The natural magnetism and historic relevance of Lookout Mountain has piqued the recreational interests of tourists for years. Since before the Civil War, many have tried to capitalize on Lookout’s scenic overlooks and natural attractions by offering year-round and seasonal overnight accommodations. These hoteliers offered modern amenities and comforts that could suit the tastes of the discriminate traveler of their time. Unfortunately, many of these grandiose hotels would succumb to war, fire, feuds, the Great Depression and a shortfall of demand.
In this two-part article, I take you backward in chronological order from the dates the hotels on Lookout Mountain opened. I have purposely left out a few modern hotels like the Pan-O-Ram and Chanticleer Inn (but plan to eventually circle around and feature them in a future column).
Lookout Mountain Hotel (1928)
The second hotel to be called the Lookout Mountain Hotel was built on top of Jackson Hill in 1928, a few miles south of Lookout Point. The newly opened Scenic Highway, which connected Gadsden, Alabama, to Chattanooga eventuated the hotel’s construction. Nicknamed “The Castle in the Clouds,” the 200-room hotel included lavish amenities, such as red velvet carpet, heavy gilt floor candelabras, overstuffed velvet loveseats, fainting couches and the largest ballroom in the South. Adhering to the castle motif, there was a room named Knights of the Round Table, which was decorated with a large round table and medieval suits of armor standing guard in each corner.
The hotel struggled through the Great Depression but saw success in the ’40s and ’50s as a summer resort. The Tudor architecture was a perfect backdrop for outdoor activities such as tennis, swimming and golf. Evening parties featured dancing, music and hard liquor-which was not available in Hamilton County because of its dry status. Tunnels running under the Lookout Mountain Hotel (perhaps reaching as far as Rock City) are rumored to exist and allegedly stored moonshine and other hooch for the Chicago Mob during Prohibition.
Actors Eddie Fisher and Liz Taylor are also rumored to have secretly spent their honeymoon in Room 531 after their 1959 Las Vegas wedding.
Since 1964, the Lookout Mountain Hotel has been home to Covenant College.
Fairyland Inn (1926)
To make their new 16-home modern residential community more appealing, Garnet Carter and Oliver B. Andrews built the 40-guest room Fairyland Inn as a clubhouse for residents and visitors. Constructed from local mountain stone, the inn features an English Tudor Revival exterior of stucco and exposed timbers and sits on the east brow of Lookout Mountain. In 1928, 10 residential cottages were added to the northwest end of the property, creating a community known as Mother Goose Village. The name, the storybook theme and fairytale street names were inspired by Garnet’s wife, Frieda Carter, and her passion for European folklore. She also designed many of the homes and cottages.
Delays in the addition of the Fairyland’s golf course unexpectedly birthed the invention of miniature golf. Conceived by Carter, it was originally imagined as an impromptu activity that was first to be played with drain tiles and surplus construction materials. It would later be refined and became a lasting international craze. Carter patented and sold franchise licenses of his Tom Thumb Golf Courses, and a handful of original or restored Tom Thumb courses are still in use today. Sadly, the original course at Fairyland no longer exists.
The Depression halted much of the future expansion of Fairyland. However, in 1932, the vision for a 10-acre tract adjacent to the property would change Chattanooga history. Rock City would gain momentum with visitors, and mostly through a stroke of genius in advertising on barns, Rock City has endured for 82 years as one of America’s beloved tourist diversions (but that’s another story).
Today, the Fairyland Inn is the Fairyland Club.
Visit the Garnet and Frieda Carter Facebook page for more vintage photos of the Tom Thumb Golf Course, Rock City, and Garnet and Frieda Carter.
Lookout Inn (1890)
The Lookout Inn opened in 1890 and was situated just above the top station of the existing Incline No. 2 on the eastern face of Lookout Mountain. The steam-powered incline was built as a direct route to the hotel and a connection to the Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain Railway.
Open year-round, the Lookout Inn was 365 feet long and four stories tall. It had two five-story towers, a huge network of wide porches and verandas, 450 rooms that could accommodate over 500 guests and was built at a cost of $150,000-which is more than $3 million today. The fine dining hall was 114 feet in length and finished in quarter sawn oak. There were billiards rooms, reading nooks, lounges and smoking rooms. An 1895 advertisement for the hotel boasted a “liberal plan,” the “finest climate in America” and the “most enchanted scenery the sun ever shone upon.” Modern sanitation systems, drainage and the abundance of water were all selling features to prospective guests. It was also marketed as “Tennessee’s great health and pleasure resort,” seemingly to appeal to the nation’s popular health craze.
Its large ballroom often hosted soldiers in training for the Spanish-American War who were posted in Fort Oglethorpe, and a visiting Prince Henry of Prussia pronounced it the most ideal spot he had visited and the scenery more breathtaking than that of the Swiss Alps.
Thought to be fireproof, the inn was engulfed in a blaze Nov. 17, 1908, and the flames and smoke could be seen from downtown Chattanooga. At the time, only a few handfuls of guests were staying in the hotel. Luckily, they all escaped from harm.
The Lookout Mountain Inn was under contract for $135,000, and the deal was expected to close the day of fire. The owners had the hotel insured for only $20,000.
A defective flue was blamed for the disaster.
David Moon is a marketing specialist and Chattanooga history enthusiast. This year, he started Picnooga, a historic image preservation project and Facebook page that digitally preserves and shares photos of Chattanooga’s past. Follow David on Twitter, like Picnooga on Facebook, or email him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.