Historic places tourism in Tennessee’s fourth largest city (with over 75 photos)
Even though I have been to this fun city at least 100 times over the past five decades, I’ve never been to a Chattanooga Lookouts game, the Chattanooga Zoo or Point Park. Almost all my trips have been of the shopping variety.
As a child, the city was the first place I ever saw a building that was over three stories tall. The first time I experienced an interstate highway was on a road trip to Chattanooga. But, I’ve never ridden the Incline, or seen the Tennessee River Gorge, Ruby Falls, or the inside of the Hunter Museum or the Tivoli Theater.
I’ve only been to the Aquarium once, Rock City once, and inside the Memorial Auditorium once. I enjoyed dinner on the Southern Belle on one occasion. I have enjoyed the Riverwalk a few times now. I have been inside McKenzie Arena at least four times, but I did not see the inside of the Chattanooga Choo Choo until 2018.
Get a good look at Lookout Mtn., Market Street and Terminal Station from the top floor of the Choo Choo parking deck
Chattanooga was the first place I ever ate a taco, but I never saw Georgia Avenue — home of many of the places shown below — until October of 2020.
Getting to know the Scenic City better — especially in regard to the fantastic downtown that I have bypassed so many times while headed to a shopping mall — will be an important part of making something useful of this new-for-2020 website. Visiting many of the attractions mentioned above will be part of my upcoming road trip plans. But since I find myself in a historic places mindset these days, Chattanooga’s oldest sites will be my top priority for the time being.
Chattanooga is a great place for all three of my favorite hobbies: sidewalk hiking, bicycling and visiting historic buildings and districts. Maybe after glancing over the information in this article, you’ll agree that some of the city’s top historic places should be included in your next trip itinerary.
A look at Downtown Chattanooga’s top historic places
On a recent trip, I was keyed in on the top historic places in the downtown area. I saw dozens of sights I had never seen before. But, there are too many places for one trip, so more visits to the hilly city are on my calendar for late fall and early winter.
Many of the historic places are found in clusters that are scattered about in a relatively compact area. So, it’s logical to present information about them in clusters, sets, or —better yet — groups. Please find below some descriptions and photo galleries of several historic places and districts based on these groups.
Historic places group A:
- Walnut Street Bridge, c. 1890
- Faxon-Thomas house, c. 1906-08 (Hunter Museum of American Art)
- Bluff View Arts District
This group of places is among the best areas for a leisure walking or bicycle tour. The Walnut Street Bridge has been a pedestrian walkway since the late 1980s. You also see lots of people on bikes crossing the bridge. The Faxon-Thomas house, which has been part of the Hunter Museum since 1952, is now connected to the bridge entrance by an amazing new elevated walkway that appears to be constructed almost entirely of aluminum.
Pictured above: Walnut Street Bridge; looking at the Hunter Mueum from the Walnut Street Bridge; Faxon-Thomas house at the Hunter Museum; Hunter Museum; the Holmberg Bridge connects the Walnut Street Bridge to the Hunter Museum; and three Bluff View Arts District scenes.
The Walnut Street Bridge was listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Any visit to the area would not be complete without a stroll on the bridge.
Built in 1906-08 on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River for insurance mogul Ross Faxon, the Faxon-Thomas house was listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Anne Taylor Thomas, the widow of Benjamin F. Thomas who made the family fortune by pioneering the bottling of Coca Cola, purchased the house in 1920. It was donated to the Chattanooga Art Association in 1951. Learn more at huntermuseum.org.
Adjacent to the Hunter Museum, the Bluff View Arts District has no listings with the National Register, but the structures that are home to a bed-and-breakfast inn, a bakery, a coffee shop, a cafe and more, are certainly historic. Most are about 120 to 130 years old. Check out bluffviewartdistrictchattanooga.com.
This group is simply the 8-block stretch along both Market Street and Broad Street between the Tennessee Aquarium and M.L. King Blvd., along with some of Chestnut Street to the west of Broad. Bike lanes make it easy to check it out on two wheels.
The northern parts of Market and Broad Street are the heart and soul of downtown Chattanooga tourism. Many restaurants and nightclubs are found there. Most of the city’s tallest buildings are found just south of the major tourist attractions.
