Gaston: Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain remembered

Gaston: Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain remembered

July 22nd, 2018 by Kay Baker Gaston in Opinion Columns

Hiram S. Chamberlain

Hiram S. Chamberlain

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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Hiram S. Chamberlain's residence

Hiram S. Chamberlain's residence

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Longtime Chattanoogans probably remember Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain for the football stadium and field on Oak Street named after him. Chamberlain served as president of the board of trustees of the University of Chattanooga until his death at the age of 81 on March 15, 1916.

Chamberlain was born in Franklin, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 1835 to Vermont natives Leander and Susanna Chamberlain, the fourth of eight children. He attended the Eclectic Institute, later Hiram College, in Hiram, Ohio. There he became a student and friend of professor James A. Garfield, a future president of the United States. Garfield himself had been a student at the institute from 1851 to 1853 before attending Williams College. He returned to teach classical languages, mathematics and geology, as well as serving as the school's principal between 1856 and 1861. When the Civil War began, Garfield resigned to join the Union Army as lieutenant-colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and fought in the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga. He had attained the rank of major general by the time he resigned on Dec. 5, 1863, to serve in the U. S. House of Representatives.

After a short business career in Iowa, Hiram Chamberlain returned to Ohio and followed in Garfield's footsteps. When war broke out, he promptly enlisted in the Second Ohio Volunteer Cavalry as a private but soon was commissioned second lieutenant and regimental quartermaster. After serving two years in Kansas and Missouri, Chamberlain became divisional quartermaster under Gen. Ambrose Burnside in Knoxville after the city was taken from the Confederates in 1863. In May, President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to captain and assistant quartermaster.

Chamberlain fitted out the 23rd Army Corps for Gen. John Schofield, then in command of the Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns. Shortly before the war ended, Chamberlain again took the field as chief quartermaster of Gen. George Stoneman's army operating in upper East Tennessee, southwest Virginia and western North Carolina. After the war he decided to remain in Knoxville, where he married Amelia Morrow in 1867. The couple had six children.

During their occupation of Knoxville, the Confederates had moved a small iron foundry from Loudon to Knoxville, but were unable to produce iron. When the Union forces occupied Knoxville in late 1863, Chamberlain and S.T. Atkins, a local manufacturer, got the foundry in working order and continued to operate it after the war.

Chamberlain, who was noted for his expertise in mineralogy, had observed iron deposits in the hills near Knoxville and decided to develop a more sizeable iron works. He recruited Welsh-born ironmasters who attracted other skilled Welsh immigrants. He secured $150,000 in initial capital from a wealthy Anderson County farmer, J.S. Ross, and formally organized the Knoxville Iron Co. on Feb. 1, 1868. That year Chamberlain also entered into a partnership with J.A. Albers in a retail drug store that grew into a substantial wholesale business, the Albers Drug Company, which has since been acquired.

On June 18, 1867, Chamberlain and former Union General John T. Wilder, who served as mayor of Chattanooga in 1871 and became a commissioner of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, organized the Roane Iron Co. and constructed two blast furnaces at Rockwood. When that company acquired the rolling mill at Chattanooga, Chamberlain moved there in 1871 to manage the company as vice-president. Chamberlain became president of Roane Iron in 1880 and served until his death in 1916.

In 1882, Chamberlain founded the Citico Furnace Co. He was vice president of the Chickamauga Trust Co. and the Columbian Iron Works, and served for 30 years as vice-president of the First National Bank of Chattanooga. He was president of the Chattanooga school board and for many years served as president of the University of Chattanooga board of trustees.

Chamberlain Field, so named to honor his service to the university and the community, also honored his son, Morrow Chamberlain, who served as a university trustee. From 1908 to 1997, this stadium was the home of the Mocs football team. In 1927, a concrete stadium with a handsome brick and stone exterior replaced the original wooden stands. The building on Oak Street known as South Stadium also included classrooms, a few dorm rooms and a cafeteria. In 2011 it was razed, and the entrance sign and bricks from the original stadium were used in the construction of Chamberlain Pavilion on the east end of the field. A large group of Hiram Chamberlain's descendants attended its dedication on Oct. 12, 2013.

Kay Baker Gaston is a regional historian and a former Chattanoogan. For more, visit

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