The History of Chatta nooga
and Lookout Mountain

Other Resort Hotels on
Lookout Mountain


he resort potential of the mountain was recognized early and many hotels were built on the mountain in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first hotel was built in the 1850s by Col. Whiteside close to where the Scenic Highway tops the mountain. In the 1880s, the most popular hotel on the Mountain was The Natural Bridge Hotel. Another large hotel called The Lookout Inn was built across from the present Incline station in 1890. This hotel burned in 1908. In 1928, a castle-like hotel called the Lookout Mountain Hotel was built on the west brow of the mountain. This hotel is now Covenant College. Most of these hotels were not financially successful.

The Current Incline
Incline #2 

In 1895, the Whitesides built Incline #2 (the current Incline Railway). Within 5 years, Incline #1 and the Broad Gauge were out of business. While Incline #1 and The Narrow and Broad Gauge Railroads are gone, the National Park incorporates a portion of these railroad lines into its trail system as well as the site of The Point Hotel.


The Most Popular Attraction on Lookout Mtn.
The Natural Bridge

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the most popular attractions on Lookout Mountain was The Natural Bridge. Located at the north end of Lookout Mountain (just a mile from Sunset Rock, The Point, and the Incline station), people came from far away to see this rock structure and to drink its youth giving mineral water. In 1884, a religious group called the Spiritualists purchased The Natural Bridge Hotel and surrounding grounds. Midnight seances and meetings where mediums talked to spirits were commonplace around The Natural Bridge during the late 1880s. The Spiritualist sold the property in 1890, but The Natural Bridge remained popular through the 1920s when it was featured on penny postcards. Development in the area and the popularity of the commercial attractions has caused this natural rock phenomenon to be all but abandoned although people can still visit it if they can find it.

The Birth of Miniature Golf

In the mid 1920s, two Chattanooga businessmen started the Fairyland development, an exclusive subdivision situated on the eastern brow of Lookout Mtn. about 3 miles south of The Point. The subdivision included the Fairyland Inn and golf course.

One of these businessmen was Garnet Carter. Before the golf course opened, Carter set up a putting green and in so doing began experimenting with using pipes and rocks on a smaller course. Shortly thereafter, his Tom Thumb miniature golf course was a great success and miniature golf courses were going up all over the country. By 1930, more than 25,000 miniature golf courses were in place around the world and the Carters were multi-millionaires.

Rock City

The Fairyland subdivision included an area on the eastern brow of the mountain that was well know for its unusual rock formations. This area, called Rock City, had been a home to Indians in times past and was on property owned by Garnet Carter and his wife Frieda. Frieda loved to visit this place. In the late 1920s she began to develop trails and plant flowers and shrubs in the Rock City. As time went by, this place became more popular to residents and tourist alike. Garnet, noticing the popularity of the place, decided to begin charging admission and opened "Rock City" to the public in 1932.

Carter began an extensive advertising campaign. His ingenuity at promotion was unmatched. He gave farmers across the country free barn roof paint jobs. He designed and made a large number of Rock City mail boxes. When postal authorities objected, he punched holes in them converting the mail boxes into Rock City bird houses. At first, he paid for his advertising, but soon people paid him for his advertising by buying his Rock City souvenirs.

Ruby Falls

Lookout Mountain is known for its many caves. One of the most well known is a huge, richly ornamented, cave at the north end of the mountain. This cave was used for hundreds of years, by the Indians and later by the Confederates during the Civil War. In 1905, the railroad drilled a tunnel through the mountain which intersected the cave opening. In 1910, the railroad sealed the entrance to the cave.

In the early 1920s, an entrepreneur named Leo Lambert (who had visited the cave prior to its closure) decided the cave could be a profitable tourist attraction if it could be reopened. Lambert decided the only way to reopen the cave was to drill down to it. In 1928, he purchase land on the side of the mountain (above the cave) and started to drill. After a month of drilling through solid limestone, the drilling crew came upon an unexpected cave (above where they expected the main cave to be). The next day, Lambert and a few others were lowered down the shaft. They made their way through the narrow wet passages for about 600 feet until they could hear the roaring of falling water. It was here they discovered a 100 foot underground waterfall.

Lambert decided to name the waterfall after his wife Ruby. Drilling continued until they hit the main cave. Both caves were opened to the public in 1930, but the depression took its toll and Lambert's company went bankrupt and Ruby Falls was sold for $25,000 in 1932.

