location is iffy, given that the only information I can find is that it was between Thatcher’s and Moon’s.

Biggs’ Towhead was a little upstream from the mouth of Soddy Creek.

Lower Bigg’s Ford crossed the river over the towhead.

Klipp’s Island, also known as Soddy Island, was midstream of the Tennessee River at the mouth of Soddy Creek on the right bank.  Big Soddy Creek was once known as Squay Creek and Little Soddy Creek as Spring Creek.

Soddy Ford crossed the river over Klipp’s Island.

Soddy Shoals were just below Klipp’s Island.

Soddy Landing lay on the right bank below the mouth of Soddy Creek.

Moon’s Landing, named for J. Harvey Moon, was on the left bank of the river, possibly in this vicinity.  This location is iffy, given that the only information I can find is that it was between Churcher’s and Igou’s.

Penney’s Ford crossed the river at roughly the same parallel as Poe’s Tavern in the west and Whiteoak Mountain’s Taliferro Gap in the east.

Penney’s Ferry, operated by Thomas Penny, crossed the river just below the ford.

Igou’s Ferry, sometimes known as Blue Springs Ferry, was just above Blue Springs Landing.  It was first known as Teenor’s Ferry when it was established by Jacob Teenor.  James T. Gardenhire bought it from Teenor, and it became Gardenhire’s Ferry.  Samuel T. Igou bought it from him.  It operated 1830-1930.

Blue Springs Landing, serving the Blue Springs community, was roughly west of Chigger Point and Blue Springs Slough.

Dallas Ferry, just north of Hamilton’s or Dallas Island was first established by Cherokee Moses Fields, under whom it was known as Fields’ Ferry.  Later it was own by Robert Hunter, and sometimes call Hunter’s Ferry.  It operated 1830-1870.

Lovelady Landing lay on the right bank of the river just below the landing for Dallas Ferry on that side, serving the community of Dallas.

Upper Dallas Ford crossed the river over the upper tip of the island.

Hamilton’s Island, sometimes called Dallas or Harrison Island, was midstream in a leftward bend of the river above the mouth of Ooltewah (Wolftever) Creek and below the community of Dallas, seat of Hamilton County between Poe’s Tavern and Harrison.

Lower Dallas Ford crossed the river over the lower tip of the island.

Harrison Ferry, also known as Vann’s Ferry (though Joseph Vann was long gone) and later as Brown’s Ferry, operated just above Harrison 1840-1930.

Brown’s Shoal was/is below the mouth of Ooltewah Creek and above Harrison.

Vann’s Landing was the wharf for Vann’s Town during the Cherokee Nation days, then for Vannsville and Harrison after the Removal.

Nelson’s Ferry crossed the river southeasterly from the right bank to the vicinity of Harrison Bluff on the left bank.

Chickamauga Shoals lie close to the right bank of the river close to Lakeshore Marina.

Chickamauga Island was opposite the mouth of North Chickamauga Creek, which was first known as Laurel Creek, toward the left bank of the river.  On maps, it was sometimes called Friar’s Island.

Friar’s Towhead was just below Chickamauga Island, closer to the left bank.

Friar’s Ford crossed the river over the towhead.

Rogers’ Ferry crossed the river above the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek.

Colwell Bar lies near the right bank of the river just above the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek, which was originally called Chickamauga River.

Crutchfield Bar also lies near the right bank of the river, a little below the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek.

Beck’s Ferry, established by Joshua Beck, son of David Beck who owned most of what is now Riverview up to and including Dallas Heights, crossed from the point where the Chattanooga Golf and County Club adjoins Heritage Landing (formerly known as Beck Bottoms).  Besides the usual river crossing, the ferry provided service to Chattanooga Island and Ross’ Landing.

Citico Bar lies in the river close to the left bank upstream from the mouth of Citico Creek.

Ross’ First Shoals are the shallows just upriver from Chattanooga Island.  During summer (or a lengthy drought), the water was often merely knee-deep before Hales Bar Dam, then Nickajack Dam, and thus a good fording place.

Gardenhire’s Landing, named for William Gardenhire, was at or just below Ross’ First Shoals.

Gardenhire’s Ferry crossed the river from the eponymous landing to the right bank.

Chattanooga Island, also called Crutchfield Island, Maclellan Island, and Audobon Island, is first mentioned in writing in accounts of the Tristan De Luna expedition for the year 1560.  On Union army maps, it is refer to it as Ross Island No. 2.

Chattanooga Shoals lie between Chattanooga Island and the right bank of the river.

Ross’ Landing (Upper) was the trading post of John Ross, who later signed his interests over to younger brother Lewis, and Timothy Meigs.  It sat on the left bank of the river, at the foot of the bluff, near where the Bluff Furnace later stood.  It was bought by James C. White before the Cherokee Removal.

Swing Ferry was a swing or flying ferry attached to the foot of Chattanooga Island by a metal cable kept above water with buoys.  Originally called Gentry’s Ferry after its founder, Billy Gentry, it is almost always mistakenly called Ross’ Ferry, even by me, due to its southern dock being Ross’ Landing.  After the Removal, John Cowart ultimately came into its possession, and it became known as Cowart’s Ferry.  It ceased operation when the Army of the Cumberland opened the Meig Allee bridge in 1864.  However, when that was washed away in the 1867 flood, Cowart’s widow, Cynthia Pack Cowart (daughter of Betsy Pack, beloved in Jasper, TN, and granddaughter of John Lowery) reopened it.  It operated from well before the Removal until the County (Walnut Street) Bridge opened in 1891. 

