The roots of Lookout Mountain are in Alabama, some eighty miles to the south and west of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The high, wide plateau that forms the top of the mountain is surrounded by near perpendicular cliffs that give way to a more gentle slope near the bottom. Early Woodland Indians called this plateau home when Alexander the Great was "conquering the world." A progression of Native Americans lived on the mountaintop including Creek and Cherokee Indians. Around the base of the mountain Cherokee of the "Lower Towns" or the Chickamauga, lived. Both a river and a town retain the tribal name. The name Chattanooga, in fact, is the Creek Indian word for Lookout Mountain.
In 1782 a group of settlers fought British-inspired Cherokee Indians on the north slope of the mountain. Although it is promoted as the last battle of the American Revolution by many people, it is not. There were similar battles fought in the area of present-day Ohio as late as November, 1782. The Lookout Mountain area (at least the area at the bottom of the mountain) was among the earliest places settled in North Georgia and Tennessee. Settlers moved south from Fort Loudon (near Knoxville) along the Tennessee River and were attracted to the fertile valley near the Horseshoe Bend. For 80 years area settlers lived in peace (mostly) with the Cherokee. When war did flare, however, the results were deadly, regardless of which side you were on.
Currier and Ives print of Lookout Mountain
The town at the northern end of the peak began as a Cherokee village called Ross's Landing (after its founder, John Ross). After Chief Ross led his tribe west on the tragic "Trail of Tears," settlers renamed the town Chattanooga. Wealth was found in the mountain - not gold, but iron. The mountain contained all the minerals needed to produce the metal that changed the face of America. Men like Robert Cravens built pig iron furnaces on and near Lookout Mountain to take advantage of unique combination of minerals offered by Lookout Mountain, however, it would be fifty years before the first rail lines were built to the top of the mountain.
Atop the mountain in Georgia, settlers who won land in the 1832Georgia Land Lottery began to claim it beginning in 1835, although the mountain would remain sparsely populated for most of the 19th century because of the difficulty in getting to the top. The state of Tennessee owned the extreme northern end of the mountain (the small portion of the mountain that extends into that state). In 1840 Tennessee sold the point to Colonel James Whiteside, who settled the land and, in 1852, completed Whiteside Pike to the top of the mountain. Whiteside, a builder from Chattanooga, had also served in the Tennessee State Assembly. Portions of that old road are still visible, and some of it has been developed into hiking trails. Whiteside died in 1861, but his family continued to run his businesses after The Civil War.
Lookout Mountain played a pivotal role in the American Civil War. William S. Rosecrans chased General Braxton Bragg to Chattanooga in the Tullahoma Campaign. At the end of the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans sat to the west of Lookout Mountain and bluffed Bragg by moving a small group of men under Colonel John Wilder northeast of the city. Bragg withdrew and after Rosecrans regrouped for 6 weeks the Union commander began the Chickamauga Campaign. Rosecrans ordered his men through the mountain passes, first of Sand Mountain (Lookout Mountain's similarly shaped neighbor to the west), then Lookout Mountain.
As the Army of the Cumberland came out of the passes in Lookout Mountain they ran into Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Rosecrans, realizing his mistake, began a desperate move to the relative safety of Chattanooga. As he sidled north on the Lafayette-Chattanooga Road, Bragg launched an all-out offensive. The Army of the Cumberland suffered the worst defeat of any Army in the history of the United States at Chickamauga in the shadow of Lookout Mountain. After the battle Bragg's men occupied the entire length of the mountain, which they use to observe the remnants of the Union Army now stranded and besieged in Chattanooga. At the northern end of the mountain a wooden observation deck extended their view.
General Rosecrans was replaced by General Ulysses S. Grant, whose rising star was about to shine beneath Lookout Mountain.
On the face of Lookout Mountain the three-day conflict began with General Joseph Hooker forming a line from Lookout Creek at the bottom of the mountain to a point just below the top of the mountain. He then swept along the side of the mountain in an operation known today as the Battle of Lookout Mountain. "The Battle Above the Clouds" was a romanticized name for the same Battle. General Hooker did not try to assault the weakly defended top of the mountain. Two days later the Union Army routed Bragg's Confederates on nearby Missionary Ridge.
