Chattanooga area history: Bicentennial celebrations focus on local history

Staff File Photo / Gail Shiminski wears historical attire inside of Spring Frog's cabin during the annual Little Owl Festival at Audubon Acres in 2019. As part of Bicentennial commenorations, a plan was developed to reopen the cabin and the Little Owl village area to the public.

While the United States would celebrate its bicentennial in 1976, planning for commemorations began much earlier. By 1973, Chattanooga and Hamilton County had appointed a Bicentennial Commission and, with an emphasis on local history, Z. Cartter Patten was named chairman of the special Landmarks Committee of the commission. The special committee was charged with studying "existing sites of historical significance ... drawing attention to the needs of maintaining links with the area's past ... working toward creating new landmarks to serve as a reminder of the bicentennial era."

Patten's appointment was widely applauded. A business community leader and former Tennessee House and Senate member, Patten's passion for history and historical preservation was well known. He had served on the Tennessee Historical Commission, presided over the Chattanooga Area Historical Association from 1949 to 1951, and had authored two books: "A Tennessee Chronicle," focusing on Tennessee and Chattanooga history, and "Signal Mountain and Walden's Ridge," a detailed historical study of both communities.

One of the first "historic sites" events occurred in the fall of 1973 when more than 50 people gathered to commemorate the Battle of Lookout Mountain, sometimes considered the last battle of the American Revolution since it occurred almost a year following the Battle of Yorktown, the official last battle of the war.

Dr. Gilbert Govan, the featured speaker at the dedication of a historical marker, quickly discredited those who dismissed the importance of the battle by comparing it to the War of 1812's Battle of New Orleans, which occurred after the "official end" of the war. In this instance also, word had not reached the Chattanooga area that peace negotiations were underway in France. The region was still being raided by the Chickamauga Indians, allied with the British.

Col. John Sevier, who would 14 years later become the first governor of the newly created state of Tennessee, orchestrated the attack against the raiders. Sevier, accompanied by 250 frontiersmen and assisted by Cherokee guides, had earlier engaged the Chickamaugans at Settico, near present day Amnicola Highway; Chickamauga, near Eastgate in Brainerd; and at Tuskegee, near the bend of the river. In the final push to end the attacks against settlers in the region, Sevier and his men crossed the Tennessee River at Moccasin Bend, scaled the side of the mountain and drove the Chickamauga warriors from their Lookout Mountain vantage point.

The ceremony marking the historic site of the frontier battle also featured comments from Rep. Lamar Baker, Chickamauga National Military Park Superintendent Don Gunton, Tennessee Bicentennial Commission Executive Director David Bowen, and local artist George Little, who had completed a painting of the battle. A U.S. Marine Corps color guard, accompanied by a trumpet trio from Tennessee Temple College, added to the solemnity of the event. The marker was unveiled by Baker, Gunton and Margaret Dahrling, president of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

photo Gail Shiminski wears historical attire inside of Spring Frog's cabin during the 8th Annual Little Owl Festival at Audubon Acres on Saturday, June 1, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The annual festival at the wildlife sanctuary featured music, vendors and nature hikes. / Staff file photo

Patten then reached out to the Chattanooga Area Historical Association and the Chattanooga Audubon Society, asking the two organizations to work closely with the commission in planning events that would encourage area residents to visit historic sites.

A March 1975 Chattanooga News-Free Press headline proclaimed, "Bicentennial Activities Kickoff Planned by Chattanooga Historical Association" that would feature a joint meeting with the Chattanooga Audubon Society at Audubon Acres, formerly known as the Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary. Audubon Acres, closed for two years due to vandalism, would tentatively reopen with an event featuring UTC Guerry Professor of History Dr. James Livingood speaking about Sycamore Shoals and the Over-the-Mountain Men's March to King's Mountain, a critical southern battle of the American Revolution. Additionally, two trails through the sanctuary would be open to the public following the lecture, and plans were being made to open the entire sanctuary to the general public within months.

During the time the sanctuary had been closed, the 200-year-old cabin built by Spring Frog, a renowned Cherokee naturalist, had been moved farther from the railroad tracks and placed on a new foundation, replacing the disintegrated logs from the original site. Reopening the sanctuary would allow local residents to view not only the natural landscape but the cabin and the site of Little Owl village, an 18th-century Indian village along Chickamauga Creek that been destroyed in a military campaign. Plans to offer tours for Hamilton County students also were being developed.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County would soon "light up the sky" with a multitude of Bicentennial commemorations.

Linda Moss Mines, Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian, is chairwoman of the region's American 250 Commission. Visit for more information.