Preserving Brown's Tavern In Lookout Valley

  • Friday, October 12, 2018

The Hamilton County Government, the Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR and the Lookout Valley Neighborhood Association sponsored a community forum regarding the preservation of Hamilton County’s oldest home, Lookout Valley’s Brown’s Tavern. Dr. Carrol Van West, Tennessee State historian and director of MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation, was the featured speaker and moderated the lively discussion.

Dr. Van West began his remarks with a question: “Why does Brown’s Ferry Tavern matter?” He then proceeded to answer that question by noting “Few properties in Tennessee link the state’s beginnings with such nationally significant events as the Cherokee Removal and Trail of Tears [1835-1840] and the Battles for Chattanooga in 1863 during the Civil War. Brown’s Ferry Tavern is such a place, and the state’s heritage would be significantly diminished if the property is lost - - especially since the building has served as a powerful monument of achievement, conflict, and memory for over 200 years.”

He also addressed the rumors regarding John Brown, who claimed the 640-acres ‘reservation’ allowed by the Calhoun Treaty of 1818-1819. For decades, rumors have circulated questioning John Brown’s character and motive for running the tavern. Dr. Van West discredited those rumors with a summary of Brown’s life.

“John Brown was a shrewd and wealthy Cherokee businessman who joined other Cherokee leaders such as John Ross in the top-tier of wealthy elite. His business ventures included a ferry, tavern, multiple outbuildings and a block of land in a perfect location for trading. The land lay along an ancient trading path that many have forgotten played an important role in early economic exchange. That route began at the coast locations of Augusta, Savannah and Charleston and joined the Great Indian Warpath and the Federal Road to provide access into this community. One branch went along Lookout Creek but the other went directly by Brown’s Ferry Tavern. Imagine the thousands of horses, mules and cows that crossed those paths.”

Linda Moss Mines, Hamilton County historian and Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR member, reminded the audience that the significance of the house as a Hamilton County “historical treasure cannot be overestimated. Mr. Brown lived in the two-story, log dogtrot house, built in 1802 or 1803, and valued at $1,200 in 1836. The house today appears on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Trail of Tears Historical Trail and the Civil War Trail, three indications of its historical value to our community."

Brown’s Ferry Tavern is now held in private ownership but the Lookout Valley community and other interested groups are partnering to find a public trust relationship that will ensure that the property remains a site for historic interpretation for young people and adults.  The National Registry of Historic Places uses a tagline to denote the value of sites associated with our nation’s development - - “This Place Matters”.  The audience agreed that Brown’s Ferry Tavern matters and the partnership plans to move forward in preserving history.

The forum was the first in a series of gatherings regarding Native Peoples and historic preservation to be sponsored by the Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR and Hamilton County. For more information about future events, email

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