Following the Civil War the top of Lookout Mountain became a haven for anarchists. Displaced former Confederate soldiers formed bands of resistance against the Union conquerors until 1868, when the last remaining group was dispersed. As Georgia recovered, life at the top of Lookout Mountain began to return to normal, but a large number of tourists were being attracted to the area. These tourists were the men who fought here and their families, or those who heard of the scenic mountain from the men who had served near it. They would journey south to Chattanooga by train, then go to the livery and secure a buggy. From here it was a four-hour ride up the mountain to Whiteside Park (now Point Park). It cost $2.00 to get to the top of Lookout Mountain and return on Whiteside Pike. In addition to Whiteside Park, the Natural Bridge and Lake Lula were popular attractions.
A second road was built to the top to allow tourists and locals access to Lookout Mountain. This competition forced the owners of Whiteside Pike to begin charging admission to the site at the top of the mountain. Local businessmen sensed an opportunity and built the lavish Point Hotel. So that hotel customers could get to the top quickly, the businessmen built an incline railway up the mountain, which began to run in March, 1886. In addition to the incline, businessmen also built a broad gauge railway to the top of the mountain and a narrow gauge railway on the top of the mountain. A second incline railway made its debut in 1895. Known at the time as Incline #2, this railroad survived all others that ran to the top of the mountain and today is known simply as "The Incline."
Adolph Ochs purchased land from both the Whiteside and Cravens families and donated it to the federal government to add to the Chickamauga Battlefield whose construction was already well under way. The Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park was dedicated in 1895, the same year that the Incline Railway opened for business. With the military park and upscale lodging, Lookout Mountain began to develop the tourist industry for which it is famous today. Unfortunately, the grand hotels at the turn of the century were gone within ten years, devastated by fire or abandoned.
After World War I, Lookout Mountain was re-discovered thanks to the automobile. U. S. Highway 41, the major north-south route from the mid-west to Florida, ran immediately east of the mountain. Thousands of cars were passing by and two couples came up with independent ideas on how to attract them to the mountain.
Garnet Carter was a native Tennessean who moved to the Lookout Mountain area in his youth. He and his wife Frieda began a housing development on property near a stunning overlook on the mountain, which Carter also owned. It had been "known" for many years that you could "See Seven States" from the site, and when Frieda built a trail and rock garden for the residents of the housing development, Garnet saw something bigger. In 1932 he and Frieda opened the appropriately name "Rock City" on Lookout Mountain in Georgia.
Another couple who had an interest in the mountain was Leo and Ruby Lambert. In 1923 Leo came up with the idea of developing a tour of Lookout Mountain Caverns. While drilling an elevator shaft in 1928, the men hit an unknown cave. Lambert, an amateur spelunker, began to explore the shaft. 17 hours later he returned with a tale of an incredible falls that he had named in honor of his wife. Ruby Falls was born and actually opened to the public before nearby Rock City.
Lookout Mountain Hotel, now Covenant College
On the mountaintop a string of hotels had tried to attract tourists to stay in their facilities. None had been successful. Dinkler, an Atlanta company that had been building hotels in Florida decided to try its hand atop Lookout Mountain and created the Lookout Mountain Hotel in 1928. Spending nearly a million and a half dollars the Dinklers built the "Castle in the Clouds," 200 rooms on three sides with a spectacular view of Lookout Valley and the mountains beyond. A central tower rose 412 feet and flashed a beacon of light that was visible 150 miles away.
Paul Carter, brother of Garnett, was chosen to run the hotel. One of the first things Paul did was add a miniature golf course designed by his brother Garnett. It was one of the first "Tom Thumb" golf courses in the world (another was right down the street in Fairyland, where Garnett pioneered the idea).
