In the start of our exploration of Chattanooga, we learned that the city, often referred to as the “Gateway to the Deep South,” has a very diverse history – its early inhabitants including the Cherokee Indians, Spanish, French and the English.
Today, Chattanooga is a thriving metropolis offering a great deal to see, do, and enjoy for residents and visitors alike.
A great place to get an overview of the city and regional history is at the Chattanooga History Center offering a wide range of information, programs, and lecture series. Visitors can also embark upon any of their unique themed tours including bus tours of Civil War battlefield sites and a historic neighborhood walking tour.
One of the great things about the city, is that its civic leaders have spent a great deal of effort and resources renovating existing historic structures and attractions, as well as developing new economic development projects, programs, environmental initiatives, and other community entities that attract people to the area to live, work, and play.
The Chattanooga area has a wide range of museums, each offering its own unique flavor and flair of the city. For an in-depth look at the city’s railroad history, check out the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Founded in 1961, the museum is really a “moving attraction,” as it offers a six-mile roundtrip ride, generally pulled by a steam locomotive. This makes it the largest operating historic railroad in the southeast, and the only full-size operating railroad museum in the state.
The International Towing & Recovery Museum and Hall of Fame is also a nod to the city’s early history, as it was here in Chattanooga that the towing industry’s first wrecker was fabricated. Exhibits and memorabilia include restored antique wreckers and equipment, photography, antique tow trucks, collectible toys, and a great deal more.
In the art world, the Hunter Museum of American Art is a true city landmark. Located in the Bluff View Art District overlooking the Tennessee River, the museum encompasses three distinctive buildings representing 100 years of architecture: An Edwardian-style mansion built in 1904 for wealthy insurance broker Ross Faxon; a second, concrete building built in 1975, which at that time was lauded as an architectural masterpiece with its dramatic central atrium space and home to an astounding collection of classic American paintings; and a $22 million expansion completed in 2005. The expansion encompasses 8,000 square feet of new construction, restoration of the mansion, and a stunning outdoor sculpture plaza, among other renovations.
What you find today is a truly impressive structure housing the South’s largest collection of American art—from the Colonial period to the present day—including classic paintings, contemporary studio glass, works on paper, contemporary art, sculpture, and more from artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Childe Hassam, Fitzhugh Lane, George Segal, Winslow Homer, and numerous others.