Future secured for Chattanooga's historic Brown's Tavern, surrounding property

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / American Battlefield Trust purchased Brown's Tavern in Chattanooga.

Thanks to the American Battlefield Trust, a nine-acre historic property near Brown's Ferry whose history stretches back to before the founding of Chattanooga is secure. The site figured prominently in the Trail of Tears, which saw the removal of thousands of Cherokees from this part of the country, and the Civil War's 1863 Battle of Brown's Ferry.

Earlier efforts to secure permanent preservation status for the property were unsuccessful. After the previous attempt, local businessman Bill Chapin, chairman of See Rock City Inc., had purchased the site to safeguard it in the short term.

"I am honored to have played a role, even if relatively brief, in the long history of Brown's Tavern, the oldest structure in Hamilton County," Chapin said. "All residents of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Tennessee, plus American history enthusiasts, should be pleased to know that this incredible piece of American history will face no further threats."

The site's future had been in question because of a lack of funding, but the trust gathered enough donor support and matching grants from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program and the Tennessee Historical Commission's Civil War Sites Preservation Fund to buy it. According to a news release, the trust plans to transfer the land and historic structure, as well as two other properties bought earlier at Brown's Ferry, to National Park Partners, the friends group serving the six units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

(READ MORE: Infamous Brown's Tavern opens to ghost hunters for first time in 50 years)

Ann Gray, executive director of Cornerstones, a nonprofit preservation organization, said she is thrilled the site is now under public ownership.

"What is significant is that it was protected under private hands and it is now protected under public ownership," she said.

Gray said it is one of the few two-story buildings from the era.

"It is highly significant for many reasons," she said.

The Battle of Brown's Ferry was fought on Oct. 27, 1863, over food and the fragile supply line serving the defeated Union Army of the Cumberland, which had set up camp there after the Battle of Chickamauga in September of that year.

The property's significance precedes even the Civil War, as the original Brown's Tavern, a log building dating to 1803, still stands on the site. It was operated by Cherokee businessman John Brown, who owned 640 acres, including the ferry and the tavern that took his name. Brown was a private in Col. Gideon Morgan's command of Cherokees who fought for the United States in the War of 1812.

(READ MORE: Wauhatchie one of Civil War's few night battles)

He operated the tavern until 1819, then spent a decade living elsewhere before returning in 1830. The family was forced to leave home in 1838 as a part of the Cherokee Removal in Chattanooga, a phase of the Trail of Tears, although they later received special federal permission to return.

A conservation easement donated by the trust and held by the Tennessee Historical Commission will ensure that the property is protected in perpetuity.

"The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to the protection of hallowed ground," said organization President James Lighthizer. "But protecting properties like this one, whose significance stretches across multiple eras and narratives, is particularly sweet."

(READ MORE: Livingood on the Cherokee, 'a principal people')

The trust has made arrangements to transfer the properties, which include 15 acres on two properties elsewhere at Brown's Ferry, to National Park Partners this autumn.

That group champions conservation of the natural, historic and cultural resources of all six units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park: Chickamauga Battlefield, Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, Orchard Knob and Signal Point.

"National Park Partners stands ready to protect, interpret and steward this remarkable property," Executive Director Tricia K. Mims said. "Being entrusted with preserving the complex history of Brown's Tavern and surrounding land for many years to come is truly an honor."

Brown's Tavern is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and included as a stop on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

(READ MORE: Before the trail of tears: The Cherokee homeland)

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.