Ask Hamilton – 1909 Lookout Mountain Hill Climb



Dear Hamilton,
I was looking at a timeline of local history, and there was a marker that read “Lookout Mountain Hill Climb, 1909.” What was that, and what is a hill climb?
Sincerely,
Chronologically Curious

 



Dear Curious,

Hill climbs were wildly popular events in the first two decades of the 1900s. Marketed as displays of automobile power and performance, they showcased daredevils accelerating up winding mountain roads in a time-trial format – each man racing against the clock. Auto manufacturers sent their own teams from competition to competition, as a victory was considered proof of a car model’s value.

Among the most notable of these races, the Lookout Mountain Hill Climb was held on April 22, 1909. Organized by the newly formed Lookout Mountain Autombile Club, it placed Lookout Mountain at the forefront of the public eye. Huge crowds flocked to watch the nation’s top drivers, the city’s banks and businesses closed, and it was declared a local holiday.

The 4.9-mile uphill course, which ran from the foot of Lookout Mountain to the newly completed Lookout Mountain Boulevard at the summit, featured a total of 65 turns, including  three “Ws,” a double “S,” and a “hairpin” curve. Many bluffs were cut away to widen the road, and heavy fences were placed at danger points.

It should be noted that these races were not for the faint of heart. Hill climbers did not “guide” their cars around sharp turns; they skidded around them at speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour! Fortunately, there were no serious accidents – only two derailments, and both drivers managed to hang on for their lives. Driver Louis Doerhoff shot into a ditch at the hairpin turn where he and his mechanic were thrown out in front of the large crowd (they were painfully bruised, but otherwise unharmed).

The fastest time was made by none other than Louis Chevrolet, who completed the ascent in 6 minutes and 30 seconds at dusk. The famed Frenchman drew admiration on all sides, for the victory came only after two accidents, one broken wheel and one blown tire (these misfortunes disqualified him as the official winner since it took three attempts to reach the summit).   

Hope this helps!

Yours sincerely,
Hamilton Bush, Resident History Hound
Chattanooga, Tennessee


 

Starting Line // View of spectators at the starting line, where the Southern Railroad was in the process of constructing a bridge. The proposed bridge abutments provided an excellent perch for sightseeing.

 


 


Enlisted // Race officials arranged for the Twelfth United States Cavalry from Fort Oglethorpe to guard the course. Soldiers used red flags for danger and white flags to announce oncoming cars.

 


 


Trek to the Top // Spectators started climbing the hill to perch along the racecourse early in the morning. People were still pouring up the course when the bugle blew for the start.

 


 


The Winner // Fastest time in the free-for-all competition was made by Lewis Strang, who ascended to the peak in 6 minutes and 39 seconds. Pictured here: Lewis Strang skidding around a curve in his winning Buick.

 


 


The Buick Team // Lewis Strang, official winner of the free-for-all, with teammate Louis Chevrolet.

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