The Men and Women Who Shaped the City We Know and Love
The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.
By Meghan O’dea
The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.
John Thomas Lupton
Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
When John T. Lupton first entered into the business of bottling
Coca-Cola, he had no idea that the soft drink would change the face
of our city. His decision to back Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead’s bright idea in 1899 forever changed the course of Chattanooga’s history.
Then working as a lawyer and executive with the Chattanooga Medicine Company (predecessor to Chattem), Lupton was well respected in the community for his business acumen. Along with the bottling enterprise, he served as president of the Stone Fort Land Company, oversaw the revitalization of the Thatcher Medicine Company, and completed construction of the Dixie Mercerizing Company – quite a bit for a man described as “[doing] good in a quiet and unobtrusive way” and “one of the most modest of men.”
As the Coke empire grew, Lupton became well-known in the community as a philanthropist. Among the many recipients of his generosity were First Presbyterian Church downtown, Baylor School, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga – the last two have buildings named in his honor.
Lupton’s son and grandson inherited his charitable spirit as well as his fortune. His son Cartter was responsible for forming what is today Chattanooga’s Lyndhurst Foundation. His grandson, Jack Lupton, sold the bottling enterprise in 1986 and is credited with using his fortune to spark our city’s revitalization.
Robert H. Siskin
Siskin Steel and Supply Co.
Siskin Steel is one of Chattanooga’s oldest and most iconic companies, though its founder wasn’t from here. The Siskin story actually begins in Lithuania, where Robert H. Siskin was born before emigrating to the United States in 1888 through Ellis Island.
Siskin started his new life in America as a peddler, and he backpacked all across Appalachia selling his wares. By 1900 he grew weary of the traveling life, so he and his business partner started the scrapyard in Chattanooga that would later become Siskin Steel.
When Robert Siskin passed away in 1926, his two sons Mose and Garrison took over the company and built it into one of the many driving forces behind Chattanooga’s reputation as the Dynamo of Dixie.
Yet much of the Siskin brothers’ later work wasn’t in steel, but in the mettle of men and women’s hearts. In the 1940s, Garrison was getting on a train when the platform fell and crushed his leg. In his pain he prayed to God, vowing that he would help those less fortunate if he was healed. The next morning his blood clot was gone.
When Garrison got home he told his brother about his vow, and together they decided that helping others would be one of their life missions. To that end, they founded Siskin Memorial Foundation in 1950, which spurred the development of both the Siskin Children’s Institute and Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation in Chattanooga. Today, these organizations carry on the brothers’ good work, forging a spirit of hope and service as strong as steel throughout the city.
“I think from their perspective, they were honoring God in doing what they felt was necessary to help the community,” says David Binder, Mose Siskin’s grandson, and the family’s fourth generation at Siskin Steel. “Thinking about my great-grandfather Robert, too, he saw a lot of people in need when he was traveling. That made an impression on him, and I think he passed his work ethic and the ethic that you must give back to the community down to his sons.”
Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company (now Unum)
Cities are built by families who start institutions and pass values down to subsequent generations – and few have done it better than the Maclellan family.
It all started in 1892 when Thomas Maclellan, then age 55, joined his business partner John McMaster in taking over the management and partial ownership of a struggling insurance company in Chattanooga named Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company (now Unum). Maclellan was drawn to Chattanooga for its burgeoning industrial economy. His vision was for Provident to play a significant role in the city’s growth by covering workers facing injuries and accidents – a concept that made it very unlike other insurance firms at the time.
Maclellan’s deep religious devotion encouraged him to give back to the community in other ways as well, and he passed this spirit of service and philanthropy down to his children. In 1945, his two children – Robert J. Maclellan and Dora Maclellan Brown – founded the Maclellan Foundation along with Robert’s son, Bob, in order to serve Chattanooga and its evangelical communities. Today, the Maclellan Family Foundations fund such initiatives as First Things First, Generous Giving, and many others. Thomas Maclellan’s great-grandsons, Hugh O. Maclellan, Jr. and Robert H. (Scott) Maclellan, continue the family’s philanthropic legacy as heads of The Maclellan Foundation and the Robert L. & Kathrina H. Maclellan Foundation.
“My husband, father-in-law, and grandfather-in-law were builders, people who looked for opportunities,” says Kathrina H. Maclellan, wife of Bob Maclellan. “They sought leaders and then worked to make them successful, whether they were with business, civic, or charitable institutions.”
She adds that all along, they were guided by principles larger than themselves. “Their values were faith, family, work, and charity,” she says.
