When visiting downtown Chattanooga, there’s a chance you’ll come across the city’s underground basement level center. The origins of the mysterious buildings aren’t entirely known, but one local professor came up with a theory that might explain everything.
Back in the 1970s, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor Jeff Brown started discovering what would later be known as “underground Chattanooga.” He noticed buildings that had doorways leading to nowhere and storefronts located at basement level that appeared to have been first floors previously. The downtown buildings had odd window placements and openings that led to alcoves. In speaking with utility workers and other locals, Brown wasn’t able to get answers about why those building features existed and there is very little documentation available.
As an archaeologist, Brown developed a theory about what he was seeing. He concluded that perhaps this underground world was the result of former residents raising the streets.
But why would they do that?
A popular belief is that between 1875 and 1905, the city built up its roads and turned the first floor stories of buildings into basements to escape flooding, disease and yellow fever. After the flood of 1867, the city continued to experience bouts of flooding and so citizens turned first floors of buildings into basements to prevent further flood damage.
The only concrete evidence of this happening are newspaper articles that were released showing city leaders’ plans to raise the street levels by 3 to 15 feet. And while it appears that is what was done, there is no further documentation providing proof that it was. According to those same newspaper articles, 40 blocks of downtown Chattanooga were raised, and this prompted the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933, which resulted in the Chickamauga Dam being built. It helped regulate water levels to prevent the downtown area from flooding.
The Lovemans building downtown is said to be the “ground zero” of underground Chattanooga. The 130 year old building is made from cinder block, bricks and limestone, with outer walls that have the same mysterious doorways and windows that Jeff Brown discovered. Most of these are remnants of more than 120 years of renovations.
Cheri Lisle-Brown is the property manager for the building and says that before she had the basement sealed, she would get a lot of flooding. According to documents, Lovemans went from a three story building in 1886 to a five story building in 1910. The original building burned down in 1890 and was replaced a year later. It was then expanded and the basement was used as a hardware and consumer goods department for Lovemans. Today, much of the building is used for storage.
Those first floors of buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s are now underground and most are inaccessible to the public because they are on private property. The number of basements found in underground Chattanooga today is about a dozen.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.