Through floods, pandemics and near bankruptcy, Read House keeps Chattanooga history, tourism alive for 150 years

The Read House hotel in downtown Chattanooga took on the look of the Great Gatsby era Tuesday with flapper dancers and bellhops wearing derby hats like in the Roaring 1920s to help mark the 150th anniversary of the hotel.

On the birthday of hotel founder Sam Read, the owners of the Read House on Tuesday hosted one of several celebrations planned this year in recognition of the Read House hotel and its predecessor, the Crutchfield House, at M.L. King Boulevard and Broad Street downtown.

The 242-room hotel has been rebuilt and survived floods, fires, pandemics and near bankruptcy over the past century and a half to keep its doors open to overnight guests since 1872.

"There is so much history and so many great memories in this building that we knew if we could bring back the luster and grandeur, it would just prop up downtown Chattanooga, and it has," Ken Markel, senior vice president of operations for Avocet Hospitality, said during Tuesday's celebration at the Read House.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga's Read House celebrates 150 years as longest continuously operated hotel in the South)

Avocet, which owns or is buying other historic hotels in Charleston, South Carolina, and Mobile, Alabama, bought the hotel - then a Radisson - six years ago and spent $28 million to restore the Read House as its own independent hotel brand.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, a former downtown car dealership owner and business investor, recalls thinking at the time that such an investment in the then-struggling downtown hotel "was a little nuts."

"But as mayor I am definitely and deeply grateful for Avocet's vision and generosity in what they have done here at the Read House, and all of Chattanooga is in their debt for preserving and bringing back to life this great hotel," Kelly said before presenting the owners a city proclamation declaring June 14 Read House Day in Chattanooga.

(READ MORE: Read House historian says the spirit in Room 311 takes up a lot of oxygen for a ghost)

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the Read House and its ballroom and other meeting facilities have been the site of memorable events and personalities throughout its history.

"This is one of the staples we have had for tourism in our community, and it continues to be one of the great assets for our residents and our visitors," Coppinger said before presenting the hotel with the county's distinguished hospitality certificate.

Since the original 45-room Crutchfield House was opened by Sam Read on the property across from the Union Station railroad in 1872 - and was later expanded and renamed the Read House - the hotel has housed hundreds of thousands of guests. Visitors have included Winston Churchill, Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey and several politicians who went on to become president of the United States.

Legend has it that at least one of its guests never left the hotel. In the 1920s, Annalissa Neverly was reportedly murdered in the tub by her husband after he found her with a gentleman suitor in Room 311. The room that many believe is still haunted is now rented only around Halloween, although tours are regularly offered into the room where many report they've seen the ghost of Neverly in the mirror or witnessed other strange occurrences.

Elsewhere in the Read House, the Silver Ballroom has been the site of hundreds of weddings, dances and special occasions, while the Green Room was long famous for its frog legs, peppermint ice cream and special dinners.

With the help of history students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Read House is trying to preserve the memories of those who have been married, recognized or otherwise had memorable occasions at the hotel. The hotel is gathering old photos and other memorabilia to put into a time capsule which will be sealed for the New Year's Eve party at the Read House at the end of the year.

The hotel is also recognizing its history throughout the year with a limited edition Double Oaked straight bourbon whiskey special brand made by J.W. Kelly, a whiskey brand named after the Irishman who operated the bar and lounge at the Read House when it first opened.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

Upcoming Events