Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 18, 2020

Brown’s Tavern preservation secured by ABT

Brown’s Ferry figured prominently into the Trail of Tears and the Civil War’s 1863 Battle of Brown’s Ferry. - Photograph provided

American Battlefield Trust has purchased a nine-acre historic property near Brown’s Ferry with a history preceding the founding of the City of Chattanooga.

Earlier efforts to protect Brown’s Tavern were unsuccessful, but American Battlefield 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.

American Battlefield plans to transfer the land and historic structure, as well as two other properties previously purchased at Brown’s Ferry, to National Park Partners, the group dedicated to safeguarding and promoting Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

“The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to the protection of hallowed ground,” says James Lighthizer, organization president. “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 in Chattanooga and dependent on a single, fragile supply line, Lighthizer continues.

In a 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 and then put 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.

The property’s significance precedes the Civil War, however, Lighthizer adds.

The original Brown’s Tavern, a log building dating back 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 U.S. 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 its home in 1838 as 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,” says State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick McIntyre, who serves as executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “It’s an honor to have played a role in ensuring this special place will stand for generations to come.”

The purchase of Brown’s Tavern was a cooperative effort. American Battlefield was able to secure matching grants from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program and the Tennessee Civil War Sites Preservation Fund, which were leveraged against private donations from trust members.

A conservation easement donated by the American Battlefield and held by the Tennessee Historical Commission will ensure the property is protected in perpetuity.

Earlier efforts to secure a permanent preservation status for the property were unsuccessful. In the wake of that attempt, local businessman Bill Chapin, chairman of See Rock City, purchased the site to safeguard it in the short term.

“I’m honored to have played a role in the long history of Brown’s Tavern, the oldest structure in Hamilton County,” Chapin says. “All residents of Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Tennessee, plus American history enthusiasts, should be pleased to know this piece of American history will face no further threats.”

Acquisition by American Battlefield 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.

American Battlefield expects the transfer – which will also include 15 acres on two properties elsewhere at Brown’s Ferry – to occur this autumn.

National Park Partners exists to ensure conservation of the natural, historic and cultural resources of all six units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, including 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,” says the organization’s executive director, Tricia Mims. “Being entrusted with preserving the complex history of Brown’s Tavern and the surrounding land is an honor.”

American Battlefield has protected 119 acres associated with the Battles for Chattanooga, including 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 the Missionary Ridge site where 17-year-old Ohio drummer boy John Kountz received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions Nov. 25, 1863.

American Battlefield has protected more than 53,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.

Source: American Battlefield Trust