"Chattanooga is a young and thriving city and, with all the chances in her favor, her people are not to be discouraged by anything."
December 1, 2010 10:08 PM   Subscribe

In Chattanooga, early in the first week of March 1867, rains came, and did not stop for four days. It was not until March 14 that the floodwaters began to subside, and the city was left covered in mud and debris and nearly destroyed. More than a century later, archaeologist and UTC Professor Dr. Jeff Brown became fascinated by strange architectural features he was finding on some of Chattanooga’s downtown buildings.

Intrigued, Dr. Brown looked into these architectural oddities further—and what he eventually found was that the city of Chattanooga had been backfilled and lifted, from six feet at 9th Street to more than 20 feet at the north end of downtown. Strangely, the amazing feat was poorly documented.

The link is a tiny bit editorialized, but the pix and overall concept are intriguing. One expects cities like Venice and Rome to have living space lost to time and the elements, but not sleepy, comparatively youthful Chattanooga.
posted by infinitewindow (22 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting stuff. I do wish the author could have resisted the impulse to take thinly veiled shots at New Orleans.
posted by brennen at 10:19 PM on December 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

I love stories about urban ruins/hidden history... but, this is a bit sparse, with only 7 fairly ill defined photos... it would be nice if fleshed out a bit. Are there any links to more photos and/or information...?
posted by HuronBob at 10:22 PM on December 1, 2010

I find stuff like this fascinating. I was left wanting more, though. I wish the author would have fleshed out the story, with more firsthand accounts from maintenance workers, etc., who work in the underground remains, and more pics.
posted by amyms at 10:25 PM on December 1, 2010

The author's voice adds to the story.

Thank you, infinitewidow, this is excellent.
posted by merelyglib at 10:26 PM on December 1, 2010

Boy, I wish there was more material about this. If you do a search for Chattanooga Flood 1867, this page shows up fairly early on in the results. Like the article says, there's not a whole lot of good documentation.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:29 PM on December 1, 2010

An appetizer for a great FPP that I wish had followed.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:02 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Considering how well-documented the raising of the City of Chicago out of the swamps is, I am amazed that this is so little known. Fantastic. Needs more pictures.
posted by davejay at 11:05 PM on December 1, 2010

Like the article says, there's not a whole lot of good documentation.

Well, there's not a whole lot of documentation on-line, maybe, but this kind of local history-- especially for a small city-- is almost never on-line. There's never been enough of a demand for or interest in it to bother. For the most part, you need to actually go to local libraries and historical society archives-- and the morgue of the local paper-- to research this kind of stuff.
posted by dersins at 11:08 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was a bit too much drama about this "mystery" considering that many cities have engaged in well-known and well-documented raising/grading projects, such as Chicago, or even the relatively nearby Atlanta, which bridged over a downtown valley to create Underground Atlanta. Seattle also famously ripped apart and leveled many of its hills.

It was unnecessary to speak of federal flood relief expectations, as they simply didn't exist in that day and age. One did look to the state governors and Tennessee's did act. But in the disaster itself people were expected to fend for themselves or engage in limited community self-help. One of the first major modern flood relief efforts took place in 1913 Dayton and was led by industrialist Samuel P. Bush -- great-grandfather of Dubya.
posted by dhartung at 11:18 PM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

The story is interesting, but the "back in the day, men were MEN and didn't cry like babies to the government" attitude is baffling. You know why government helps with flood relief? Because horrible floods happened in the past, and people thought it would be an improvement to be able to spend some tax money to count on help from the government. That's what we call learning from the past.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:39 PM on December 1, 2010 [19 favorites]

"back in the day, men were MEN and didn't cry like babies to the government"

Babies? Babies that the Democrats want to pass Sharia law on and then abort? I just can't understand why the author didn't explore this obvious story angle.
posted by telstar at 12:51 AM on December 2, 2010

those photos were terrible.
posted by mary8nne at 3:19 AM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

I read "strange architectural features" and expected Cthulhu to be involved.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:28 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

How interesting that this has not been studied in more depth until now. As mentioned above, a similar feat was accomplished in Seattle but this is well studied.
posted by caddis at 4:36 AM on December 2, 2010

Reading the accounts of the disaster today, one is struck by the absence of the sad stories. No writer spoke of people waving helpless white flags from rooftops or angry tirades demanding the president come and part the waters. This was a different time.

