Forest Avenue Victorian Beauty Underwent Conversion To Duplex

  • Monday, November 23, 2020

A Victorian beauty at 612/614 Forest Ave. in North Chattanooga was especially handsome when it was built in 1892 for about $6,000. 

It remains an attractive home despite a sweeping conversion to a duplex around 1920 by an architect in the family.

Sam Hall, of, has been studying the conversion after he came upon some interesting photos from the Ben Wilson collection of the original house. He finally concluded that Norbert Monning changed the front of the house that had been the final home place of his father, John Frederick William Monning.

John F.W. Monning had been born in Hanover, Germany, on May 29, 1833. He came with his parents, Christopher and Mary Wiegart Monning, in the 1840s to the U.S., settling at Delphos, Ohio. Christopher Monning cleared the first farm in that area and remained on the pioneer homestead. Both the father and mother died within a year of each other around 1882.

John F.W. Monning was the second in a family of three boys and two girls. He lived on the farm until the time he was about 15 until he was about 17. He then went to Cincinnati where he was apprenticed to a tanner for four years. He returned to Delphos in 1860 and bought a worn-out plant, which he converted to a successful business. As tan bark became scarce in that part of Ohio, he sold his interest in the tannery. He was described as "a man of determination who made a success of every undertaking."

John F.W. Monning went to Knoxville in 1871 to inspect a tannery on the west side of the city. He declined to purchase it, then went to Dade County where he inspected a tannery that had operated before and during the Civil War but was then inactive. It was owned by Ben F. Pace. Monning also declined to buy this tannery, but he was so pleased by the section around Chattanooga that he decided to settle here in May 1871. The Monnings lived in a two-story brick house at 532 Chestnut St. for many years. It was built in 1872. 

J.F.W. Monning established a leather business on Market Street under the name of Null and Monning. He was also associated with Will Wester in an insurance business. Monning switched entirely to real estate in 1875. Almost as soon as he located in Chattanooga he had begun investing his money in property. It was said that he "acquired a large part of the most valuable property downtown." At one time he owned the later site of what is now First Horizon Bank. He was half owner of Voigt's Corner. Monning also built a three-story block adjoining the Live and Let Live building that was at the corner of Seventh and Market. A property that long was in the Monning estate was a block between Broad and Chestnut facing Sixth Street. He also invested in coal lands on Waldens Ridge. He owned 60 acres on Missionary Ridge where a sanitarium was located. He bought that for $300 and sold it for $3,000.

J.F.W. Monning was known in local business circles "as a man who always made his word good and whose name really belongs among the founders of modern Chattanooga." J.F.W. Monning was "a man of considerable means and well known throughout the county." It was said that he "had great faith in Chattanooga, believing that it was destined to be a large city." He was "a man of high character, and few persons would put themselves at inconvenience so cheerfully to serve a friend." Monning was "one of the most ardent admirers of Chattanooga and, though the word 'booster' was hardly in use during his time, the best sense of the term could not have fitted any citizen better than Mr. Monning. He used to show strangers the city and in this way induced a great many to locate here and use their capital in this city." It was said that "in character he was very quiet and retiring. He loved his home and family and was less conspicuous in the life of this city than many less influential men. He was continuously being sought for advice and counsel on business and other matters and stood high in the esteem of all Chattanooga." He was elected alderman for the Second Ward in 1875.

In religion he was a devout Catholic and took a prominent part in building the church and school serving on the building committee. The family long attended St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church on Eighth Street. 

By his first wife, Maria Louisa Trame, he had a son, John, who worked as a bookkeeper for Trotter Brothers and later lived in Amarillo, Tex. John Monning lived from 1856 to 1952. Maria died at the new house in 1893 after an extended illness.

J.F.W. Monning on Jan. 29, 1895, in Chattanooga married Mary Kalus, of French Lick, Ind. She was the daughter of Andrew and Magdalene Kalus of Dayton, Ohio. After the father died at Dayton, Magdalene Kalus brought her family to Chattanooga.

John F.W. Monning died in the house in Hill City in early 1903 after a nine-day illness with pneumonia.

Following her husband's death, Mary Kalus Monning gave all her time to the management of the property. She was assisted by her sister, Lena Kalus, who lived with the Monning family for many years. Mary Kalus Monning was still living at the Forest Avenue house when she died in 1920. She died when she was at a park at French Lick and a storm came up causing a tree to fall on her. After her death the sons moved out of the big house and the conversion to the duplex was made.

Norbert G. Monning attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., along with his brothers, then he graduated from Notre Dame University. He afterward became a prominent Chattanooga architect. For many years, he worked with Louis Bull. Monning in 1925 erected the J.F.W. Monning Building on property his father had owned at the northwest corner of Broad and West Sixth Street. On the granite facade over the Broad Street entrance to the building was engraved J.F.W. Monning 1833-1903 and on a similar facade over the West Sixth Street entrance was engraved Mary F. Monning 1850-1920. He said, "Instead of building a monument in a cemetery where few would ever see it and where it could do neither my lamented father or mother any good, I conceived the idea of making this business building something of a memorial to my parents particularly as it was stipulated by them that the site should sometime be improved. And the wishes of my father and mother in that particular are embodied in the building. I did not let either one of my brothers know of my intention and, when the engraved granite stones were put in place, it came as a pleasing surprise and was heartily approved." Monning collaborated with Bull in designing the building, which was constructed by Selman-O'Brien Company. The Monning Building no longer stands and no photos of it have been found.

In 1933, Norbert G. Monning became associated with TVA and helped plan and design the camp and village at Norris, the control building at Wheeler Dam and the camp and village at Pickwick Landing. Later, he was hired by Erlanger Hospital to oversee construction of a new hospital building that had been designed by the Bull-Monning firm. 

Norbert Monning died in 1971 while living in Florida. Of his brothers, Joseph Leon lived from 1897 to 1924, Joseph's twin William Howard lived from 1897 to 1967, and Edward Fredrick lived from 1899 to 1970.

Norbert G. Monning married Selma M. Lamping from Cincinnati. They apparently split up around 1932 and she left Chattanooga with their son, Norbert G. Monning Jr., who lived from 1923 to 2009. Selma Lamping returned to Cincinnati with her son.  

See the page by Sam Hall on the Monnings at



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