Leo & Ruby Lambert
Many a young bride is given a beautiful gemstone as a romantic token, but few went so far as Leo Lambert, who gave his wife Ruby a geological treasure of a different sort–
a whole cave and waterfall deep inside Lookout Mountain. “It was truly a love story from the beginning,” says Leo and Ruby’s granddaughter Jeanne Crawford. “He had fallen in love with her when she was 14 and he was 15 and followed her to Chattanooga from Indiana.”
A chemist with a penchant for caving, Lambert was originally intent on preserving a famous cave that many early Native Americans, Chattanoogans, and even a U.S. President (Andrew Jackson) had explored. However, the famous Ruby Falls cave was found quite by accident.
The original cave had, unfortunately, been sealed off when the Southern Railway laid new tracks as Chattanooga entered its heyday as a railroad town. To get around the blockage, Leo Lambert, along with a mining company from Birmingham, Ala., drilled down from the top of the mountain to create an elevator shaft. Quite by accident, they discovered a second cave that proved even more beautiful and popular than the first. “It took an entire day to drive through five feet of solid limestone and they found the only crack in the whole thing,” says Crawford. “If they had drilled either way, they would have missed it.”
In trying to find a creative solution to a complicated problem, Leo Lambert redefined Chattanooga tourism and discovered one of the best natural wonders in the Southeast.
“My grandfather was a person who never stopped looking and learning. He never stopped singing his song,” Crawford says. “He used to say, ‘We travel through the valley, but if God gives you a vision, that is a glimpse of the reality He has planned for you. I think that’s how Leo felt when he discovered Ruby Falls.”
Garnet & Frieda Carter
Rock City Gardens | Fairyland Neighborhood
These days it seems like everyone has seen Rock City – the quirky attraction has even been featured in international best sellers like Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.” Yet it started off as one of several improbable business ventures by Garnet and Frieda Carter.
The young couple will forever be remembered for shaping Lookout Mountain’s history with a mixture of ingenuity and imagination – and they were quite a team. Inspired by her love for German folklore and his interest in the Florida real estate boom, they were responsible for developing the popular Fairyland neighborhood on Lookout Mountain in the 1920s.
As startup pioneers, the Carters achieved many of their greatest successes out of false starts. When the full-sized golf course they had planned for met delays, they created the nation’s first mini-golf course (Tom Thumb Golf). After a stalled attempt in the hotel industry with the Fairyland Inn, they eventually developed the beautiful Lookout Mountain Fairyland Club.
Rock City might just be the best example of the Carters’ ability to turn lemons into lemonade with a mix of whimsy and business savvy. At first, the garden was simply a pet project for Frieda, a highly artistic and creative woman. But Garnet, an ambitious businessman, saw its public potential and set out to make it a popular attraction right in the heart of the Great Depression. One of his many brilliant ideas to advertise the attraction – and there were many – was to paint barns across the country in return for adding the words “See Rock City.”
“Garnet would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on creative advertising, but once people got there, he demanded that the experience exceeded customers’ expectations and they were treated as guests,” says Bill Chapin, the Carters great-nephew and the current chairman and CEO of Rock City. “He was fiercely competitive and determined to keep Rock City motivated and moving.
I think those things are still integral to Rock City’s success today. If you can’t keep growing on your ancestors legacy, you’ve got to build your own.”
Republic Parking System | Republic Centre, LLC | Berry & Hunt | Jim Berry Company | Liberty Tower, LLC
The son of sharecroppers in Mississippi, James C. “Jim” Berry learned the importance of hard work at a young age. After high school he attended Draughon’s Business College in Memphis and got a job at the Allright Parking Company there. He quickly made a positive impression on his employers, who noted his ambition and business savvy. Soon, he was managing Allright Parking’s Chattanooga office. Here, Berry quickly made an impression of a different sort – convincing building owners to sell their properties so the buildings could be demolished for parking lots at what is now Unum.
In 1966, Berry put his parking industry experience behind a new venture: Air Terminal Parking. It was the height of the glamour of air travel, and growing airports needed reliably managed parking. From there, his enterprises grew to include a trio of parking companies that eventually consolidated as Republic Parking System. As his companies grew, he began buying property in Chattanooga once again, but this time it wasn’t to create new lots – it was to revitalize the Republic Centre and Liberty Tower that today define the Chattanooga skyline. Berry’s visible contributions to the city are so ubiquitous – from the revitalization of downtown real estate properties to the promotion of numerous projects through his work with River City Company – it’s sometimes easy to forget just how much he shaped Chattanooga.
