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Chattanooga History Center opening expected in late summer
by Yolanda Putman
Tuesday, March 25, 2014    |   
A toy horse, believed to be from before the Civil War, is part of the museum’s approximately 28,000-piece collection.
A toy horse, believed to be from before the Civil War, is part of the museum’s approximately 28,000-piece collection.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    The Chattanooga History Center is on Market Street near the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    Director Daryl Black speaks about unique ways the museum will offer visitors information.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

By the time it opens in late summer, the building will include a steel-clad theater with automatic sliding doors, large picture windows with color-contrasting white and red walls and brown hardwood floors. It will have large, metal-trimmed exhibit cases as a framework for some of Chattanooga's most celebrated and heart-wrenching history.

"We want to create a dramatic space to tell a dramatic story," Black said.

The Chattanooga History Center, located in the old Chattanooga Visitor's Center on Market Street next to the Tennessee Aquarium, has been in transformation since it moved there in June 2011. Since then the center has been under renovation. Construction was completed in fall 2013, and museum officials are waiting to finish up the building and install the exhibits.

The fundraising goal is $10.5 million, and as of February supporters had raised $9.6 million.

Black said the move from its former location on Fourth and Chestnut allows the museum to be more accessible to tourists without requiring them to cross the busy intersection that deterred some people from visiting.

The history center will tell the stories of debates leading up to the Trail of Tears. There will be an exhibit about how Chattanooga was established, the turning point of the Civil War and black history in Chattanooga. There is a gallery about the city's early industry, Coca-Cola Bottling Company, TVA and urban renewal.

The tour ends with the Renaissance Gallery showing exhibits of the riverfront renewal, Chattanooga Venture and Vision 2000.

The exhibit space, at 11,000 square feet, is separated by wall dividers that create a "series of reveals" as visitors walk through the museum. The area includes another 11,000 square feet that has been dedicated to discussion rooms and meeting space.

Benches that sit under big lanterns, called memory installations, feature recorded conversations of local Indians, blacks, businessmen and city officials that tell how history has impacted them and what it may mean for the city's future.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson narrates a film shown in the theater that gives an overview of Chattanooga's history. Black, who holds a doctoral degree in history, wrote the orientation film.

"It's not your mother's history museum," said Marlene Payne, the museum's deputy director. "It's not just showing a bunch of old stuff from the 1800's, it is about the debates and decisions that lead to the history and it also deals with how we remember things."

The museum wants to prompt visitors to pay more attention to civic engagement, understand how decisions that happened in the past have affected the present, and know that current decisions will affect the future, Payne said.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at 423-757-6431 or yputman@timesfreepress.com.