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. Click here to read part one of this series on the historic hotels of Lookout Mountain.
The (Lookout) Point Hotel (1888)
Built in 1888, the Point Hotel was quite strikingly modern in appearance, with four levels of wraparound balconies that rounded at the corners and gave visitors an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the river valley and Chattanooga. The 58-room hotel sat strategically just below Point Lookout and the property of Mrs. Col. James A. Whiteside, who would later become an investor in the nearby Lookout Inn. Mrs. Whiteside was protective of her husband’s estate, and competitive feuding became so ruthless between the two hotels that she had the stairs leading to the point removed to keep Point Hotel patrons from easily reaching the summit of Lookout Mountain and the popular point.
Visitors would reach the Point Hotel by the 4,360-foot-long steam-powered Incline No. 1 to its west façade and upper station. The narrow gauge railway from the east could also take patrons on excursions to Sunset Rock and the popular Natural Bridge. Room rates ranged from $2.50 to $4 a night, and day visitors could ride the Incline, have a nice dinner, then return to St. Elmo for an inclusive price of $3. Hotel amenities included a billiard room, barbershop, running water in each guest room and a bathhouse.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the hotel.
The dismantling of Incline No. 1 at the turn of the last century in favor of the newer Incline No. 2 and fierce competition would eventually fold the Point Hotel-although, briefly, new investors considered converting the former hotel into a music hall. The Point Hotel would sit empty and abandoned before being demolished sometime between 1910 and 1920. A small plaque commemorates the Point Hotel near the bottom of the steel stairs from Point Park, and artifacts like stone stairs and bits of the foundation are still visible to hikers.
The Natural Bridge Hotel (McCullough Hotel) (1884)
Originally built by Joseph B. McCullough, the hotel changed names to the Natural Bridge Hotel in 1884 when the property was purchased by the Southern Spiritualists Association. The Natural Bridge Hotel was located about a mile from Sunset Rock and was advertised as a spiritualist retreat, hosting most of the well-known spiritualists of the day. Guests were treated to lectures and séances. And, as a result of a peak of popularity in spiritualism, an octagon-shaped meetinghouse that could hold 500 people was constructed. Over the next few years, interest drastically declined, and the venture was abandoned and sold in 1890. The hotel would soon close because of ever-increasing competition. Sadly, I was unable to locate a photo.
The (first) Lookout Mountain Hotel (1857)
Built by Col. James A. Whiteside, construction of the Lookout Mountain Hotel started in the fall of 1856 in Summertown-the first community on Lookout Mountain. It opened for guests June 1, 1857, and boasted 25 cottages surrounded by a stately southern Greek revival hotel that became a wildly popular summer resting place for many well-to-do Southern families who would stay the entire season. However, visiting naturalists thought Whiteside’s resort cheapened the area and spoiled the views and environment.
During the Civil War, the hotel was used as a Confederate hospital. Later, after 1863 and occupation of the North, it would serve as a hospital for Federal troops. Jefferson Davis recuperated there in May 1867 after serving time in prison.
Whiteside died in 1861, and his widow was put into Federal custody and sent north during the war to be released afterward to return to Lookout Mountain.
Lookout Mountain Hotel burned a few years after the war.
These do not make a complete list or begin to scratch the surface on the many people, stories and drama created to monetize the millions that have come to Lookout Mountain since the 1830s. But I hope this is enough information to pique your interest to dig deeper into Chattanooga history.
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.