“Dad was always able to find the ‘silver lining’ in every situation and obstacle, often against seemingly impossible odds,” says Jim’s son Marshall Berry, chief manager of JMB Construction, LLC. “He never hesitated to confront a new challenge head on, and was always able to do it with a little smile. His insistence upon reaching beyond mediocrity was contagious to everyone involved. I’ve often said that there’s a right way, a wrong way, and the Jim Berry way.”
Thomas Hooke McCallie and Descendants
A Spiritual and Educational Legacy including McCallie School and Girls Preparatory School
Thomas Hooke McCallie was just 3 years old when he arrived by flat-bottomed boat at Ross’ Landing in March of 1841 with his father, Thomas McCallie, and mother, Mary Hooke McCallie. His father, a prosperous man, continued his previous work in the mercantile business after their arrival, and the family promptly moved to their new home on what is now McCallie Avenue on the corner of Lindsay Street.
McCallie eventually went on to receive theological training at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He returned to Chattanooga after the death of his father in 1859 and immediately took charge of his family. In January of 1862, right after the American Civil War had broken out, he married Ellen Douglas Jarnagin, daughter of former United States Senator Spencer Jarnagin, and accepted a call to the Presbyterian Church (now First Presbyterian Church) in Chattanooga. He continued as a pastor and spiritual leader in Chattanooga until his death in 1912.
Described as a “commanding figure in religious and civic life, interested and active in all that contributed to the welfare of the city and state,” McCallie recognized Chattanooga’s proximity to river and rail made it not only a strategic location in the war, but also a location from which institutions that would affect the South could be built. He and his wife had 16 children, with eight living into adulthood. These talented and devoted children included the founders of McCallie School, the founder of Girls Preparatory School, a City of Chattanooga chaplain, a longtime teacher at Bright School, and more than one businessman.
“My great-grandfather’s values were faith, family, and service with an emphasis on education,” says Thomas H. McCallie III. “As I see it, his progeny have carried those values well.”
Harry S. Probasco & Descendants
American National Bank & Trust Co. (now Suntrust Bank)
The descendant of Dutch immigrants, Harry S. Probasco moved to Chattanooga from a little river town in Ohio in part to avoid heavy flooding. It’s perhaps no surprise then that he wanted to create a solid business, one that could stand the test of time and natural disaster. He succeeded admirably with the Bank of Chattanooga in 1900, which became the American National Bank in 1905. He was also majorly involved in the building of First Presbyterian Church and the Mountain City Club downtown as building committee chairman.
Eventually, the American National Bank grew into the American National Bank & Trust Co. under Harry’s son, Scott Livingston Probasco Sr. His son, Scott Probasco Jr., recounts how the trust venture started. “My grandfather and my dad were over in Germany enjoying a drink in a beer garden – my dad was barely 21 then – when my dad said, ‘Papa, I’d like to start a trust company.’ At that time, there wasn’t any such thing in Chattanooga. So he said, ‘Well, that’s a good idea. I’ll join you.’ And they got E.Y. Chapin Sr. to join and made him the president. That was 1912.”
Scott Probasco Jr. earned a degree in history from Dartmouth College and attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania before carrying on
Interior of American National Bank & Trust Company, circa 1929
his father’s business. Today, he continues to be highly active in the community, serving on a number of boards including the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, United Way of Greater Chattanooga, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is also a noted philanthropist who has made gifts to Baylor School, Bethel Bible Village, Covenant College, the University of Chattanooga at Tennessee, and many christian organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“The banking and trust business is such an integral part of a community, and you inevitably become involved in things that are about making your city a better place to live,” says Scott Probasco Jr. “I was swept along in a real love for my community, and I think that’s inherited from both my grandfather and my father. I’ve always loved the old saying, ‘You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.’”
Rody Davenport & Sons
The Great Depression may have seen many fortunes lost, but Rody Davenport made his in the midst of it. In 1932, he and his business partner Joseph Glenn Sherill founded the very first Krystal on the corner of 7th and Cherry Streets in Chattanooga.
Davenport’s venture into the food industry certainly came during one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. But ever the optimist, he believed that if they could create a restaurant that was spotlessly clean, efficient, and a great bargain, people would come – even in the midst of economic upheaval.
He was right – Krystal was an instant hit. He dedicated himself to the Krystal business for the rest of his life, and when he passed away, Sherrill, and later, his sons Rody and Gordon, maintained and grew the Krystal empire.
