John Shearer: Newly Acquired Chanticleer Inn On Lookout Mountain Has Unique History

  • Saturday, February 4, 2023

When people think of historic lodging on Lookout Mountain, they might think of the majestic Lookout Mountain Hotel that became part of Covenant College, or the long-gone Lookout Mountain Inn or Point Hotel.

But lasting longer than all these structures as an overnight facility – although in a cozier but also-eye-catching manner – has been the Chanticleer Inn.

Sitting on Mockingbird Lane not far from Rock City Gardens, the stone-covered facility featuring several buildings has survived various phases of small lodging -- from the mid-20th-century when motor courts were popular to the rise of bed and breakfast inns.

The inn has recently been in the spotlight more than its small setting might imply, though, as the facility has been sold to See Rock City Inc. The multi-faceted firm that also owns Clumpie’s Ice Cream Co. is expected to have it as a nearby place to stay for those visiting the Rock City attraction or in town for additional activities.

“Chanticleer is an incredibly special property, and a real gem on Lookout Mountain,” said See Rock City president and CEO Doug Chapin in a recent press release announcing the purchase.

In mid-January, Mr. Chapin along with Rock City marketing employees Meagan Jolley and Lacey Smith also offered a tour of the complex, as they were trying to become even better versed on the property, too. That is, even though Mr. Chapin’s parents, Bill and Joan Chapin, had been part owners of the facility for a period beginning about 20 years ago and he remembered seeing it as a child.

The structure around which the inn is centered was built in 1927 as the home of Richard M. and Ann Lee S. Watkins. Mr. Watkins had been the president and general manager of Watkins Hosiery Mills, which were located at 2615 Williams St.

An early 1930s city directory lists as residents of Mockingbird Lane the Watkins family and their daughter, Mrs. Florence Malone, as well as W.H. Davenport.

Mr. Watkins’ obituary in 1953 after his death at the age of 83 said that he had also been mayor of Lookout Mountain from 1912 to 1914 and was a deputy clerk of the U.S. District Court in Chattanooga from 1898 to 1910. He was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery after a service conducted by the Rev. Amos Rogers of Lookout Mountain Methodist Church.

At the time he and his wife ran the Chanticleer, it was called the Chanticleer Lodge. Exactly when it opened as a lodge or inn could not be completely tracked down, but some printed information the Chanticleer Inn hands out to interested guests says it could have been as early as the 1930s, about the time Rock City opened.

The material said the Watkins family, perhaps with Ms. Watkins taking the lead, converted the garage into three additional rooms about 1935 and a short time later added two cottages.

She reportedly served three meals a day at one point, and guests would sometimes come for their honeymoon, with one couple returning in 2002 to celebrate their 65th anniversary.

Mrs. Watkins’ grandchildren would come every year for a month or so during the summer, according to the historical sheet, and sometimes join with children of other guests in enjoying the grounds.

The inn was apparently still operating well by the post-World War II era, when small motor court facilities became popular as automobile travel really took off with better roads and more disposable income.

The Chanticleer was evidently a unique twist on that concept. But exactly why the name chanticleer was used could not be found. A chanticleer is a type of rooster known for being active in the morning, and that would of course fit with a bed and breakfast inn, when the morning is an important time during a stay for guests and innkeepers.

Rock City officials, however, think that it might have been chosen because a chanticleer is mentioned in fairy tales, and the Fairyland community surrounding the inn was already being developed around the theme of fables.

Besides his daughter, Richard Watkins was also survived by sons Ewing Garner Watkins of Chattanooga and Sam M. Butler of Columbus, Georgia.

After his death, his wife evidently continued to run the Chanticleer at least well into the 1960s. The pool was added in the late 1950s at a time when the house behind it was purchased and converted into a cabin called the Butler Cabin, apparently for Sam Butler, who often stayed there.

A 1959 newspaper article said the lodge was mentioned in a Rand-McNally guidebook titled “This is the South.” In a chapter on eating out, writer Roy H. Park, said, “Atop Lookout Mountain is the charming Chanticleer Lodge. Its antique furnishings and breath-taking view are rivaled by the souffle of summer squash and maid-of-the-mist pie.”

Evidently, Ms. Watkins made sure guests enjoyed some good food along with good scenery and accommodations.

By 1970, the facility was listed as being managed by Mrs. M.E. Vick and in 1980 by Mrs. Laura L. Smith.

Ms. Watkins had died in September 1978 after moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, where her son, Mr. Butler, was then living. He was apparently Mr. Watkins’ stepson. She had also been active in Lookout Mountain United Methodist. Unlike her husband, she was buried in a family cemetery in Bristol, Tennessee.

By the 1990s into the early 2000s and likely earlier, the inn was owned and operated by John E. Stewart and Herman Heacker. In 2002, it was bought by Bill and Joan Chapin and Chris and Susan Maclellan.

According to a 2002 Times Free Press article by Karin Glendenning, the new owners gave the facility quite a facelift in decorating after searching out good materials and consultation with others like the Bluff View Inn officials in downtown Chattanooga.

It was recently bought back by Rock City officials from Michael and Teresa Turner, who had owned it since 2018, and the facility now awaits its new chapter with 17 guest rooms and an additional cottage with two deluxe rooms.

The Watkins family, who was also close to the Chapins over the years based on the fact E.Y. Chapin III was one of the pallbearers at Mr. Watkins’ funeral, might be proud their unique lodge they created is continuing under the Chapins.

Doug Chapin, the grandson of E.Y. Chapin III, said Rock City is certainly excited to be operating it. “The Chanticleer is a really special and unique piece of property where for about the past 95 years folks have been making memories here, so we wanted to be able to keep doing that.

“And with it being right across the street from our core attraction (Rock City) and main piece of property, there’s a ton of opportunities, so we’re excited to do that for more people in bigger and better ways.”

The guests vary from those visiting Rock City to those who are from out of town but visiting family or friends on Lookout Mountain.

The 33-year-old, who seemed amicable and easily approachable as he gave a tour and peek into several of the rooms and cottages, has had a schedule as full as he no doubt hopes the Chanticleer Inn is on most nights. Besides Rock City and Clumpie’s, See Rock City Inc. also has the Battles for Chattanooga Museum by Point Park, guest services contracts with the Incline Railway and the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Grandview wedding and event facility by Rock City, and the RiverView Inn on Old Wauhatchie Pike.

But as another 30-something Chattanooga area resident holding a big job along with people like newly elected officials Weston and Coty Wamp, he said he is excited for the challenge.

“It has been a busy nine months, but it has been good,” he said. “It has been full. We’re really excited about the future. I’ve told a lot of people one of the things I was most excited about when I stepped into this role is that we are a 90-year-old business, and we’ve had people here for generations working here and enjoying being here, and so we keep getting to enjoy doing that for hopefully a lot longer.”

* * *

Honoring The Sacrifice Foundation Hosts 9th Annual Golf Classic At Black Creek Club
Honoring The Sacrifice Foundation Hosts 9th Annual Golf Classic At Black Creek Club
  • 9/30/2023

The Honoring the Sacrifice 9th Annual Golf Classic is set for Monday, Oct. 9 at Black Creek Club. Noted sponsors include North American Credit Services and Medical Services of Chattanooga, ... more

Detective Jodi Terry Named First Responder Of The Year
Detective Jodi Terry Named First Responder Of The Year
  • 9/30/2023

The Knights of Columbus, Chapter, 14079, hosted an awards ceremony and breakfast Saturday for local first responders in Soddy Daisy. This year’s ceremony honored Hamilton County Sheriff’s ... more