Originally, visitors could chose whether to visit Ruby Falls or the lower cave (which extended several miles underground). Ruby Fall, however, proved to be the most popular and the lower cave was eventually closed. The castle-like building at the entrance to Ruby Falls (Cavern Castle) was built with limestone taken from the shaft.

Mystery Falls

About a mile north of Ruby Falls (next to the river) is a another huge cave and a spectacular 300 foot underground waterfall called “Mystery Falls”. This waterfall was once used as a water source for parts of Chattanooga and is not open to the public. 

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga
National Military Park on Lookout Mountain

In 1893, the Cravens House and 85 acres were deeded to the U.S. government for a Park. In 1898, The Point and 16.5 acres were purchased from the Whitesides and became Point Park. These two properties make up the nucleus of the Park on Lookout Mountain. The Park also includes thousands of wooded areas along the slopes of Lookout Mountain including Sunset Rock. The Park is open to the public year-round. 

Miscellaneous Information
Lookout Mountain

The Narrow Gauge Railroad
Built in 1885-86
The Narrow Guage Railroad went from The Point to Sunset Rock to The Natural Bridge and in 1894 the track was extended to Lookout Inn by putting a third rail in the Broad Gauge track. 

Incline #1 (The Original Incline)
Built 1885-1887 (18 months to build) Cost about $150,000 to build
Opened - Mar. 12, 1887 Closed July 3, 1899
4,360 feet long with 3 tracks
150,000 people rode it in 1890
Prices - Adult round-trip 50c Children 25c
33% max. grade (Incline #2 has a 72% max. grade)

 The Broad Gauge Railroad
Built in 1887-1888 (18 months to build)
First ride to top Jan 19, 1889 Closed 1899
Purchased by Incline #1 owners in 1887
Electric Street Car operated along this line from 1913 to 1920 

The Point Hotel
4 stories
The Basement housed - Barber Shop - Billiard Room - Bath House
1st Floor - Lobby - Office - Dinning Room - Narrow Gauge Track
2nd Floor - Parlor 28 guest rooms
3rd Floor - 30 guest rooms
$2.50 - $4 per night

The Lookout Inn
360 feet long
Built across from Incline station
Opened June 1890 Burned Nov 1908
Incline #2 (The current Incline)
Opened Nov 12, 1895
4,800 feet long or 9/10 mile
Built by the Whitesides
Owners purchased Broad Gauge in Sept 1897
and Incline #1 in June 1899. They closed both in 1899

 The Lookout Mountain Hotel
(Covenant College)
Opened June 23, 1928
412 foot tower
200 guest rooms
Closed early 1930s
Reopened and closed several times
Renamed Castle Above the Clouds in 1957
Became Covenant College in 1964


The History of Chattanooga
and Lookout Mountain

The Mountain

Ownership of Lookout Mountain
Mid to Late 1800's


uring the mid and latter part of the 1800’s, most of Lookout Mountain lying in Tennessee was owned by the Whiteside and Cravens families.

In 1840, the state of Tennessee auctioned off the property formerly owned by the Cherokee Indians. Due to the lack of any roads up Lookout Mountain, Whiteside faced little competition in bidding for the property on this property. He purchased most of the mountain lying in Tennessee, paying as little at 1c an acre for some of it.

In the mid 1850s, Robert Cravens purchased property on the northern talus of the mountain and built the house that today bears his name. By the 1880s, he owned almost the entire northern slope of the mountain. His property ran from the Palisades to the River and across to the Incline tracks. At the time of the Civil War, about 30 families lived on the mountain during the summer and about half that many year round.

The Turnpike and Incline Wars

 The Road Up Lookout Mountain

Col. Whiteside build a toll road up the eastern side of the mountain in the 1850s (called the Whiteside Turnpike and the Summertown Road during the Civil War). The road ran up the mountain beginning near the present Incline and crested the mountain where the current Scenic Hwy reaches the top. At this location, on top of the mountain, was the Summertown community where wealthy families spent much of their summers. The Whiteside Turnpike was the only road up the northern end of the mountain during the Civil War. It remained the only road until 1879, one year after the deadly Yellow Fever Epidemic in Chattanooga.

