(Chattanooga, Tenn.) — The future of a nine-acre historic property near Brown’s Ferry, whose history stretches back to before the founding of the City of Chattanooga, is secure, thanks to its purchase by the American Battlefield Trust. Earlier efforts to protect Brown’s Tavern were ultimately unsuccessful, but the Trust was able to muster donor support and matching grants from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program and the Tennessee Historical Commission’s Civil War Sites Preservation Fund to secure the site. The Trust anticipates transferring the land and historic structure, as well as two other properties previously purchased at Brown’s Ferry, to National Park Partners, the acclaimed friends group dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the six units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
“The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to the protection of hallowed ground,” said organization President James Lighthizer. “But protecting properties like this one, whose significance stretches across multiple eras and narratives, is particularly sweet.”
After its defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland was trapped and besieged in Chattanooga, dependent on a single, fragile supply line. The October 27 Battle of Brown’s Ferry (or Wauhatchie) was fought for one reason: Food. In a bold plan to open a more direct supply line, Union troops used bridge pontoons to float past Confederate guards on Lookout Mountain and along the banks of the Tennessee River, putting in at Brown's Ferry on the far west bank. Having established a bridgehead, these Federals drove back opposing forces in sharp fighting. The resulting “Cracker Line” facilitated the men, food and supplies necessary for November’s Federal assaults on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.
But the property’s significance long precedes the Civil War. The original Brown’s Tavern, a log-construction building dating to 1803 still stands on the site. It was operated by Cherokee businessman John Brown, who owned 640-acres, including the ferry and the tavern that took his name. Brown served as a private in Col. Gideon Morgan’s command of Cherokees who fought for the United States in the War of 1812. Brown operated the tavern until 1819, then spent a decade living elsewhere before returning in 1830. The family was forced to leave their home in 1838, as a part of the Cherokee Removal in Chattanooga, a phase of the Trail of Tears, although they later received special federal permission to return to their home. In recognition of this significance, Brown’s Tavern is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is included as a stop on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
“Tennessee’s history is rich and multilayered,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick McIntyre, who serves as executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “It is an honor to have played a role in ensuring that this special place will stand for generations to come, so that our children and grandchildren can feel a tangible connection to these important moments in our past.”
The purchase of Brown’s Tavern was a fully cooperative effort. The Trust was able to secure matching grants from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, administered by the National Park Service, and the Tennessee Civil War Sites Preservation Fund, administered by the Tennessee Historical Commission/Tennessee Wars Commission, which were leveraged against private donations from Trust members. A conservation easement donated by the Trust and held by the Tennessee Historical Commission will ensure that the property is protected in perpetuity.
Earlier efforts to secure a permanent preservation status for the property were ultimately unsuccessful. In the wake of that attempt, local businessman Bill Chapin, Chairman of See Rock City Inc. — which owns one of America’s iconic travel attractions, Rock City Gardens, high atop Lookout Mountain, Ga., as well as the Battles for Chattanooga museum located across the street from Point Park in Lookout Mountain, Tenn. — purchased the site to safeguard it in the short term.
“I am honored to have played a role, even if relatively brief, in the long history of Brown’s Tavern, the oldest structure in Hamilton County,” said Chapin, the 2019 recipient of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Spirit of STS Award. “All residents of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Tennessee, plus American history enthusiasts, should be pleased to know that this incredible piece of American history will face no further threats.”
Acquisition by the Trust is not the final step in the preservation journey for Brown’s Tavern; the national organization has made arrangements to transfer it to National Park Partners, knowing that this outstanding regional group is ideally positioned to steward the site. The Trust anticipates that transfer — which will also include 15 acres on two properties elsewhere at Brown’s Ferry — to occur this autumn. National Park Partners exists to champion conservation of the natural, historic, and cultural resources of all six units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park: Chickamauga Battlefield, Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, Orchard Knob and Signal Point.
“National Park Partners stands ready to protect, interpret and steward this remarkable property,” said the organization’s executive director, Tricia K. Mims. “Being entrusted with preserving the complex history of Brown’s Tavern and surrounding land for many years to come is truly an honor."
The American Battlefield Trust has protected a total of 119 acres associated with the Battles for Chattanooga, inclusive of the Brown’s Tavern property. Fifty-one of those acres are tied to the Battle of Brown’s Ferry; other properties are relevant to the fighting for Tunnel Hill during the Battle of Missionary Ridge. The Trust is currently raising funds to secure an additional parcel at Missionary Ridge — the site where, on November 25, 1863, 17-year-old Ohio drummer boy John Kountz received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.
The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened there and why it matters today. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 53,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.