Excavating Cameron Hill Dirt Had Long Been A Topic

  • Friday, September 30, 2022
  • Harmon Jolley

In a November 23, 1962 Chattanooga News-Free Press article “Cameron’s Crest Yields to Jaws of Giant Shovels”, J.B. Collins recapped the massive demolition and excavation work that had been taking place on Cameron Hill since the late 1950’s.

The most recent task of the project was the removal of approximately 160 feet of the crest of the hill.  Lower elevations of Cameron Hill had already been bulldozed in order to build the portion of the U.S. 27 freeway that connects Olgiati Bridge to the M.L. King Boulevard interchange.  Residents and business owners were displaced as nearly all structures were removed within the West Side Urban Renewal project boundaries.  As Mr. Collins reported, the hill figured in both urban renewal and freeway aspects of the project.

The article summarized the reasons for removing dirt from Cameron Hill in the following statements:

1.       Provide about a million cubic yards of fill dirt to raise the roadbed of the freeway in low sections of the city.

2.       Enable architects and engineers to plan buildings to utilize a larger area of the hill after it was “contoured” than before.  As J.B. Collins reported, the term “contour” didn’t fool for the moment the group of Chattanoogans determined to preserve the historic and picturesque hill as God had made it and time had shaped it.

However, this wasn’t the first time that some people made plans for using Cameron Hill dirt.  Those dreams existed as far back as the Civil War and late 1800’s.

CIVIL WAR Cameron Hill Historical Marker (hmdb.org)

Both sides occupied Cameron Hill at different times. Cameron Hill dirt was used in constructing earthworks.

CHATTANOOGA DAILY COMMERCIAL EDITORIAL (April 10, 1886) – “DIG IT DOWN: A PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF A CRAZY IDEA TO USE CAMERON HILL”

Flooding had presented a challenge to businesses and homes on Broad, Chestnut, and Market streets since the city’s founding.  Some were advocating removing dirt from the top of Cameron Hill and using the dirt to fill in the low places of the city’s main streets.  The soil would come from Cameron Hill’s crest which had few buildings due to its steep slopes.

The Chattanooga Commercial editor said, “If Cameron Hill was cut down twenty feet, or even ten, sufficient dirt would be procured to fill these three thoroughfares to the recent water mark.”  The editor proposed building a slide from the northern part of Cameron Hill and send the dirt down the hill to the Belt railway.

CHATTANOOGA DAILY TIMES LETTER TO THE EDITOR (April 15, 1886)

The writer of this letter to the Daily Times editor and the Chattanooga Commercial editor were both on the same “page.”   The letter writer stated, “There is an immense pile of dirt right here in our midst, almost…I allude to Cameron Hill.”  The writer noted the urgency of removing the dirt from the top of the hill before more buildings were built.  “Let it be done at once. The only way to do anything is to go at it and do it; and especially should this be the motto of a young and growing city like Chattanooga.”

CHATTANOOGA DAILY COMMERCIAL EDITORIAL (April 16, 1886)

The Daily Commercial kept the dirt dreaming and discussion going with another editorial.  He stated, “This matter should be agitated until it takes shape.  Other cities have profited by cutting down their hills and filling up their low grounds and why should not Chattanooga profit by their example?”

CHATTANOOGA DAILY TIMES (April 18, 1903) “A PHOSPHATE MINE - ONE BEING WORKED AT THE BASE OF CAMERON HILL”

The article begins by praising the view from Cameron Hill’s summit, so the interest in removing the dirt from the top may have subsided by 1903.  By then, the first Boynton Park was under construction at the northern end of the summit.  There had also been a short-lived incline and beer garden on the peak, and retaining walls and streets made it possible to build houses with great views of the city.

The article went on to say that in addition to Cameron Hill’s beauty, there were potential riches within the hill.  M.J. Inman had leased some ground on the western foot of Cameron Hill near the river and was operating a phosphate mine.

In keeping with our topic, I’ll say that some dirt removal was probably involved in accessing the phosphate.  In addition to phosphate, iron was also mentioned as a possible mineral to be extracted.

SHARE YOUR MEMORIES

If you have additional information on Cameron Hill excavations that occurred before the West Side Urban Renewal Project (1950’s-1960’s), please send me an email at jolleyh@bellsouth.net. 

 

 

 

 

 

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