John Shearer: A Look At Chattanooga In The 1890s

Thursday, January 10, 2019 - by John Shearer

My alma mater, Baylor School, is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its 1893 founding this school year.


As a result of the milestone, I thought it might be interesting to look at some old city directories and see what Chattanooga as a whole was like at that time.


It might be easy for one to assume Chattanooga was a much different city in 1893 or 1894 from the hopping and modern urban community it is today, but that might not be totally correct.


Sure, there were long-since-obsolete businesses like C.W.

Chaff Carriage Works in the 800 block of Cherry Street, and Chattanooga had an eight-ward Board of Aldermen (yes, Alder-MEN) form of government under Mayor George W. Ochs.


Segregation also existed. The city had the all-black Howard School and Montgomery School to go along with the white schools, such as the now-forgotten First District School, Second District School and Third District School.


But many of the businesses actually seemed reflective of the entrepreneurial spirit of the last couple of decades of the early 21stcentury or so in downtown Chattanooga, with countless, one-of-a-kind businesses. While the number of restaurants was much smaller, the Chattanooga Brewery Co. at Broad and Second streets and some other proprietorships could pass for 2019 Chattanooga start-up businesses.


Also, the British-affiliated land firm, Chattanooga Company Ltd., was apparently running ads in the city directory touting North Chattanooga. “Keep your eye on North Chattanooga, the ideal suburb,” it said. In 2019, people are definitely keeping their eyes on it, too.


Some ads also touted the adjacent Riverview area as “the most beautiful resort in vicinity of Chattanooga.” The area included the Riverview Theatre for live shows near where No. 2 at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club now is. The golf club was about two years from opening.


And, of course, in the early 1890s there were such still-familiar businesses as W.F Fischer and Brother watch and jewelry firm (now Fischer-Evans) at 8th and Market streets; Provident Life and Insurance Co. (now Unum) at 819 Georgia Ave.; and Chattanooga Medicine Co. (now Chattem Inc.) at the foot of Lookout Mountain.


However, no one at that time, including John T. Lupton – the future Baylor benefactor – had likely thought of bottling Coca-Cola, even though the drink could be found in Atlanta drugstore fountains. Mr. Lupton, by the way, was the vice president of Chattanooga Medicine Co. at the time and lived on St. Elmo Pike near the Incline station at the base of the mountain. This was shortly before the current Incline No. 2 opened.


Chattanoogans could also ride an incline up Cameron Hill in those days.


A glance in the 1894 city directory shortly after Baylor opened gives all kinds of insights into the city that existed when the independent preparatory school was new, and the comparable McCallie and Girls Preparatory School did not yet exist.


Baylor that year is listed in the city directory under the name University School, and John R. Baylor was listed as the principal, even though he is considered the founder today. The school was located at 101 McCallie Ave. in the former McCallie family home at the northeast corner of what is now Lindsay Street, on property now occupied by First-Centenary United Methodist Church is.


Retired McCallie School headmaster Spencer McCallie III was contacted recently about his memories of the McCallie family during this time period, and he recalled, “The Rev. T.H McCallie and his family lived in the house on McCallie Avenue, now the site of the Methodist Church, until they moved out to a farm on the side of Missionary Ridge in the 1880s, which is now the school campus. The house immediately was rented to Dr. Baylor, who founded the Baylor school there.”


Back in those days, there may have been more blocks on McCallie Avenue than today. Cross streets mentioned in the city directories on the west end of McCallie Avenue by downtown included, in order, Lindsay, A, Houston, B, C, D, E, Baldwin, Palmetto, Magnolia, Park, Fairview and East End.


Most of the buildings along that stretch of McCallie Avenue must have been single-family residences, although one or two structures there were used as physician offices. There were apparently few or no churches or apartment buildings on McCallie Avenue at that time.


A little past D Street going east were First District School and U.S. Grant University, the latter of which became what is now UT-Chattanooga.


Chattanooga had some other colleges then, including Chattanooga Medical College.


As far as the McCallie family that had formerly occupied the old home on McCallie Avenue, several members were listed in the 1894 directory.