 The Yellow Fever Epidemic

In 1878, the Yellow Fever Epidemic hit Chattanooga. Chattanooga was thought to be immune, due to its mountain climate. However, after the death of a child and his mother of the Fever, nearly all the nearly 12,000 people fled the city in panic. The scare lasted nearly two months and 366 people died. Lookout Mountain, known for its healthy climate, was where many of the people fled. To get there, though, they had to travel the Whiteside Turnpike and pay the high toll. Later, many of these people complained about the toll and the next year the St. Elmo Turnpike (now called Ochs Highway) was built up the mountain.

This resulted in fewer people using the Whiteside Turnpike and a loss of toll revenues for the Whitesides. To make up for this loss, the Whitesides decided to charge for access to The Point. (fyi- The Scenic Hwy was built in the late 1920s)


The Spectacular View from The Point

Immediately after the Civil War, a photographer named Robert Linn set up his studio at The Point. Thousands of soldiers climbed the mountain to have their photographs taken on The Point, with its spectacular and panoramic backdrop. Most of the Union Generals (and many of the Confederate Generals), including Grant, Hooker, Thomas, Rosecrans, and Sherman, had their photographs taken here. When these soldiers went home, their stories about the magnificent views, along with these pictures, made Lookout Mountain one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country and the world (long before any of the popular attractions).


Lookout Mountain's First Commercial Attraction
The Point

During the late 1800s, the primary reason many people came to Lookout Mountain was to see the spectacular view from The Point (now called Point Park). When confronted with having to pay to experience this natural wonder, many refused. Others began forcing their way onto the property. In response, the Whitesides erected a fence and hired armed guards to stand watch.

In addition, the Whitesides contracted with the Owen Livery Company in Chattanooga to take passengers up the mountain (along the Whiteside Turnpike). The contract prevented anyone, except those who rode up on Owen's Livery, to visit The Point. This outraged competing Livery owners, as well as other real estate interest on Lookout Mountain.

The First Incline
Incline #1

As a result of these events, a group of investors decided to build a hotel off the edge of the mountain immediately below The Point. This hotel would tower to the same level and give patrons the same view as The Point.

To build the hotel, however, they needed a way to get building materials up the mountain, and then a convenient way to get customers to the hotel. To do this, they built the first Incline up the mountain. Incline #1 was built in 1887 (the current incline is Incline #2). The Incline #1 station was located just a few hundred yards north of the current Incline station (at the bottom of the mountain). It ran up the mountain to just below The Point. The Point Hotel served as the Incline station at the top of the mountain.

Incline #1 in 1888 Visitor's Guide


The Hotel Built Off
the Side of the Mountain

The Point Hotel, built off the side of the mountain just below The Point, had 4 stories and 58 rooms. It opened in May 1888. The rates ran from $2.50 to $4 per night. To get to the hotel, a round-trip on the Incline #1 cost 50c for adults and 25c for children. The Point Hotel was built at the base of the Palisades (a 75+ foot rock cliff that surrounds the top of the mountain) and the competing Whitesides owned the property immediately above. This presented a dilemma because the Hotel owners needed a way to get patrons to the top of the mountain. The solution to this dilemma was a small train.

The Point Hotel in 1988 Visitor's Guide


The Small Train on The Mountain

To afford patrons access to the top of the mountain, The Narrow Gauge Railroad was built in 1887 (essentially a small train). It ran from The Point Hotel along the base of the western Palisades for 1/2 mile. At this point it ran up though a gap in the Palisades to the top of the mountain. The Narrow Gauge Railroad then ran to Sunset Rock and ended at the popular tourist attraction, The Natural Bridge. In 1894 its tracks were extended from The Natural Bridge to the Lookout Inn on the eastern side of the Mountain.

The Train Up the Mountain

In the late 1880s, Lookout Mountain was becoming very popular, to both residents and tourists. A competing investor group decided that a better way up the mountain was a regular train. The Broad Gauge Railroad carrying passengers to the top of Lookout Mountain was finished in 1889.

This railroad began its climb up the mountain on the east side in St. Elmo (a few hundred yards south of the current Incline station). It ran north up and around the talus of the mountain (going under Incline #1) to a switchback on the western slope. It then proceeded back up and around the talus of the mountain (running in front of The Cravens House and then under Incline #1 again) to the top of the mountain (cresting where Oches Highway now tops the mountain). The tracks then ran west across the top of the mountain to Sunset Park, then back east past The Natural Bridge, ending at the Lookout Inn (which was owned by the Broad Gauge investor group).


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