3IYT: The origins of St. Elmo
The recorded history of St. Elmo starts in the late eighteenth century when it was a trading area at the intersection of two major Indian trails. Known as the Cross Roads, it was the home of Daniel Ross, the father of John Ross. After the Civil War the area was known as Kirkland or Kirklandtown after George Kirkland, the local postmaster.
The reputation of the area here though in Antebellum days was anything but savory. Saloons being most prominent, it was a rendezvous for gamblers, chicken fighting and shooting matches.
By 1878 though, the area began to change. The yellow fever outbreak created a desire for those who could afford it to flee the downtown area. Since access to Lookout Mountain prior to the completion of Ochs Highway proved to be difficult, many stayed in the valley below.
St. Elmo as it is now known began in 1879 when Colonel A.M. Johnson began subdividing and developing the land. The name St. Elmo, is derived from the title of the novel, St. Elmo by Augusta Evans Wilson. Wilson spent several summers in the valley area before the Civil War and thought the area looked similar to that of St. Elmo castle in Naples, Italy.
In 1885 Col. Johnson expanded and renamed the area from Kirkland to St. Elmo after Augusta Wilson's book. By this point and time hundreds of thousands of copies were in circulation. There are actually many identifiable locations like in the first chapter where a duel was fought in the ravine north of the street, Thankful Place.
In an op-ed piece written by Zeboim C. Patten in 1892, the area was a great place to settle because of the cooler summers. He wrote, “During the summer days from June to October the long, hot afternoons are shortened by the shade of the (Lookout) mountain, and from one to two hours before sunset in the city and its other suburbs, the residents of St. Elmo are enjoying a delightful twilight.”
Johnson had flattened and graded what became St. Elmo Avenue to what is now 45th Street. Being president of the city water company, he laid water line the length of the avenue. Soon trolley car tracks also ran there. Chattanooga's first suburb was growing rapidly.