Tuesday, July 31, 2007
About Fort Wood
Fort Wood’s distinctive homes reflect Chattanooga’s unique heritage and the community’s evolution over time. The district is located just east of Chattanooga’s original 1838 boundaries; it was annexed by the city in 1851. The original “fort” was an earthwork stronghold constructed by Union forces in 1863 during their occupation of Chattanooga. Originally named for Colonel William R. Creighton, killed at Ringgold, Georgia, in November 1863, the fort was renamed after 1864 in honor of General Thomas Wood.
Archaeologists and historians believe that the Fort Wood area still contains many hidden artifacts from the war years. The National Park Service placed war-era cannons at 801 Oak and 850 Fort Wood as part of its historical interpretation of the fort. During the late-nineteenth century scattered residential development occurred in Fort Wood. A number of residences from the 1800s still grace Fort Wood streets today. These older homes in Fort Wood reflect the charm and diversity of Victorian and Neoclassical architecture, fashionable styles in turn-of-the-century Chattanooga.
Fort Wood exhibits a variety of architectural styles, including an impressive collection of Queen Anne-style homes. The house at 800 Vine Street is an outstanding example of Queen Ann architectural design. Described as “Byzantine Revival” when it was built, the house displays elaborate stone detailing and an asymmetrical arrangement of unique design features.
Architectural styles used in the homes of important Fort Wood residents reflected their wealth and interest in the fashions of the day. Queen Anne houses are characterized by large porches, carved trim elements, decorated gables, and wood shingles in various patterns. This style in Chattanooga usually incorporates brick construction with porches or verandahs, projecting bays, and narrow facades. Victorian Romanesque buildings include stone surfaces, arches, and decorative tiles. The popular Tudor Revival style employed diverse combinations of brick and stucco, vertical and horizontal boards over stucco, steeply pitched gabled roofs, dormers, and external chimneys. All of these architectural styles, and creative combinations, can still be seen today in the homes in Fort Wood.
Grand designs reflected the importance of local residents. The impressive dwelling at 801 Oak Street is one of the few surviving buildings designed by Samuel Patton, a prominent architect who designed numerous important buildings in the late 1800s, including the Lookout Mountain Inn, the Fourth National Bank, and the Temple Building. The Oak Street house was built in 1893 for Captain C. A. Lyerly, a prominent banker who served as an active land developer involved with the Lookout Mountain, Highland Park, and East End areas and the promotion of the Electric Street Railroad Company. In 1902, Lyerly chaired the host committee for President Theodore Roosevelt’s tour of Chattanooga.
Between 1900 and 1910, Fort Wood became one of the most exclusive residential sections in Chattanooga. The installation of one of Chattanooga’s first electric streetcar lines on Oak Street in 1889 encouraged prominent citizens to take up residence in the newly developed area. Many of Chattanooga’s leading citizens built their homes in Fort Wood, including T. C. Thompson, Mayor of Chattanooga from 1909-1915; George Fort Multon, publisher and part owner of the Chattanooga News; and Samuel Read, owner of the Read House, an important Chattanooga hotel. Through architecture, these influential politicians, businessmen, real estate developers, doctors and lawyers left their mark on Fort Wood during its heyday from the turn-of-the-century through the 1940s.
Thomas Clarkson Thompson, an important political and social leader, lived at 907 Oak Street (1898-1901) and 835 Oak Street (1902-1904). He also resided at a home at 854 Oak Street which was later demolished. Thompson came to Chattanooga in 1893 and quickly became a leader in the Tennessee Democratic Party. He served as mayor of Chattanooga during important periods of the city’s development. He led the successful campaign to convert Chattanooga to a city commission system, helped found the T.C. Thompson Children’s Home built in the 1930s, was a leader of Chattanooga’s Interracial Club, and served as a trustee at the University of Chattanooga.
Samuel Read’s parents built the first Read House hotel in 1871 downtown on the site of the former Crutchfield House. In 1879, nineteen-year-old Samuel Read assumed management of the hotel. In 1926, he built the new Read House hotel currently listed on the National Register. In the district, Read constructed the Fort Wood Apartment Building, Chattanooga’s first apartment building in an exclusively residential section. The apartments offered modern conveniences, such as built-in refrigerators and jewelry vaults in every bedroom. The Fort Wood Apartment Building also provided some of the first efficiency apartments in Chattanooga, a reflection of the community’s changing residential patterns in the early twentieth century. For his own residence, Samuel Read built the house at 900 Vine Street in 1904. This building later housed the Senter School, one of Chattanooga’s oldest private schools.
National leaders also left their mark on Fort Wood. Two-time U.S. Presidential contender William G. McAdoo built the frame house at 829 Vine Street in 1888-1889. In the early 1880s, McAdoo moved to Chattanooga to practice law and became prominent in the city’s professional and social circles. In 1892, McAdoo moved to New York City where he was successful in business and politics. He bought the franchise to build the Holland Tunnel linking New York City and Jersey City; the tunnel was later renamed McAdoo Tunnel. Under President Woodrow Wilson, McAdoo served as Secretary of the Treasury and Director General of the U.S. Railway Administration. In 1920 and 1924, McAdoo vied to be the Democratic Presidential candidate but failed both times to get his party’s nomination. He later served as a U.S. Senator from California and as chairman of the National Democratic Party.
Fort Wood was home to the Kosmos Women’s Club, established in 1892. Like many women’s groups in the late-nineteenth century, the Kosmos Club served as a forum for study, discussion, and support for philanthropic programs. Through voluntary women’s organizations such as the Kosmos Club, American women became active and influential in civic affairs long before the suffrage movement won women’s right to vote in 1920. The club’s original home as located at 900 Oak Street until the group merged with the Chattanooga Women’s Club in 1929. In 1952, the club returned to Fort Wood at 901 Vine Street. The Kosmos Women’s Club still sponsors many of Chattanooga’s cultural events and charitable programs.
Today, the Fort Wood neighborhood gives a charming impression of cohesiveness through the combinations of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century architectural styles. The tree-shaded streets, wide sidewalks, and uniform setbacks with raised yards and surrounding retaining walls add to the sense of architectural unity.