From the founder of Picnooga, David Moon, Chattanooga Then elevates and shares Chattanooga’s history through photographs, postcards, and other historical artifacts.

Three photographs missing from Chattanooga’s history

A few years back, when I had a blog, I published a post about five lost or undiscovered items that should be in Chattanooga collections. One was a photo of Ed Johnson, which a reader later found in a newspaper archive. So, yes, this post could have a similar impact. That photo was featured in the Washington Post.

1.) Photographic evidence that Underground Chattanooga exists

Underground Chattanooga is a subject I’m very familiar with, as I do not believe in the Underground Chattanooga theory. I published an article several years ago debunking local historians and most Chattanoogans’ acceptance of the history. If you don’t know the story, this short documentary piece produced by WTCI-TV, Chattanooga’s PBS station, is a place to start. It lays it on thick, sensationalizing a lot of theory and few known facts. Not everyone is convinced, but the filmmakers try to present the theory as facts. You’ll see my name in the end credits that I contributed a few photographs.

Some of my blastemas views did make in a series of reports produced by WDEF News 12 in 2018. Still, these segments are over-dramatized but with a more even and open view of the whole thing, possibly, being bullcrap.

Chattanooga Underground Pt 1
Chattanooga Underground Pt 2

I admit that Underground Chattanooga is a sexy story, and I wish it were true. The short version of the history is that the citizens of Chattanooga in the late 1800s grew wary of flooding and raised the streets downtown by one level. As a result, first floors became basements, and second stories became first floors and entrances. However, no paper trail, newspaper articles, or photographs show this ever happened. Nor can local historians agree on what areas it affected, a timeline, or what buildings stand today that indicate evidence. Most Underground Chattanooga suspected locations had been debunked.

I’ve been in a few of the subject building basements, like the Lovemans Building at 8th and Market Streets, and I can report that it’s just a basement. Reports of the reconstruction of Lovemans after a fire in 1890 indicate no missing floors.

Loveman’s Department Store before the 1890 fire

I’ve seen many photos of Chattanooga from the Civil War to the 20th century, and there is no definitive proof that any structure lost a level. Although it’s a complicated situation, Chattanooga did grade streets, and there is evidence showing how it affected structures.

Still, I welcome conclusive evidence supporting the underground theory, which is why it’s on the list.

2.) A photograph of Terminal Station (The Choo-Choo) under construction

Probably the most elusive photograph in all of Chattanooga’s history. Construction ended in 1909 at a total cost of $1.5 million. During the three-year construction, it’s hard to believe that no one snapped a photograph. Especially during an era when photography was emerging and accessible to the public. I’m hopeful that when a photo does show up, Chattanooga railfans will faint dead away in glee. So, run to your closet and search Me-Maw’s old photo albums.

3.) A pre-Civil War image of Downtown Chattanooga

There are many photographs of Chattanooga taken during the occupation of the Union during the Civil War. I have yet to discover one that predates the occupation or before 1860. I am convinced that a Civil War collector out there has one in their collection, whether he knows it or not.

Downtown Chattanooga in 1864 — Courtesy of the collections of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens


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