Pictured above, from top left: At the corner of W. 5th St. and Broad, C. 1890 Elkins Building (left) at corner of Broad and W. 8th St., at Market and W. 8th St., Market St. between 7th and 8th St., C. 1883 Central Block Building, 400 block on Broad St., 400 block on Broad St.(wast side), 200 block on Broad St. and the 200 block on Broad St. (west side).
The iconic Tivoli Theater, listed with the National Register in 1973, is on this part of Broad. The James Building and the Maclellan Building, which are both also nationally listed historic places, are next door to the Tivoli.
Above, from top left: Tivoli Theater. c. 1921; Maclellan Building, c. 1923-24; and James Building, c. 1906-07.
The historic Read House hotel, which was listed with the National Register in 1976, is on the south edge of the group at the corner of Broad and MLK.
Chesnut Street is the next street over from Broad and home to several modern buildings including five hotels, the Creative Discovery Museum and the IMAX Theater.
- Hamilton County Courthouse, c. 1912
- Fountain Square
On the crest of the hill between the primary downtown area and the UTC campus, you’ll find the focus of this group facing 7th Street: the 108-year-old courthouse. Large trees provide a park-like setting in the courthouse complex.
The courthouse is flanked on Georgia Avenue by a small historic commercial strip and the c. 1888 Fireman’s Memorial Fountain, and on Walnut Street by some lovely historic structures. A stunning 4-story c. 1907 building adjacent to the courthouse on the corner of Walnut and 7th was formerly home to The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. It’s now used as county offices.
The 132-year-old Fireman’s Memorial Fountain is part of the Fountain Square historic district that was listed with the National Register in 1979. The buildings that join the fountain as part of that district were built between 1907 and 1928.
On the south end of the Fountain Square commercial block, the c. 1907 Robinson Apartments is a red brick building that stands out due to it’s 3-story tall Corinthian-style columns. The 6-story, c. 1912-13 Hardwick-Hogshead Apartments and a c. 1924 2-story building are found on the north end of the block. A 1-story c. 1923 commercial building with a new facade fills the space in between.
Pictured above, from top left: C. 1888 Fireman's Memorial Fountain and c. 1907 Robinson Apartments; cannon and c. 1912-13 Hardwick-Hogshead Apartments at Fountain Square; a couple of popular restaurants are found in the Fountain Square district; a Walnut Street scene on the west side of the courthouse; and the Elks building, c. 1907, which is now an office building.
The fourth grouping of historic places includes some beautiful sights at the southern tip of group C. Primarily along Georgia Avenue between McCallie Avenue and East 11th Street, I also include a few other historic places in this group that are within a block of Georgia Avenue.
Nationally registered historic places in group D include:
- Ochs Building, c. 1888-92
- Market Square/Patten Parkway
- Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Auditorium, c. 1922-24
- Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, c. 1888
The Ochs Building at the corner of Georgia and 8th is also known as the Dome Building due to its small but prominent gold-colored cupola that can be seen from several blocks away. Constructed in 1888-92, it was listed with the National Register in 1978. Next door is the c. 1905 structure that was listed in 1972 as the Old Library Building.
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium was listed with the National Register in 1980. Facing McCallie Avenue a block from Georgia Avenue, the building features a 3,866-seat main auditorium and the smaller Walker Theatre.
The Market Square/Patten Parkway Historic District was listed with the National Register in 1980. It includes eight buildings that were built between 1887 and 1902 in a typical commercial style of that era. The district also includes the c. 1917 12-story Volunteer State Life Building which sits at the corner of Georgia Avenue and East M.L. King Blvd.
Above, from top left: Looking north on Georgia Ave.; the c. 1888 Ochs Building (center), and c. 1905 Old Library Building; the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul on E. 8th St.; c. 1922-24 Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium on McCallie Ave.; at the corner of Georgia Ave. and Market St.; Market Square/Patten Parkway; Market Square/Patten Parkway; Market Square/Patten Parkway; and the Volunteer State Life Building, c. 1916.
At the south tip of group D, what I’m presenting here as group E includes a nice set of historic places:
- Warehouse Row (Market Street Warehouse Historic District)
- Old Post Office, c. 1893
- Municipal Building/city hall, c. 1908
- Southern Railroad Freight Depot, c. 1898
Above, from top left: Municipal Building, c. 1908; Warehouse Row which includes eight historic buildings; the Southern Railroad Freight Depot which is now used as offices; and the old Post Office, c. 1893.