In 1939 the state of Georgia purchased Cloudland Canyon State Park, on the west side of Lookout Mountain. The park includes both the canyon (known as Sitton Gulch before 1939) and rolling hills on the plateau on top of the mountain. The park has excellent scenic views, camping and hiking trails.
With the end of World War II people began to drive their cars as never before and Lookout Mountain entered its heyday, and it would continue attracting record numbers of tourists well into the 1960's. Although the attractions on Lookout Mountain were open to all people, northerners got a first-hand view of segregated facilities for blacks. It was a shocking revelation to many that the "separate but unequal" policies of the South had created two societies.
In the 1950's Chattanooga (and America) began to prepare for the first Civil War Centennial. One attraction designed to take advantage of the renewed interest in the Civil war was Confederama, near the Incline Railway. Completed in 1957, this attraction had an "electronic map" with small figures painted blue and gray to represent the opposing sides in the Civil War. Other attractions also developed in the St. Elmo's area, including a wax figure "Hall of Presidents." Confederama held on for some 30 years, moving to the top of the hill as the Battles for Chattanooga Museum after the owner of Rock City purchased the attraction from the original owner's family.
The Civil War Centennial brought tourists in record numbers to Lookout Mountain, thanks to Point Park and the Battle Above the Clouds. Special events and re-enactments highlighted this period of remembering a war that devastated our country. In 1964 Covenant College took over the old Lookout Mountain Hotel on the West Brow of the mountain. The hotel, which had many claims to fame including hosting Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher's honeymoon, had never been successful in spite of a number of owners. Covenant College converted the Fishers' honeymoon suite into a common area and uses the hotel rooms as a dormitory.
On August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King addressed 250,000 civil rights marchers at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. "I have a dream,..." the Baptist minister declared to the crowd. "Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee."
Unlike Georgia's Stone Mountain, which King also referenced in the speech, the KKK never held rallies atop Lookout Mountain. So why did the orator choose Lookout Mountain? Perhaps because Americans had been making a trek to the mountain for almost 100 years, and many more had driven over the base of the mountain on the Dixie Highway (US 41). Or because the mountain had been a Confederate stronghold that had been captured by the Union Army.
It was very lucky for the businesses at the top of the mountain that the college relocated when it did. Unknown to them at the time, the tourism business that had driven the mountaintop economy was about to begin a slow, steady decline, for a number of reasons. First, railroads as a form of passenger travel had been dying for 10 years. Second, the new Interstate system would run well east of Highway 41 that had brought so many visitors to Lookout Mountain. Third, Chattanooga would earn the title of dirtiest city in the United States and finally, a little mouse in Orlando would become the new destination year-round for many long-distance travelers on the Interstate system. Yet Lookout Mountain businesses did not give up.
In 1978 hang gliding joined the attractions at the top of the mountain. Then, in the 1980's, Chattanooga, Tennessee, realized that tourism could offset the exodus of heavy industry that had taken place. They began to develop local attractions downtown and began working with tourist related businesses at Lookout Mountain to promote the area. A trolley service shuttled visitors between The Incline, Point Park, Rock City and Ruby Falls. Finally, the Lookout Mountain Parkway, a 93-mile scenic tour of the mountain and surrounding area that spans Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee was developed to attract "eco-tourists."
Today Lookout Mountain is once again a traveler's destination, with Point Park setting all-time attendance records and other attractions also reporting record or near-record attendance. Lake Lula has been reopened to the public, although only once a month, and talk abounds about adding more ecological attractions to accent the strong environmental themes already established by the existing tourist oriented businesses. Still, the tourist economy that thrives on the mountain faces many challenges. For example, one of the downtown attractions developed by Chattanooga is the Tennessee Aquarium. Atlanta, taking its cue from the success of the Tennessee Aquarium, built the Georgia Aquarium near Centennial Park.
Georgia History Articles about North Georgia history and the state in general. This section is currently being developed. For more information on Georgia History, please see The Civil War in Georgia North Georgia Mountains Mountains and mountain chains of North Georgia including Lookout Mountain, Brasstown Bald, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.