National Park Partners Saves Civil War Landmark in Chattanooga, TN
A project several years in the making came to fruition on August 4th as National Park Partners for Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Moccasin Bend closed on the historic Brown’s Tavern property and around 15 acres along the Tennessee River that was the site of the Battle of Brown’s Ferry. Built in 1803 by Cherokee businessman and ferry operator, John Brown, Brown’s Tavern is the oldest standing structure in Hamilton County, TN. The tavern sits on a hillside encompassing about ten acres along Brown’s Ferry Road, at the base of Lookout Mountain in the community of Lookout Valley (also known locally as Tiftonia). US Army soldiers used the tavern property as a staging ground following the Battle of Brown’s Ferry and leading up to the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” on the slopes of Lookout Mountain during the Civil War Campaign for Chattanooga.
Brown’s Tavern was a private residence for at least the past 100 years and was saved from certain development when the most recent family to own the tavern and surrounding acreage decided to sell. The American Battlefield Trust sought to use state and federal historic preservation grants to purchase both the tavern and ferry landing properties; National Park Partners agreed to take subsequent ownership of these historic lands since having a local partner hold the properties was a condition of the American Battlefield Trust’s purchase. While ABT worked to assemble the funding, Chattanooga businessman and history buff, Bill Chapin, bought the tavern in 2019 to ensure its preservation rather than risk another buyer coming in on the open market.
ABT took possession from Mr. Chapin in 2020 and began the process of protecting the tavern land and the ferry landing from future development through a permanent conservation easement with the State of Tennessee. The process took longer than usual due to the pandemic, but once the easements were in place, the land transfer to NPP was ready to proceed.
In the past few years, National Park Partners and the American Battlefield Trust worked together on landscape maintenance and upkeep for the surrounding acreage. NPP hosted several educational programs at the tavern and ferry landing over the past few years for the neighboring Lookout Valley Elementary School fifth grade students; the Chattanooga Area Historical Association; local DAR chapters; and more. NPP secured an estimate for historic restoration of the Tavern and is actively fundraising for that effort as well as developing a set of use policies for events and activities at this historic site. Read more here about Brown’s Tavern, an important witness structure to the Trail of Tears and the Battles for Chattanooga, and how National Park Partners stepped up to preserve these critical buffer lands for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
“While outside the boundary of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, we knew the property was incredibly significant to the interpretation of the Campaign for Chattanooga and to the Indigenous history of our area,” says executive director Tricia Mims. “Our Board of Directors deliberated long and hard about taking this on, but ultimately, the alternative of not having the property preserved forever was inconceivable. We knew we had to step up to ensure this incredible piece of American history would not slip away.”