Chattanooga History Column: Cameron Hill has rich history

Chattanooga History Column: Cameron Hill has rich history

January 22nd, 2017 by Gay Moore in Opinion Columns

This photo from Picnooga's collection, originally taken in the late 1890s, depicts a view of Lookout Mountain and Cameron Hill.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

First of two parts. Read part two here.

---

Located just west of downtown Chattanooga, Cameron Hill, the mirror image of Lookout Mountain, has a rich history. Given the hill's proximity to settlements along the Tennessee River and the intersection of major trails to the south, Native Americans were certain to have used the promontory since prehistoric times as an observation point.

At the time of the Cherokee Removal in 1838, the state of Tennessee began selling the newly vacated land of the former Ross's Landing. Businessman James Whiteside purchased much of the top and east side of Lookout Mountain as well as what became Cameron Hill. He built a mansion on Lookout Mountain and an in-town home on the north side of the hill.

While visiting Philadelphia, Whiteside met artist James Cameron, a Scotsman who studied in that city and in Italy. Whiteside persuaded the artist to come to Chattanooga and helped Cameron obtain commissions. The artist's best known work was the 1859 painting of the Whiteside family on the terrace of its Lookout Mountain home.

As payment, Whiteside gave James Cameron the hill, where the family built a home and studio — and gave its name to the high ground. The remainder of Cameron Hill was covered in old growth forest. When the Civil War broke out, the disillusioned Camerons left for Philadelphia.

Chattanooga was in the hands of the Confederacy until August 1863, when Union forces under the command of Gen. John Wilder advanced on Chattanooga from the west. In response, Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederates attempted to defend the city from a fort on Cameron Hill. The antiquated Confederate artillery failed to protect the city from the Union barrage from Stringer's Ridge. The Confederates vacated the city on Sept. 9.

Following their defeat at Chickamauga, Union troops retreated to Chattanooga to find themselves surrounded by Confederate forces controlling Lookout and Raccoon mountains, Missionary Ridge, railroad routes and the Tennessee River. During the two-month siege, the Federals relayed messages via flags on Cameron Hill to troops on Signal Mountain.

Meanwhile Union soldiers cleared the hill of trees to build a bridge across the Tennessee River. Eventually even the tree roots were stripped from the ground and used as firewood by cold, hungry soldiers.

James Whiteside died from pneumonia in 1861 after retrieving his son from a Confederate hospital. During the Union occupation his widow, Harriett, and her young children were deported north. They left most possessions behind, including the Cameron painting, which was later wrapped around a pole and shipped to Cincinnati. It was eventually returned to the Whiteside family and today hangs in the Hunter Museum of American Art.

James Cameron died in 1882 in California. His widow sued the federal government for the value of the lumber cut by Union forces and was compensated $30,000.

After the war, Harriett Whiteside began re-establishing control of her late husband's estate. In 1886, a plot of residential lots on the hill was sold at auction. Prominent Chattanoogans, according to The Chattanooga Times, built "handsome, stylish homes on the slopes of the hill, making the area one of Chattanooga's most fashionable neighborhoods."

In 1888, a group of investors purchased the top of the hill. They built Chattanooga's first incline and then a casino and beer garden. An early photograph shows the casino on the top of the still-denuded hill with homes on its slopes. In 1891, of group of citizens tore up the incline tracks. The casino, which was never popular with city residents, soon went bankrupt and closed.

In 1905, the city named a park on Cameron Hill in honor of Union Gen. Henry Boynton. A veteran of the battles of Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga, Boynton received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the ridge and in the 1890s became chairman of the committee that oversaw the development of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

The 10-acre Boynton Park featured a concert pavilion, flowering cherry trees, roses, irises and violets as well as Civil War cannons and markers. It was the site of Fourth of July fireworks displays as well as romantic strolls, picnics and outings. Trees were planted on the still barren hillsides, thanks to City Alderman Isaac Mansfield, who did the planting at his own expense.

By the early 20th century, Cameron Hill was a jewel in the heart of Chattanooga — an elegant neighborhood with a lovely park.

- Coming next Sunday: The changes that led to the Cameron Hill of today.

Gay Moore is the author of Chattanooga's St. Elmo and Chattanooga's Forest Hills Cemetery. Visit Chattahistorcalassoc.org for more information.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...