Chester Martin: Enjoying John Wilson's Great New Book Of Old Chattanooga Photos

Monday, November 19, 2018

I was lying in a hospital bed - on my birthday - when presented a copy of John Wilson's excellent new book. My wife and family popped through the door at just the right moment that evening bringing a few simple presents - among them that new book, CHATTANOOGA IN OLD PHOTOS. It was just the right thing to happily occupy my remaining hospital stay following minor foot surgery. Am sure that it could brighten the days of your family members or friends as well.

Browsing through the book (I skip around a lot) I immediately found a picture made from the top of "Chattanooga Brewery" at 2nd and Broad Streets.

This picture immediately sparked remembrances of my former high school - KIRKMAN VOCATIONAL - which was built a block away, on Chestnut Street) long after the brewery had been forgotten. However, a decision was made about 1950 to extend the Kirkman building northward toward the Tennessee River so as to meet an ever-increasing demand for new classroom space. The new classroom area would require clearing out some ramshackle old industrial buildings north of the modern brick Kirkman HS building, and leveling of the land. Everyone was amazed at the immense "bottle graveyard" which was uncovered there - apparently where the Chattanooga Brewery had dumped millions of broken or imperfect bottles! A chain-link fence was hurriedly erected to prevent injury to trophy hunters on that property, as broken bottles of every color and size could be seen, waiting to be grabbed up by hand. (I myself would have risked the danger of being cut in order to find a bottle remnant which might have borne some kind of tangible Chattanooga ID - and which could have had permanent local historic interest.)

I use that anecdote to illustrate the value of picture books which can stir up old memories and set the brain a-working to make further unexpected connections.

John Wilson has grouped many subjects together: churches, bridges, hotels, landmarks, cemeteries, parks, etc., etc. As the publisher of this web newspaper, he has acquired access to a vast archive of early Chattanooga photos, and by using all his collections spread out before you, you can literally watch Chattanooga grow, expand, change and head in new directions. Having a mild interest in architecture, I like to compare some of the older buildings (like churches, or the commercial buildings along Market Street) from decade to decade. You can see how Centenary Methodist and First Baptist (others, too) moved from one location to the next, and how they revised the shapes of their spires or other trivial detail. It's just kinda fun to do.

I am forever intrigued, personally, as to how good the architecture was in the old city - extending back to Civil War times. As a young man I used to be in distant cities and observe the many flimsy, fire-trap hotels that were found there. Just take a look at all the sturdy hotels clustered here - many (if not most) of them located near Terminal Station (today's Chattanooga Choo Choo), and many designed by famous architects. Those were the days when our center-city was more oriented toward the Southside, and Main at Market was a prize location for a business. (I think the third-ever Krystal restaurant was located at Main and Market).

A fine picture of the former Hamilton County Jail on Walnut Street is in the book - located next to the present, more modern jail. That building was one of the early works by architect Clarence T. Jones - amateur astronomer - who also built the observatory bearing his name. I was fortunate to have known Mr. Jones personally - as a young teen - and have spent many a cold winter's night with other astronomy devotees, gazing up toward those beautiful winter constellations of Taurus, the Pleiades, Orion, and both Canis Major and Minor. Before so much light pollution there were fine views of the circum-polar stars from there also. (See how quickly a good photo can awaken your memory?)

John has also succinctly given ME a nod, quite unexpectedly, for on the cover of the book there is a school group (recently published in one of my "Memories" stories) from the year 1946, and I am the third student in the top row. John also used one of my paintings as the cover for one of his first books on Chattanooga, so I feel honored to be represented at least twice in his collections!

Further glancing through the pages I found the "Country Women's Club" on Cherry Street - a wonderful old social venue which the Letter Carrier's Auxiliary rented for Christmas parties and other special events. I was taken there many times as a small child....and it might be that YOUR parents or grandparents might recognize a similar long-forgotten place.  Ooops! I just discovered a photo of the Rathskeller restaurant's main door on Cherry Street as well, so guess I had better stop for now. (But I'll bet your grandpa's eyes would brighten at that sight  too!)

Look for this brand new book - along with others by John Wilson that might be still available - at Zarzour's Restaurant (pronounced, "Zarz-zar's"), located two blocks east of Market Street, and a right turn on Rossville Avenue. It is behind the Fire Hall. (You can still feel the Spirit of Abe Zarzour hanging around - just as he did in real life in my father's time).

It can also be ordered by mail from John Wilson at PO Box 2331, Chattanooga, Tn., 37409. The cost is $35 at Zarzour's (including tax) and $40 when mailed. 

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