Chattanooga’s underground history

Over the last few years, the story and scope of Underground Chattanooga has shifted with local historians working hard to settle on a truer narrative. A new documentary will examine these shifts comparing theory with known history and facts.

Please consider supporting the documentary. Click here for more information.

Rarely, if almost never, does someone who has witnessed something related to Underground Chattanooga and actually takes a photograph of what they’ve seen. Luckily, in late 2002, Charlie Moore had the insight to take these photos (below) when he saw something that piqued his curiosity.

The photos were taken of a building on the NE corner of Market and 4th during its demolition when 4th Street was widened.

  • NE Corner of Market and 4th Streets (Courtesy of Charlie Moore)
  • Facing Market Street (Courtesy of Charlie Moore)
  • Facing 4th Street (Courtesy of Charlie Moore)

At first glance, you might jump to the conclusion that this definitively proves the UC theory. Sights like these have propelled the theory into a perceived fact and true history. Now take a look at this building in 1895.

  • (Courtesy of John Wilson and

Underground openings in the Market Street side of this structure coincide with vault lights on the sidewalk. Vault lights bent daylight to illuminate basements and they would have been in fashion when this building was rebuilt around 1888. The previous building at this address was the site of the Bee Hive (Store) fire, resulting in an explosion that killed firemen Henry Iler and W.M. Peak in June of 1887. Incidentally, Fireman’s Fountain across from the Hamilton Courthouse is dedicated to these two firemen. Fireman’s Fountain now serves as a memorial to all of Chattanooga’s firefighters lost in the line of duty.

Other photograph evidence that dispels a possibility of this structure being affected by an attempt to bury Chattanooga’s streets is the Old Armory and City Jail located on the SW corner of Market and 4th Streets. Photographs in 1864 clearly show the Armory with three floors. This building remained three stories through the early 20th century when it was demolished.

In conclusion, the south (4th Street) elevation of this basement is most interesting with the arched full-sized basement windows. I don’t have a historical photo of this elevation but at the grade of 4th Street in 2002 they would have been below ground. There is a possibility that these windows were partially above grade at some time, or that window wells or vault lights were used to light these openings and later covered up or the street regraded.

A special thanks to Charlie Moore for sending me these photographs. If you have any photos that may or may not be relevant to Underground Chattanooga or Chattanooga’s underground history, please contact me.

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