on air now: GLEN BECK 95.3fm
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:22 AM on December 2, 2010

This article on the same guy (you was SCOOPED Chatanooga Pulse) has an even stranger lede:
In 1978 rumors began to swirl about strange things being found in some buildings in downtown Chattanooga. Utility workers whispered to each other about stairs leading to nowhere, ground-height windows, barred doors, empty rooms, bricked-up archways and other architectural oddities.
What weirds me out is that by 1978 these "strange things" were one hundred years old: why was '78 different than '77? A one utility worker town? Old guys on the crew not run their mouths? Seems artificial. Perhaps the last guy at the bar who shouted "its because of the fucking floods, jackass" died off or something.

Buildups in flood zones are nothing uncommon and plenty of flash-built communities suffered rebuilds after adhoc city planning ran afoul of real-world conditions or failed to scale or otherwise evolve. That was certainly the case with Seattle (done in by flooding and, perhaps more importantly, failures in communal sewage management). Here in Sacramento our underground was the result of gold-rush era buildup near the confluence of two major rivers as they approached the ocean. Interest here tends to be of our 'Old Town' -- not surprising given its tourist-trap nature. Its probably the most contiguous section as its the only section of the original township that hasn't met one of this town's massive redevelopments or an ordinary lesser one: we lost a bit of underground with some recent construction. A former coworker of mine wrote an excellent article on the past and present of our underground. Sexy stuff: opium dens, smugglers tunnels and modern-era bat caves.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:27 AM on December 2, 2010

...an angry group of business owners, about a hundred of them, banded together and made their way to the commander of a military post then in Chattanooga, demanding that martial law be declared to stop the looting.

Thaaaaat kind of sounds to me like a bunch of whiners running to the federal gubbmint. Didn't those Obamatard businessmen own their own guns? Why didn't they exercise their Second Amendment rights? Were they too chicken?

Better yet, why didn't they just quietly man up and go under like all the rest of those good Americans whose bodies floated patriotically down the river?
posted by PlusDistance at 7:10 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've never been in any of the underground areas, but here's a picture of the 1867 flood. Raising the streets didn't really do much of a damn thing to prevent catastrophic flooding in Chattanooga -- see the 1886 and 1917 floods.

What really did help, though, was the TVA building Chickamauga Dam. Not only did the TVA bring flood control, but also jobs and electricity to Depression-era Tennessee.

Honestly, I'm not really a big fan of dams, but I've listened to my grandparents' stories about life before and after the TVA. Which is why my head explodes when the Tea Baggers rally here on the banks of the Tennessee and whine about big-government Socialism.
posted by lost_cause at 8:13 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

lost_cause, there's a fair bit of bad blood about the TVA projects around here (the Tennessee/Little Tennessee confluence), especially the land seizures for Tellico Lake. Tellico was the last of the big TVA dam projects, and the deals stunk to high heaven. more, more. TVA waived their longstanding rule about not selling newly-lakefront properties, leading to high-dollar developments like Tellico Village and enriching some highly suspect people.

Overall the TVA has been a huge success, but it is not without its blemishes. Infinitewindow, thank you for posting this. I'm in Chattanooga every few months and never knew this.
posted by workerant at 9:05 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The story is interesting, but the "back in the day, men were MEN and didn't cry like babies to the government" attitude is baffling.

It's not at all baffling when taken in the context that the author provided -- this was the post-reconstruction South. It was less than two years after the Civil War ended. If you know anything about Southern culture (and especially Southern pride), you know that asking the new-to-them government in Washington D.C. for flood relief probably wasn't on the list of acceptable concessions.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2010

Editorializing aside, this was a really interesting article on the history of a town I know and love. It reminds me of a book I read about zombies in Chattanooga during a flood. Anyway, I'll be looking for strange architectural features next time I'm there. Thanks for posting this.
posted by motsque at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2010

Reading the accounts of the disaster today, one is struck by the absence of the sad stories. No writer spoke of people waving helpless white flags from rooftops or angry tirades demanding the president come and part the waters. This was a different time.

A different time, indeed. As the author explained himself in paragraphs 3 and 4, construction methods were so different that smaller houses were lifted off their foundations and carried along by the flood "and helpless, dying cries were heard from inside them as they passed."

Glorious. I am going downstairs to smash the concrete foundation of my house right now, because I don't want to be tied down by no government building codes.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:20 PM on December 2, 2010

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