Over the years, Rody’s sons Rody, Bobby, and Gordon made many significant contributions to the Chattanooga community, founding and funding several important area organizations and institutions. Among the three brothers’ many efforts, Rody was a major benefactor behind the Tennessee Aquarium and the Tennessee Riverwalk (sponsoring the Krystal Pier); Bobby founded the Central Park hamburger chain and Buck’s Pit BBQ, developed the Stonedge Condominiums on Lookout Mountain, and set up the Lula Lake Land Trust; and Gordon spearheaded the development of Finley Stadium.
“These were four different individuals who had a range of different interests, but the common link was that they all had an interest in building businesses that helped Chattanooga and grew the Chattanooga economy,” says Gordon Davenport Jr., of his grandfather, father, and uncles.
He adds that all four men were people persons. “They had a real common touch– an ability to connect with others that made them well-liked within their organizations. They liked to manage by walking around and getting to know people. I sometimes hear stories from people who worked for them, and its always about what good guys they were. It was a real strength.”
O.D. & Ruth McKee
McKee Foods simply makes Chattanooga a sweeter place – anyone who has driven through Collegedale and caught a whiff of the breeze knows that’s literal as well as figurative. The company is a true homegrown success story. When O.D. and Ruth McKee arrived in Chattanooga during the Great Depression, they were just trying to make ends meet selling sweets. Despite the tough economic times, the couple supported one another and managed not only to keep food on their table, but to save up enough money to buy a bakery of their own.
Throughout the growth of McKee Foods, its start as a little family bakery has always remained a big part of the company, from naming the Little Debbie® snack cake line after O.D. and Ruth’s granddaughter, to innovation in selling snack cakes in “family packs,” to their determination to treat employees like family. Mike McKee is now the third generation to run the company.
That family attitude extends toward their community as well. McKee Foods has donated millions of dollars to support the creation and preservation of outdoor spaces locally including Stringer’s Ridge Park, Bauxite Ridge, Collegedale Greenway and Parks, and the Chattanooga Riverwalk, all places where area families can play and enjoy time (and even a snack cake or two) together.
“My grandparents wanted all of us to work hard and to have stewardship to God, family and our community,” says McKee Foods executive vice president Debbie McKee-Fowler, the famed granddaughter of the founders. “Grammie talked over and over again about treating all people with dignity and respect, including those who try and hurt you. And, of course, Granddad is famous for saying there is always a better way of doing something, and it is our responsibility to find it.”
Chattanooga Times (now the Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Adolph Ochs and his daughter, Iphigene (Ruth Holmberg’s mother), circa 1902
Adolph Ochs truly understood the newspaper business from bottom to top. A first-generation American born to Bavarian immigrants, he began delivering newspapers at age 8 to help support his parents and five younger siblings. Then at 14, he started work as a “printer’s devil” at the Knoxville Chronicle where his regular hours ended
at nine o’clock at night.
Ochs came to Chattanooga when he was 17 to help start an entirely new paper, the Chattanooga Dispatch. When the Dispatch folded after only a few months, he created a much-needed city directory that paid off all of its debts, dollar for dollar.
When he was 20, Ochs decided to buy an interest in the nine-year-old Chattanooga Times. “At the time he didn’t have the money to buy it so he went to the bank to borrow,” says Ochs’s granddaughter Ruth Holmberg, former publisher of the Chattanooga Times and a celebrated civic leader in Chattanooga. But in return for a loan, the banker wanted collateral – and Adolph had nothing.
“So then the banker asked if he could have someone sign on, but my grandfather didn’t know anyone. So he said to him, ‘Well, no one knows me better than you.’ And he got that banker to sign his own note!”
Four years later, the Chattanooga Times was returning a nice profit and Ochs had earned enough capital to become the paper’s sole owner. Eventually he recruited his entire immediate family to the city: His father Julius became the newspaper’s treasurer, his brother George become a managing editor and later a successful reform mayor in Chattanooga; and his brother Milton worked for the Chattanooga Times in various executive positions.
Ochs not only promoted Chattanooga’s growth through the newspaper, but contributed to the young city’s economic development in many ways. “He was pretty much a jack of all trades,” Holmberg says. Even after he had left Chattanooga for the New York Times, he showed his devotion to the Scenic City by founding the Julius and Bertha Ochs Memorial Temple on McCallie Avenue and working alongside his brother Milton in expanding and developing the area’s national parks.
William Emerson Brock & William Emerson Brock Jr.
