East Terrace Resident Was Almost Tennessee Governor, Then Almost U.S. Vice President; 3 Presidents Dined At Evans Home

Monday, August 1, 2022 - by John Wilson

One longtime resident of Cameron Hill was almost Tennessee governor and almost the U.S. Vice President. The fanciful two-story Evans home was completed on the East Terrace at the corner of Gillespie (11th Street) in the fall of 1879. It was at a time when the awful yellow fever had just passed and relieved and buoyed Chattanoogans were erecting a number of fine homes on Cameron Hill. The ornate two-story Evans home designed by his neighbor John Wesley Adams was "one of the most beautiful buildings in the city."

The original home featured an ornate tower room with a narrow balcony that made the view even more spectacular. Later, there was an extensive renovation that did away with the tower. 

Henry Clay Evans was another of the former Union officers who saw Chattanooga during the Civil War and chose to return. At the close of the war, he was one of the auctioneers who sold the large supply of war materials still on hand. Evans stayed in the Army for several years, serving in Texas, but he returned to Chattanooga in 1870.

H. Clay Evans was born in Juanita County, Pa., the son of Jesse B. and Anna Single Evans. He enlisted with Wisconsin troops in 1864 and later was assigned to Chattanooga. Evans married Adelaide Durand of Chautauqua County, N.Y., on Feb. 18, 1869.

At Chattanooga, Evans became involved in civic affairs and represented the Third Ward on the first city school board. In November 1881, he was elected mayor to succeed John A. Hart. The next year he again was chosen mayor, and he was the last of the mayors with just a year's term.

Evans was associated with the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad for a short time, then he joined the management of the Roane Iron Works. He was soon able to build a $20,000 home on the East Terrace of Cameron Hill near that of General John T. Wilder and Capt. H.S. Chamberlain, who headed up the foundry. Evans and Capt. Chamberlain were also among the investors in the Brush Electric Light Company, which was helping to bring electric power to the city. His daughter, Nellie Evans, took part in a ceremony on May 5, 1882, in which white lights glowed at the train depot, the Stanton House and the top of College Hill. Evans was among those signing the charter for the Chattanooga Medicine Company, which became quite a success. 

Evans gained control of the old Wason Car and Foundry Company, which had suffered a crippling fire in 1879, but had been rebuilt. He changed the name to the Chattanooga Car and Foundry Company. It was located on 18 acres at the 1700 block of Chestnut Street and included two foundries, a woodworking shop, a blacksmith shop and forges. H. Clay Evans urged his nephew, Jesse E. Evans, to come to Chattanooga, and he did in 1888. He became involved in the management of the Chattanooga Car and Foundry Company. Jesse Evans became active in Coca Cola bottling after his marriage to Anne Lupton. H. Clay Evans later sold Chattanooga Car and Foundry Company to Capt. J.F. Lucey.

H. Clay Evans was among those working toward securing a bridge to North Chattanooga. In 1882, he went to Washington along with Major W.R. King and Harry Griscom to seek funds for the bridge. The Walnut Street Bridge did not become a reality until 1891. 

H. Clay Evans was one of 12 Chattanoogans admitted into the Macrae Club, which maintained a club on the Atlantic Ocean near St. Simons Island. 

Evans was elected cashier of the First National Bank in 1884, but he resigned to run for Congress on the Republican ticket in the Third Congressional District.  He lost by 68 votes and returned to the business world. But in 1888, Evans was elected to Congress, serving until March 1891. In 1894, he was the Republican candidate for governor. He waged a strong campaign against Democrat Peter Turney and, once again, the vote was extremely close. The Secretary of State announced that Evans was the winner, but there were charges of voter fraud and the election was thrown into the Legislature, where the Democrats had the majority and named Turney as governor. 

When President Benjamin Harrison came to town in 1891, he was escorted by Mayor I.B. Merriam and H. Clay Evans during his three-hour visit. The future president William McKinley was a house guest of the Evans family on Cameron Hill at a time when he was governor of Ohio. Mr. and Mrs. Warren G. Harding and Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover also dined at the Evans mansion.

Several times H. Clay Evans served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In 1896, he was the choice of a large number of delegates for vice president. He came within a few votes of getting the nomination, and he finally withdrew his name to promote party harmony. In 1892, he was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as first assistant U.S. Postmaster General. In 1897, President William McKinley named him Commissioner of Pensions. In that post, he became known as "the Watchdog of the Treasury." Then, in 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt chose Evans as Consul General in London. He and his wife and two daughters left their Cameron Hill home to accompany him while he lived in London. They were presented at the court of King Edward VII. The Evans family returned to Chattanooga in 1905. 

When a new form of city government was installed in 1911, H. Clay Evans became commissioner of education and public health. When a new elementary school for Cameron Hill was built at Sixth and Poplar streets, it was named for H. Clay Evans.

H. Clay Evans had a son, Henry Clay Evans Jr., who was an officer in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War and continued in the regular army. He married Branch Patterson of Jonesboro, Ark. Their daughter was Adelaide Durand Evans. H. Clay Evans Jr. died in 1905.

Nell Evans, daughter of H. Clay Evans, married Dr. Joseph Wilson Johnson. Another daughter, Anita Evans, married Admiral David Foote Sellers. She remembered the East Terrace "as a gay place where the children all rode their ponies or drove their phaetons and gathered for informal parties. When they grew older, the entertainments became very formal, with elaborate dinners of many courses. Nell fondly remembered the art classes of Miss Bertha at the Crandall home  - except for the time "she herself achieved a mighty masterpiece in the form of a platter with a dead fish almost completely covering it." She said she "might have become a great artist except she overheard Mrs. C.E. James commenting on how awful it was."   

Dr. Johnson headed the Interstate Life Insurance Company, which was one of the three large insurance firms headquartered in Chattanooga at the time.

One of the three Johnson sons was named after the father, another for Evans, and another for Sellers.

The Johnsons moved into the old Evans residence on the East Terrace in 1922 following the death of H. Clay Evans on Dec. 12, 1921. The Johnsons had formerly occupied the East Terrace home that had once belonged to W.M. Lasley. It was at the corner of W. 12th Street by the Chamberlain mansion. In the 1930s, Robert E. Moore, manager of the industrial department for Interstate Life Insurance, lived in the Evans home. It had been torn down by the start of World War II and there was a vacant lot where the stately house once stood and where presidents once visited. 


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