There must have been several groups, because six of the McCallies listed were blacks. One, Margie McCallie, was a laundress.


Of the white McCallies, the Rev. Thomas H. McCallie was a minister at Mission Ridge Presbyterian Church and resided on Chamberlain Avenue near Kyle Street in Ridgedale, perhaps on the family property that became the school. He had at one time been the minister of First Presbyterian Church and was the family patriarch at that time.


Because of Baylor School, the McCallie family’s life was changing. That was because son James Park was attending Baylor, and he and older brother Spencer Sr. would later start McCallie School.


Spencer McCallie III added that J. Park was influenced greatly by Professor Baylor. “Park was Baylor's first honor graduate,” he said. “He greatly admired Dr. Baylor and wanted to go to his university, the University of Virginia.


“But (father) T.H. had other plans and was going to send Park to the University of Tennessee. Park became very ill and missed the first few weeks of Tennessee. However, he told his father that he could make a good start at Virginia because it opened several weeks later.


“He went to U.Va. for 7 years, earning a PhD in astronomy. Later, his father would question his illness, but Park always said that he had not faked it. When Park left for Virginia, Dr. Baylor joined the family at the train station and gave Park several of his favorite books.”


Another McCallie named Thomas S. McCallie – the older brother of the school founders -- was a grocer at 602 Market St. and resided at Lewis Street. Although old newspaper clippings do not reference this part of his life, this must be the Thomas S. McCallie who went to seminary and became a very well-known local minister like his father.


He had initially led the East Lake Congregational Church before later serving the now-closed Central Presbyterian Church, the building of which still stands at 1815 McCallie Ave.


Rev. Thomas S. McCallie also was a well-known civic volunteer and city chaplain, who was greatly mourned after his death at his home at 2000 Oak St. on Sept. 22, 1936, at the age of only 67 following a battle with heart disease.


As Spencer McCallie III remembered about him, “Thomas S. became the minister of Central Presbyterian Church on McCallie Avenue. He was later known as the Chaplain of Chattanooga, and we young ones were told that at his death, the family was advised by the mayor (Ed Bass) to hold his funeral at the Memorial Auditorium. It was filled.”


If the 1894 grocer was the same Thomas S. McCallie, perhaps this was a job he held shortly before embarking on his ministerial studies or while beginning that career path.


While the McCallie and Baylor families were continuing to make their marks,

Chattanooga around 1894 was developing into a city far beyond any one or two schools or families.


It already had countless manufacturing businesses – including Ross-Meehan Foundry -- as well as a number of mining firms involved in the extraction of the surrounding area’s resources, such as coal and other minerals.


And several land companies were around, so somebody thought Chattanooga was getting ready to grow, much as some people think in 2019. We are not sure if they had any meetings about wastewater treatment facilities on the outskirts of town, as of course have occurred in recent weeks.


To support this city of 1894, Chattanooga seemed to have about everything. City Hall was at the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Market Square (now Patten Parkway), and the local police headquarters building was at the southeast corner of Market and Fourth streets.


The town had several libraries – the Catholic Library, the Hodder Library, the YMCA Library and the library association of Chattanooga. It also had the Baroness Erlanger Hospital on Harrison Avenue, the Hamilton County Hospital two blocks north on McCallie Avenue, and the Dominican Sisters-run St. Vincent Infirmary in East Lake.


There were also an orphanage, a separate children’s refuge, and the Steele Home for needy children.


Countless social and civic organizations existed in those days before people became too busy. That included some Civil War veterans groups of both the Union and Confederacy. One was the Chickamauga Post No. 22 – which was comprised of black Union war veterans.


And Chattanooga was also getting cultured in an artsy way. The Chattanooga Music School offered lessons in voice and various instruments under Professor R.L. Teichfuss. Professor Baylor’s daughter, Eloise, later became an accomplished singer, and she likely took some lessons here or at a subsequent facility like Cadek Conservatory.


And Professor Baylor was an Episcopalian and likely worshiped during his first year at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Whether he walked or caught a carriage is anybody’s guess.


Yes, downtown Chattanooga was a happening place in the 1890s, just like it has become again 125 years later.

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