Elliott: A look at Hamilton County's Tennessee Historical Commission markers

Elliott: A look at Hamilton County's Tennessee Historical Commission markers

July 7th, 2019 by Sam Elliott in Opinion Columns

This Tennessee Historical Marker denotes the location of Chattanooga's first school. / Contributed photo by Sam Elliott

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Those with an interest in local history value the familiar gray and black Tennessee Historical Commission markers topped with the state's distinctive tri-star symbol. The Tennessee Historical Commission marked its 100th anniversary earlier this year, but the marker program began in the 1930s.

The markers are denoted by serial numbers. For example, a conspicuous local marker is Chattanooga's First School at 5th and Lookout Streets, denoting the location of a log structure that served the area as a schoolhouse, church and community center. Its serial numbers at the top of the marker are "2 A 76." The number 2 indicates that the marker is in within the state Department of Transportation's 2nd highway division (there are four). The "A" indicates a district within the division, usually three to five counties (the district including Hamilton County also includes McMinn, Bradley and Polk). The final number indicates the order in which the marker was erected in the designated district. Marker 2 A 1 marks the Hamilton/Bradley County line. Approved in June 2019, a marker commemorating Erlanger Hospital will be the newest.

For budgetary reasons, new markers require a sponsor willing to bear the cost of the casting and the erection of the marker. Extensive documentation of the historical significance of the person, place or event is necessary, along with a proposed text. The staff and members of the commission closely scrutinize both, and the original suggested text of the marker is often heavily edited. A marker must commemorate history of a "statewide significance," although that concept is often hard to define.

Missing markers are another matter. In the past, monies have been allocated by the legislature to replace missing markers, and those monies were split evenly among the three grand divisions of the state. Because of their location mostly along highways, the markers are frequently removed for road construction and other work, or are damaged by traffic incidents.

There are six markers currently missing in Hamilton County:

» Signal Point (2 A 13). No indication where located except on TN 8, on Signal Mountain. The text read: "1 1/2 miles. After its retreat into Chattanooga, Sept. 21, 1863, the Federal Army set up a signal station here, to relay messages between Chattanooga and the west brow of Walden's Ridge. The communication chain extended to the Federal supply base at Bridgeport, Ala."

» Williams Island (2 A 65). This marker was located on Signal Mountain Boulevard at the old road into Baylor School, and was likely removed for the revamping of that intersection. The text read: "Named for a pioneer occupant, this island was the site of an Indian village and probably of an 18th Century French trading post." The text went on to note the capture there of James J. Andrews, the Union railroad raider, in 1862.

» Opening the Cracker Line (2 A 15). For many years, this marker was located on the southern end of Dayton Boulevard. The text read: "At Brown's Ferry, 1.5 miles SW, Hazen's Brigade of Brig. Gen. W.E Smith's Federal task force took the heights on the west bank of the river in an amphibious surprise attack." The text noted a supporting overland attack and the opening of a line to Bridgeport, Alabama.

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

» Randolph Miller (2 A 93). Located at 200 Martin Luther King Boulevard. The text read: "Randolph Miller, a former slave, came to Chattanooga in 1864 with Gen. William T. Sherman's Army. He worked as a pressman for Adolph Ochs' Daily Times until 1898 when he started the Blade, an African-American weekly paper. With the 1905 state law segregating passengers on streetcars, Miller was one of the forces behind the streetcar boycott, and one of the originators of a system of hack lines that traveled between the city and outlying black communities."

» Jailhouse for Andrews Raiders (2 A 77). On Lookout Street between 4th and 5th streets, this marker noted the location of Swim's jail, used to hold the captured James Andrews and 21 fellow Union raiders. A more recent Tennessee Civil War Trails marker is there now.

» The Bridge Burners (2 A 66). This appears to be the most recently lost marker, located near the railroad bridge over South Chickamauga Creek at Highway 17 and Youngstown Road. It commemorated the Unionists who in November 1861 "burned two railroad bridges over Chickamauga Creek about a mile east. This cut Chattanooga's rail communication with Atlanta and Knoxville. It was part of a coordinated effort by East Tennesseans to facilitate invasion from Kentucky by Federal troops."

Those with information on missing markers should contact Linda.Wynn@tn.gov.

Sam D. Elliott, an attorney with Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott and Cannon, is a member and former chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

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