Thomas: The inventiveness of Judge Michael M. Allison

Thomas: The inventiveness of Judge Michael M. Allison

March 10th, 2019 by Neil Thomas in Opinion Columns
Circuit Judge Michael M. Allison

Circuit Judge Michael M. Allison

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Michael Morrison Allison was born in Rising Fawn, Dade County, Georgia, on July 10, 1865, into a family of eight. Mike, as he was known, didn't wait long to move to the metropolis of South Pittsburg, where he married Augusta Downing, the daughter of U.S. Army Maj. Edward Downing, who laid out the town of South Pittsburg.

Judge Allison was admitted to the bar of the State of Tennessee in 1887, having graduated from Southern Normal University, with a B.A. degree and an LL.B. He started his political career when he was named back-tax collector for Marion County. He then went on to become mayor of South Pittsburg, but then aspired to a judgeship in Hamilton County. That district was composed of Hamilton, Marion and Franklin counties. When Judge Allison tossed his hat in the ring, the largest county, Hamilton, had three favorites but could not agree on one. So, Franklin and Marion joined with part of Hamilton, and Judge Allison became a Circuit judge on Sept. 1, 1903.

Three years into his term, in February 1906, the uncle of the man who would marry his daughter, Mary Bertha, was defending Ed Johnson, the last of several black men hanged on the Walnut Street Bridge. That case set legal history of every sort, including the first black attorney to appear before the United States Supreme Court and the only civil case to be tried in the Supreme Court, where Hamilton County's Sheriff Joseph Ship was held in contempt of the court for allowing the hanging.

He ran for re-election in 1911 and won, but, citing the financial constraints of being a judge, resigned and formed the firm of Pritchard, Allison & Lynch. Shortly after his retirement he was mentioned as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, which he declined.

When he became judge, he moved his family to Riverview and became the unofficial mayor, holding the town meetings in the basement of J.T Lupton's mansion, Lyndhurst. He also became the president of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and the Dixie Highway Association. When the Hamilton County Courthouse burned in 1910, having been struck by lightning, Judge Allison became chairman of the Building Committee and oversaw the construction of the new, now current courthouse, at a cost of $375,000, bringing the construction in for less than the $400,000 allotted by the county commission.

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One true story about Judge Allison's inventiveness relates to a will contest in an extremely large estate to be probated in Hamilton County. The heir in the contest traveled to Chattanooga, and every lawyer was at Union Station to greet him to gain his business. Judge Allison, however, had driven to Cleveland, boarded the train, and located the heir. When the train arrived in Chattanooga, Judge Allison walked off the train arm in arm with his new client much to the consternation of the gathered lawyer-hopefuls.

Judge Allison's biggest accomplishment, however, was being the sole president of the Dixie Highway Association, the turnpike which stretched from Michigan to Miami. The Dixie Highway is still remembered by current day signposts along its route marking segments of its existence. It is remarkable not only for being the third interstate throughway, but also for being the first North-South throughway, the first two having been the Lincoln and Lee, which went east to west. Remnants of the Lee still exist in Chattanooga. Because of the support of the Chattanooga Auto Club and the fact that Chattanooga was Judge Allison's hometown, the headquarters of the Dixie was in Chattanooga.

Judge Allison and his wife had five children who survived birth: Augusta, Catherine, Mary Bertha, Evelyn and Mike. Mike was killed on June 6, 1944, on the beaches of Normandy. His son, Mike, practices law in Chattanooga. Augusta married Marshal Lasley, and they had one daughter, Elaine O'Dell. Catherine married John A. Patten, and they had two boys, Johnny and Mike. Mary Bertha married Neil Thomas, and they had two boys, Neil and Doney. The marriage of Mary Bertha and Neil was the first Baylor-McCallie union, since Mary Bertha graduated from Baylor when it was co-ed. Evelyn married Edward South, and they had a son and a daughter, Ned and Susan.

Neil Thomas is the great-grandson of Judge Allison and practices law in Chattanooga with his son, Michael, who is named for his great-great-grandfather. Like his great-grandfather, Neil served as a Circuit judge in Hamilton County for 20 years and was president of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. For more, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org.


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