Chamberlains Had One Of The Finest Mansions With The Best View On Cameron Hill

  • Monday, August 29, 2022
  • John Wilson

Captain Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain had one of the finest mansions and the one with the best view on Cameron Hill. Situated at the south end of the East Terrace at a narrow point of the hill, it afforded dramatic vistas looking toward the Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River and the surrounding mountains as well as across downtown Chattanooga to Missionary Ridge and beyond.

H.S. Chamberlain was born in Ohio in 1835. His parents, who were natives of Vermont, had moved to Ohio from New York three years earlier. He studied at the Ecletic Institute, where he became close friends with James A. Garfield, the future president.

Chamberlain had a short business career in Iowa with his brother, then he returned to Ohio and taught school for several years. He joined Union forces at the start of the Civil War. He was quartermaster for the Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns.

Chamberlain was taken by the opportunities in the South for development of iron and coal resources. He joined with General John T. Wilder in 1867 in forming the Roane Iron Company. It built a plant at Rockwood and also took over the rolling mill at Tannery Flats at the foot of Cameron Hill. Capt. Chamberlain came to Chattanooga in 1871 to become general manager of that plant. He became president of the Roane Iron Company in 1880. He also formed the Citico Furnace Company in 1882. It was on 30 acres at the mouth of Citico Creek. Ores for this plant were obtained in the vicinity of Chattanooga and North Georgia and used in the production of iron. The finished product was shipped as far north as Cleveland and Detroit. The stack at Citico was 69 feet high. Capt. Chamberlain was also an officer in the Brush Electric Company that first brought electric lights to Chattanooga. Capt. Chamberlain presided at the festivities at the opening of the Walnut Street Bridge in 1891. He was among those who escorted the explorer Henry Stanley on a tour of Chattanooga.

H.S. Chamberlain was president of the school board for many years. He was president of the University of Chattanooga trustees and of the Associated Charities. His name appeared on the list in the New York Tribune of "the seven millionaires of Chattanooga."

He married Amelia Morrow of Knoxville on Sept. 4, 1867. She was a daughter of Samuel Morrow, a pioneer Knoxville resident. Chamberlain in 1871 brought his young bride to Chattanooga in the iron-clad railroad car that had been constructed for General George Thomas. Mrs. Chamberlain was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and at St. Paul's Episcopal. Their children were Minnie Morrow who married Henry Overton Ewing; Susanna Willey who married George Howard McCulley; Louise Armstrong who married Richard Archer Clifford; Morrow, and Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain Jr.

The Chamberlains were beset with two tragedies.

Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain Jr. married Emily Wright, and they lived at Riverview. Their children were Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain III and Augustus Wright Chamberlain. H.S. Chamberlain Jr. in May 1923 had his tonsils removed. The operation seemed to be a success and he was sent home. However, he soon became very ill and returned to the hospital. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, then it went into meningitis and he soon died. He was 41.

Henry Ewing was an attorney who was clerk at Federal Court. In 1904, he suffered a fall from a horse at his home on McCallie Avenue near Park Avenue. He had just given his daughter a pony. Riding out with her on McCallie Avenue, the pony became frightened near Lindsay Street and ran away. The father rode toward the rescue. He caught up and reached down for the reins. However, his own horse slipped, causing him to fall heavily to the pavement. He died several days later.

The Chamberlains first lived at 121 East Terrace. They moved in 1888 to the handsome home at 137 East Terrace built by Major W.O. Rockwood, who had not lived there long after constructing the house in 1871. The location was the former Fort Sheridan erected by the Confederates. It had consisted of "an elaborate earthwork of fort and embankment with immense ditches surrounding it." Major Rockwood had partially leveled it.

Rockwood was living at Indianapolis when he died in November 1879 at the age of 65. Capt. Chamberlain bought the Rockwood house in 1881 and he leased it to the Corps of U.S. Engineers until 1886. Major William R. King was situated there, then L.F. Clark and John W. Barlow. Capt. Chamberlain began renovating the Rockwood house in 1886. The former Chamberlain home at 121 East Terrace then went to J.F. Loomis, who lived there for many years.

Major King graduated from West Point in 1863 and was a major in the Civil War by 1865. He had been appointed by the Army Corps of Engineers to build the Muscle Shoals Canal and make other river improvements. He was the engineer for the first Lookout Mountain Incline that went to the Point. At one time, Major King constructed a magnet of wire and a cannon that was said to have tremendous power. It was said of him by Charles McGuffey that "he was an admirable gentleman, and the presence of himself and his family was considered a great addition to our society. He is remembered with much pleasure by those who knew him here."

While the Corps was there, the large brick house at 137 East Terrace was surrounded by a neat lawn. Rows of pink roses grew along the fence, at the sides of the drive and along the flower beds. There was a mass of trumpet vine along the front bluff. This vine, along with ivy and honeysuckle, climbed the outside walls of the house. There were wild plum trees, peach trees, gooseberries, blackberries and dewberries. Inside the house, Major King displayed a great variety of maps and photographs of shoals of the Tennessee River. Major King first took over his duties in Chattanooga on May 15, 1876.

The magnificent Chamberlain estate, that was remodeled by the Chamberlains, was surrounded by a low iron fence. The three-story house itself had a front portico and several spires and towers.

At the time of the dedication of Chickamauga Park, Vice President Adlai Stevenson was a guest of the Chamberlains on Cameron Hill.

It was said that "many and delightful were the dances held in the Chamberlain ballroom in the gay Nineties. Capt. Chamberlain particularly liked to give large garden parties." The Chamberlains were among the East Terrace families who took part in the summer Reading Club. Mrs. William McAllester, a granddaughter of Capt. Chamberlain, recalled that "the meetings were held every two weeks in the evenings. Papers were read and books reviewed. The list of members grew so long, and the refreshments so elaborate, that the club was not continued by the young contingent."

Morrow Chamberlain was among the first students to complete the University School (later Baylor School). He then studied at Lehigh University, graduating in 1900. Morrow Chamberlain worked as a mining engineer in Michigan before returning South in 1902. He managed and operated iron ore plants in Georgia for a short time before going to Rockwood as the chief engineer of the Roane Iron Company. He later was back in Chattanooga with the Roane Iron Company and the Citico Furnace.

Morrow Chamberlain married May Douglas of Knoxville on June 12, 1906. She was born in South Carolina, but at an early age moved to Knoxville. Her father was A.J. Douglas, manager of the American Iron Company of New Orleans. Children of Morrow Chamberlain were Douglas, Louise and Nan.

Morrow Chamberlain and his father both maintained offices in the Chamberlain Building that was erected on the west side of Chestnut Street between Eighth and Ninth streets in 1902.

After the death of Capt. Chamberlain on March 15, 1916, his son Morrow Chamberlain lived in the big house for several decades. He also carried out his own renovation of the mansion.

Morrow Chamberlain and his children and grandchildren were at the top of Cameron Hill until the very end.Then the iron fence was shoved down and the great house itself was knocked away.

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