By Jillian Waterhouse, Staff Writer—
Though many locals have heard about the existence of an underground Chattanooga, the topic remains largely mysterious. While a stroll through the downtown area may reveal many doors exposed only halfway above the sidewalk, multiple archways towering only about four feet above the ground, and numerous windows located in darkened basements, factual research on underground Chattanooga does not come easily.
After the flood of March 1867, which was the largest flood in Chattanooga history, the city was left in disarray. More than 4,000 homeless residents were evacuated to high altitudes surrounding the city, building damages were untalliable, and an abundance of lives were lost. As flooding was frequent and damages were vast, residents were forced to reconsider the city’s infrastructure.
Jeff Brown, a former UTC professor, is largely credited with discovering much of what is considered underground Chattanooga today through his observant walks through the city. With his knowledge of Chattanooga’s history with flooding, Brown connected the clues between nature and the origins of the city’s odd buildings.
Thus began the enigma of underground Chattanooga. With limited documentation, it is difficult to assess how and when Chattanooga decided to bury itself. Though a handful of city ordinances which touch on the topic of raising the city streets can be found through research completed at
the Chattanooga Public Library, concrete planning processes, such as potential maps, are far and few between.
As time passes, this puzzling gap in the research increasingly draws investigative locals into discovering what truly exists in underground Chattanooga.
Chloe Morrison, a UTC alumni and former Editor-in-Chief of the University Echo, has taken the process of discovering the underground city into her own hands. As a reporter for NOOGAtoday, Morrison has approached the daunting task of exploring the topic through journalism.
In collaboration with The Chattery, a nonprofit learning collective located in the Southside Historic District, Morrison recently hosted a class which sought to clarify the mysteries of underground Chattanooga.
For a small fee, interested individuals could gain access to Morrisons’ dissections concerning which aspects of the urban legend are fiction, and which are reality. The class, a segment on History Happy Hour, was hosted virtually on Oct. 19, appropriately timed with the creeps and crawls that come with Halloween.
Morrison seconded this theme, elaborating that, “It fit in with the October theme because it’s mysterious, so I was happy to get the chance to share what I had learned with more people.”
Morrison explained her theory about how local intrigue of underground Chattanooga originated.
“I think the topic draws interest, in part, because there’s room for mystery,” she said. “Key documents that we would expect to exist and help explain it, aren’t available in library archives or old newspaper records.”
Morrison expressed hope that more Chattanoogans would explore the history of their city after engaging in her class.
“I also hope it opened people up more to NOOGAtoday, The Chattery, The Chattanooga Public Library’s history department and learning about Chattanooga, in general,” she said.
While underground Chattanooga remains a mystery to many residents, learning opportunities are becoming increasingly available and can be taken to uncover part of the truth, if one truly desires to do so.
“We just don’t know,” Morrison said. “Unsolved mysteries are usually interesting.”