Warehouse Row includes most of the buildings that were listed with the National Registrer of Historic Places in 1984 as the Market Street Warehouse Historic District. The buildings were constructed between 1904 and 1929.
The above photo of the red railroad depot, 1206 Market Street, shows the 1898 addition to an older, plainer 1871 structure.
An excellent area for a walking tour, it’s also good for shopping and dining since Warehouse Row is now a shopping mall with 12 retail shops and five restaurants. Learn more at warehouserow.com.
FUN FACT: Parts of Group D and E are on a slope with some interesting Civil War-related history. A natural land formation once found there was used as a Civil War redoubt called Fort Jones. It was also commonly referred to as the Stone Fort. The Stone Fort Land Company Historic District is listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
The sixth group of historic places featured on this page consists of a historic commercial district that was listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 as the M.L. King Boulevard Historic District. Bike lanes make it easy to experience the relatively small district from the saddle of a bike.
This part of East M.L. King Blvd. has the look and feel of a small-city downtown. There are several murals along the street including a pair that feature Dr. Martin Luther King himself, and an epic mural is found on a non-historic building. So group “F” gets an “A” for visual appeal.
An AT&T building that takes up much of the south side of the 300 block of MLK features the epic mural that wraps around all four sides of the structure. According to chattanooga.gov, the mural was painted by muralists from the world-renowned Meg Saligman Studios along with seven local artists who were chosen to assist. Completed in 2015, the mural covers about 40,000 square feet. See a photo in the gallery below.
A popular restaurant is found in a shed-like structure in the eastern half of the district which is just a couple of blocks down the hill from the UTC campus.
The seventh group I would like to feature here is the section of Market Street that’s nearest to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and the adjacent Main Street historic commercial strip. This is part of what is locally considered to be the Southside Historic District, and it is directly south of the primary downtown area.
The galleries below include:
- Terminal Station, c. 1909 (the Choo Choo)
- The portions of the Market and Main Street Historic District that’s nearest to the Choo Choo
The Choo Choo was listed as the Terminal Station with the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The Market and Main Street Historic District was listed in 1992.
The Choo Choo has been operated as a hotel for a few decades now. Here’s a gallery of the property:
The following gallery features the Market Street area that’s adjacent to the Choo Choo:
This group has evolved to be one of Chattanooga’s most popular entertainment districts with several restaurants, taverns, and tea and coffee shops. Most afternoons and evenings, big lunchtime and dinnertime crowds are found at the part of Main Street just a block south of the Choo Choo.
Check out these pictures from that portion of Main Street:
Back to the northeastern part of downtown, this group includes some houses located on the UTC campus, a couple that are just outside the edge of the campus, and an amazing hilltop residential historic district. Places in this group that are listed in the National Register include the following:
- Brabson House, c. 1858
- Gaskill House, c. 1884
- Caleb Isbester House, c. 1896
- Chancellor T.M. McConnell House, c. 1885
- First Presbyterian Church, c. 1910
- Fort Wood Historic District
The historic properties that have been covered on this page are less than half of the Chattanooga sites that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places!
As I mentioned, each group is good for walking or bicycling. Bicycling between the eight featured groups and other sites in the downtown area is quite practical in most cases. Chattanooga is a bike-friendly city. At least it’s as friendly as you could hope for for any place that has so many residents and tourists, and so many intersections. They have 23.8 miles of bike lanes and 23 miles of multi-use paths. There are also 41 miles of marked shared lanes.
Some secondary streets have very little traffic on weekends, and I found it simple to get around by combining those with some of the bike lanes on the primary streets.
You can cover about three times more ground in the same amount of time on a bike compared to walking. If you don’t have your bicycle with you, there are 42 Bike Chattanooga stations scattered around the city. Learn about the bike share system at bikechattanooga.com.
Chattanooga is a popular destination for an outdoor adventure-themed trip. It’s good for river tours and cruises. The top attractions draw thousands of families with children to the city each day. Many people are familiar with the Lookout Mountain-related tourist attractions such as Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway, as well as the Civil War battlefields that are nearby. It would be easy to add some of the historic or iconic sites featured here to your road trip or vacation plans no matter what type of activities bring you to the area.
Thanks for visiting SouthernOutings.com.
See my other Chattanooga post: Best of Chattanooga: The Tennessee Riverwalk.
See also my other posts featuring nearby places: