Moore: Talented architect's life cut short by tragedy

Architect Samuel Patton
Architect Samuel Patton

Thirty-nine-year-old Samuel Patton was one of the most successful young Chattanoogans during the booming 1890s, when he died in a fire in a building of his own design.

Born on the Lee Chase plantation near Jackson, Miss., in 1867, Samuel began working in a print shop at age 14. He studied architecture at age 21 with a firm in New Orleans. In 1884, he designed his first independent work in the Crescent City and became a junior partner in the firm. Four years later, he came to Chattanooga to supervise the construction of the six-story Richardson Building, located at the corner of Market and Seventh streets. His product cost J.P. Richardson $200,000 (more than $3 million today) and was considered the finest commercial edifice in the city.

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Patton's career flourished. He designed a number of commercial buildings, of which several remain standing including Loveman's, the Milton building at Broad and Chestnut, and the Merchant's National Bank at 817 Market St. Others later demolished were the original Mountain City Club and the Temple Bar, on opposite corners of Seventh and Cherry streets.

He also created a number of grand homes for Chattanooga's new wealth. In 1893, Patton designed a large brick home at the corner of Oak and Palmetto streets for C.A. Lyerly. The residence passed to Lyerly's daughter, Helen, and her husband Zeboim Patten. Today Patten Hall houses the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Faculty Club.

Patton did the drawings for the Ed Watkins home in Chattanooga's fashionable Fort Wood. The white limestone structure still stands at the corner of Vine and Palmetto Streets. His largest and most ornate home was for the William Hutch- eson family in 1894. Located at 360 South Crest Road on Missionary Ridge. The nearly 11,000-square-foot structure is still one of the city's most recognizable, unique residences. He designed other homes, including one for the Hiram Chamberlain family, on Cameron Hill.

Patton did the drawings in 1890 for the Lookout Mountain Inn, a 365-room hotel at the top of Lookout Mountain with a view of the entire valley from its wide porches. His reputation grew, and he obtained a commission to design the French chateau-style Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. Later he renovated the home of former Tennessee Gov. Albert Marks in Winchester, where he turned a simple farm house into an English castle, Hundred Oaks.

Patton's architectural designs were eclectic. He combined classical Italian, 16th century French, 12th century European, modern Chicago, the Romanesque of H.H. Richardson, and at the Lookout Mountain Inn, a contemporary east coast shingle resort. Each of his projects was distinct and unique. Interested in creating beauty in many forms, Patton painted and wrote poetry in his spare time. A practical businessman as well, he arbitrated disputes in the building industry.

On the morning of April 3, 1897, Patton was surprised on the upper floor of his apartment in the Richardson Building by a fire which started in the basement about 3 a.m. Patton and other residents were alerted, but the architect apparently returned to his office to retrieve the design for what was to be his masterpiece, the Mississippi State House. No trace of his body was found in the ruins of the building. Ironically, Patton had designed the Richardson building with no stairs on the side corridors and only one exit down the front stairway and door of the building. Another young businessman, Boyd Ewing, died when he was overcome by smoke and fell five stories to his death even as firemen attempted to rescue him.

The city was stunned by the tragedy. Front page newspaper coverage lasted for two days. No trace of Patton's body was found, and there was no funeral. In January 1902 a bust of the young architect was dedicated on the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse. Several hundred friends gathered to honor the architect with an imposing figure on a stone column, later relocated to Forest Hills Cemetery. The piece now stands on a small island of land surrounded by rose bushes.

In another irony, the Lookout Mountain Inn in 1908 and the Hundred Oaks Castle in 1909 were destroyed by fire. The Castle and its gardens have been restored and are now available for tours.

Gay Moore is the author of two books on Chattanooga history, Chattanooga's Forest Hills Cemetery and Chattanooga's St. Elmo. For more visit