Chester Martin Remembers Chickamauga Park

Monday, May 16, 2016 - by Chester Martin

We are blessed to have such a large and fine park so close to home. You can walk in it, or ride your bicycle, or drive your car through it. Whichever way you choose can be a very pleasant experience. Because I had relatives in south Walker County my dad drove us through it - down "old" U.S. Hwy. 27 - nearly every Sunday in the 1930's, all of the '40's and a part of the 1950's. (This "old" route went in a straight line through the park; the "new" route is a by-pass).

I was always impressed by the stately old trees which stood so calmly, imparting a feeling of restfulness, and maybe even laziness, which are good qualities for a Sunday afternoon.

While an Art student in both high school and university, I thought the park to be a worthy subject both for artists and photographers. When I look at the works of the famous English landscapists such as Sir Thomas Gainsborough, the trees in those landscapes remind me of our Chickamauga park - and vice versa. It is hard to imagine that a bloody war was once fought in so tranquil a setting...

To really appreciate the park you should leave your wheels somewhere and walk the trails. It is only then that you happen upon a hidden monument - or a view that is not apparent from the road. You can find streams to walk beside, or wide fields to cross, or the solace of seemingly deep woodlands. Add the pleasantries of discovering wild flowers, hearing bird songs, and glimpsing wild deer. Once we parked the car on the top of Snodgrass hill and noticed several beautiful does grazing. When we got out they were still grazing but sensed danger and had moved a bit further away. Take your Nature book(s) when you go!

Especially along U.S. 27 (the older route which went straight through the park) there were two or three log cabins. I want to dispel any notion that they may be "modern copies" of the original cabins, but can tell you that they are the same identical ones I have known all my life. Some modifications have been made to at least one of the chimneys - once in an effort to make it look like the supposed original "stick and mud" creation, but this did not last, and the people skilled in doing that kind of work soon died off. So, today's chimneys may not be quite so authentic yet have been re-constructed favorably well along both aesthetic and economic lines. Any rail fencework around these cabins, however, IS totally modern.

When I was still very small, my dad took me once or twice to visit "Uncle" Mark Thrash who lived very near U.S. 27 inside the park. He was one of the last black people born into slavery, and was very old. In my childhood it was customary for anyone to "pay respects" to any elderly person by stopping for a short visit. Part of this old custom was to call your host "Uncle", if a man, or "Aunt", if a woman. Race did not matter, and so this venerable gentleman we visited was universally called, "Uncle Mark Thrash". I do not remember his wife at all; I actually do not remember much about him, either. What I do remember is that the walls of the cabin were covered with newspaper! Apparently that was more unusual to my child's  mind than either of the people we had gone to visit! I think there is a marker indicating where the house once stood.

I was recently trying to explain that old custom of visiting the elderly to a grandson. I had to explain that life could be extremely lonely in the days before radio and/or television, or in the times when many people, through no fault of their own - could neither read nor write. Younger people understood that fact and therefore remembered their elders by paying them  occasional "pop-in" visits.

Sometime in the early 1980's I was working on an Art project - an historical painting of some sort, I believe. I needed some professional  opinions and was told I should see the Chickamauga Park Superintendent, as he was "up" on all phases of local history. It would be a distinct asset to my project if "Hobie" (Hobart Cawood) could give me some input. There were several people who seconded that motion, because Hobie was a live-wire and if he got excited about it then many others would follow. So I called Park Headquarters to arrange an appointment with Superintendent, Hobart Cawood. "Very sorry, sir, he has gone to a new out-of-town assignment". I was very let down, to say the least...

But, a few years later I went to Philadelphia to accept a job there. After settling-in, one Sunday I walked over to the Old St. George's United Methodist Church near my apartment - where I soon made the acquaintance of Independence Mall National Park Superintendent, "Hobie" Cawood! When he found out I was from Chattanooga he greeted me like a long-lost brother! In Philadelphia he was in charge of all the buildings on Independence Mall, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Carpenter's Hall, Betsy Ross House, etc. And yet - for all those high-sounding duties, when the flag got stuck at Independence Hall, he would personally shinny up the pole to un-stick it, thereby saving one of his staff-members some embarrassment and perhaps an injury. And at St. George's Church he would don an apron to wash and dry the dishes after the simple meals served between Sunday School and Church! I will be forever sorry I did not get to meet this remarkable man while he was here at Chick-Chatt. There are few people like him anywhere.

Inside Chickamauga Park I have always had some favorite monuments. Perhaps the one I like best is the bronze soldier of the Florida monument who has stood at attention under his cupola on the east side of U.S. 27 for at least the 80+ years I have known him. And I also like the "Riderless Horse" statue below Wilder Tower. Wilder Tower - the grey limestone structure - has always impressed me as well, and I make sure when we have house-guests from Europe (or Queens!) that they see it, too. There are also some fine vintage relief sculptures along the Battle-line  drive, as well. When I was very young the stacks of cannonballs were not cemented together as now, but vandalism unfortunately forced  rangers to make changes. Through the years I have seen a good deal of said vandalism in the park, yet it IS remarkable that so much is left after 100 years and more. There is also a handsomely polished granite "Lone Star" monument on the east side of U.S. 27 near the south end of the park - doubtless given by the State of Texas.

The National Park Service people call our park, "Chick-Chatt", to shorten the name. It was the first National Military Park in the country. That name implies two major battles, and I have neglected in this article the one that happened on Lookout Mountain - the so-called "Battle Above The Clouds". That one is commemorated at Point Park, atop Lookout Mountain, and I have written about it elsewhere. My favorite monument there is very artistically placed, near the point of the mountain, and was given by New York State. It is visible for miles. Great amounts of thought and care must have been used to place it so pleasingly, so as not to conflict with the geological point of the mountain, but to enhance it. Our park has always been staffed by the very highest quality personnel...

Park dedication in September, 1895 was the first instance of my parents being together in a social situation: my mom was taken by her parents as a newborn, and my dad went with his parents as a 10 year old! There was a mob of people in attendance, reportedly, and I doubt that they even sat together!

(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 )

 


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