Brock Candy Company
William Emerson Brock, Sr., circa 1910s
If ever there were pioneering businessmen and civic and community leaders in Chattanooga,
they were William Emerson Brock Sr. and his son William Emerson Brock Jr. W.E. Brock Sr. was born in Davie County, North Carolina. When his father passed away, he had to leave school after the fourth grade and run the farm to support his mother and siblings. When he came to Chattanooga in his twenties, he borrowed $4,000 to buy a candy wholesaler and started making candy in the back room. Th ree years later, it became the Brock Candy Company.
W.E. Brock Sr. not only grew the company, but he became a leader in Chattanooga’s
business, community, and public activities. His involvements culminated in his being appointed as a U.S. Senator in 1928.
At that time W. E. Brock Jr. took the reins of the candy company, leading it through the tumultuous years of the Great Depression, World War II, and beyond. When the Great Depression made it impossible to make payroll, he borrowed the payroll cash from the Hamilton National Bank. (The loan was fi nally paid off in full some 14 years later, a cause for great celebration.) By 1950, Brock Candy had become one of the largest candy manufacturers in the U.S.
Like his father, W.E. Brock Jr. constantly worked for Chattanooga’s improvement. One of the founders of what is now United Way of Greater Chattanooga, he served as Chairman of the Board of the University of Chattanooga, guiding it through its transformation to become the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He also was a leader in the peaceful desegregation of our city, and later received national recognition for his work.
It is important to note the contributions of the extraordinary wives of these two men. Miriam Acree Brock, wife of W.E. Brock Sr., helped found a number of churches in the city’s minority community, for many years taught the city’s largest men’s bible class at Trinity Methodist Church, and with Dr. J.P. McCallie helped bring bible teaching to Chattanooga’s public schools. Myra (Peggy) Kruesi Brock, wife of W.E. Brock Jr., was active in countless community service activities throughout her life, and was even a volunteer with Hospice at the time of her passing.
W.E. Brock Jr.’s sons Bill, Pat, and Frank have continued the Brock legacy, Bill Brock as a U.S. Senator and as a member of Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet; Pat Brock leading the candy company to national success; and Frank Brock becoming the president of our own Covenant College.
Each has found a way to make a difference – a determination which may have first taken root in the hard clay soil of Davie County North Carolina.
Zeboim Cartter Patten
Chattanooga Medicine Company (Now Chattem
Zeboim Cartter Patten, Sr., circa 1915
Few Chattanooga families go as far back as the Pattens. Th e family’s long history in our city begins against the tumultuous backdrop of the Civil War with *Zeboim C. Patten. Hailing from Wilma, New York, Patten served in the Union Army with the 115th Illinois and the 149th New York Infantries. He fought in the Battle of Chickamauga with the former Infantry, where he received a foot wound that sent him back to New York to recover before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the latter.
Patten joined the New York unit in Dalton in May of 1864 and shortly thereafter was wounded once again – this time in the left arm in the Battle of Resaca. Eventually he retired from the army and joined the Quartermaster Corps, which brought him to Chattanooga in 1865.
Known by the majority of his acquaintances as “Cartter” and his close friends as “Bome,” Patten became one of many Northerners who decided to settle in the South after the war to pursue business opportunities. While with the Quartermaster Corps in Chattanooga he befriended T.H. Payne, another war veteran, and together they decided to open a book and stationery store called Patten & Payne about a year after the war ended. A few years after that, Patten bought an interest in the Chattanooga Times.
In 1879, Patten opened the Chattanooga Medicine Company with several business partners. Known today as Chattem, the company would become his most lasting legacy in the area. He acquired almost total ownership by the 1880s and became its president in 1891.
A wise and ambitious businessman and salesman, Patten grew Chattanooga Medicine Company into a prominent business by becoming one of the first to employ mass marketing techniques and he was greatly aided in this endeavor by his nephew, John A. Patten. His investment in our community didn’t stop there, though. In 1903, he founded founded Volunteer State Life Insurance Company, and he served as the company’s president and CEO until his death in 1925 at age 85. Also in 1903, he headed up the Stone Fort Land Company and developed downtown properties, including the city’s first high-rise, the Hotel Patten.
In the past century, many descendants and relations of Zeboim Patten have continued to contribute to Chattanooga’s growth and development, changing the direction of the city time and time again.
*Zeboim Cartter Patten is not to be confused with his nephew, Zeboim Charles Patten. Zeboim Charles was also a civic leader in Chattanooga and is known for contributing generously to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His daughter, Dorothy Patten, was a noted performer. Today UTC’s Fine Arts Series is named in her honor.