Upper Ferry ran between the end of Market Street on the south and Upper Ferry Road (now North Market Street) in the north.  Also known as Frazier’s Ferry, after its founder, Samuel J. A. Frazier, who, along with Richard Colville, opened Hill City for development in 1884.  It operated from 1882 until the John Ross (Market Street) Bridge opened in 1917.

Lower Ferry was one of the river-crossing points from the city to what at that point was the northern bank.  Its southern landing was at the end of Pine Street, now Power Alley.  On the northern side, Stringer Street became Lower Ferry Road after crossing what is now Manning Street down to the riverbank.  Begun by Meredith Legg near the Removal who later sold it to Abe Beason, for whom it was known respectively as Legg’s Ferry and Beason’s Ferry.  It operated from about 1837 until the John Ross (Market Street) Bridge opened in 1917.

Rolling Mill Shoals lie midstream roughly opposite the end of Molly Lane, at what might be called the beginning of Moccasin Bend.

Moccasin Bend is the unique bend of the Tennessee River around the peninsula of land properly called Moccasin Point.

Buffalo Ford at Ross’ Towhead was just above the the tiny Ross’ Towhead, its name bearing witness to the presence of bison (probably wood bison) in the region.

Ross’ Towhead was a tiny island across the river from the big toe of Moccasin Point.  With the narrow gap between it and the riverbank filled in, it became part of the ground supporting I-24 highway.  Union army maps refer to it as Ross’ Island No. 1.

Ross’ Second Shoals lie in the river near its right bank, close to the tip of the big toe of Moccasin Point.

Ross’ Landing (Lower) served the tannery and plantation of Daniel Ross, in the vicinity of northern St. Elmo.

Lookout Shoals lie near the left bank of the river downstream from the mouth of Lookout Creek, opposite the pink toe of Moccasin Point.

Brown’s Landing served the trade and shipping needs of the community and of Brown’s Tavern.  It was about a mile upriver from the eponymous ferry, in proximity to the modern Brown’s Ferry Marina.

Brown’s Ferry operated from the end of Brown’s Ferry Road in the west (now a private road from its intersection with Burgess Road) across the river to the northern side of the Moccasion Bend Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Williams’ Island divides the river just above the entrance into Cash Canyon.  Its earliest known name was Tuskegee Island, so called for the Cherokee town established by former residents of the same named town on the Little Tennessee River.  Later it was known as Brown’s Island, after it Cherokee owner after the wars, John Brown.  Chattanooga pioneer Samuel Williams became its owner after the Cherokee Removal and it is now known by his name.

Williams’ Island Ferry ran between the right bank of the Tennessee River and the east side of Williams’ Island.  Dating from the Cherokee Nation days, it used to be known as Fields’ Ferry after the Cherokee owner, David Field.  Ephraim Hixson bought it and the reservation that went with it, along with the nearby John Brown reservation, and the ferry became known as Hixson’s Ferry until bought by Samuel Williams.

Jackson Bar sits close to the western side of Williams Island at its midpoint.

Burris Bar sits close to the eastern side of Williams Island two-thirds of the way downstream.

Cash Canyon, as the Tennessee River Gorge is more properly known in local tradition, was world famous during colonial times for its nearly impassable hazards.  Even Thomas Jefferson wrote about it, calling it the Suck.  Other early writers called it the Narrows.

Tumbling Shoals started about a half mile down from Williams’ Island, above the mouth of Shoal Creek on the right bank of the river.

Holston Rock protruded from the water below the mouth of Middle Creek on the right bank of the river.

The Kettle, also known as the Suck, was a huge, almost permanent whirlpool just above the mouth of Suck Creek on the right bank of the river that disturbed the channel for some distance below the confluence of the two streams.

Suck Shoals lay in the channel toward the right bank just as the river started to turn south.

Dead Man’s Eddy ran between the mouth of Dividing Hollow on the left bank to the point where Stanley Independent Baptist Church is on the right.

The Pot was a disturbance in the channel just below the mouth of Chestnut Bridge Hollow on the right bank of the river.

The Skillet was a disturbance at the apex of the westerly starboard bend downriver from The Skillet below Pot Point on the mountain on the right bank.

The Pan, according to Union military maps, was a disturbance a little below the mouths of Scout Hollow and Pan Gap Branch on the left bank of the river.

Savannah Towhead was at a southerly bend to port about halfway between McNabb Spring and the end of McNabb Road, both on the left bank.

Kelly’s Bar was just upriver from the ferry.

Kelly’s Ferry, established by John Kelly, crossed the river at the western end of Kelly’s Ferry Road from Lookout Valley, now part of Robert E. Lee Highway, to a spot near the Kelly’s Ferry Community Church.

Kelly’s Shoals were just below the ferry.

The Narrows are a section of Cash Canyon which is especially narrow and tightens the stream considerably, reducing room for maneuver.

Oates Island in The Narrows was across from the mouth of Bennett Cove, now Bennett Lake.

Gardenhire’s Old Ferry, as it is referred to in Union military records, crossed just upriver from Hale’s Bar across from the end of Alley’s, or Cummings’, Trace (now Aetna Mountain Road).

Hale’s Bar, toward the left bank, marked the end of both The Narrows and of Cash Canyon.


Chuck Hamilton


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