St. Elmo Historic District
St. Elmo & Incline, circa 1900
St. Elmo is a beloved neighborhood here and one of several Chattanooga neighborhoods designated as a local historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You may have noticed the late Victorian architecture styles of Queen Anne, gabled ell, and Colonial Revival, along with early 20th century styles of Craftsman/bungalow and Tudor Revival.
Colonel Abraham Malone Johnson and his wife, Thankful Whiteside Johnson, are considered the founders of St. Elmo. They acquired land at the foot of Lookout Mountain shortly after the Civil War and built a beautiful residence on Alabama Avenue. Col. Johnson was instrumental in the formation of several local organizations and companies, including the water company that would become Tennessee American Water and The Chattanooga Medicine Company (now Sanofi).
As Chattanooga residents fled the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, many settled on Lookout Mountain and at the base of the mountain. Seeing the desire for land outside the city, Colonel Johnson divided his land into residential and commercial lots for sale and named the burgeoning community St. Elmo in honor of the popular 19th century novel, St. Elmo. The author, Augusta Evans, was a personal friend of his wife and is said to have written part of the novel while visiting them.
St. Elmo was still somewhat removed from Chattanooga proper, so Col. Johnson, along with Z.C. Patten and other prominent Chattanooga residents, financially backed the formation of The Chattanooga-St. Elmo Street Railroad Company, which formed a horse-drawn street rail line between St. Elmo and the city in 1885. By the 1890s, electric streetcar lines began running from Chattanooga to St. Elmo, increasing residents’ interest in moving out to the “country.” Opened in 1895, the Incline Railway allowed for easier transportation up and down the mountain and drew in tourists as well.
As the small community grew, they established their own schools and churches, and in 1905, St. Elmo incorporated and formed a town commission. It wasn’t until 1929 that the city of Chattanooga annexed St. Elmo.
If you’d like to know more, there is a St. Elmo resident, Jeffrey Web, who has written a book on St. Elmo called, St. Elmo, Yesterday and Today.
Hope this helps!
Resident History Hound
St. Elmo & Incline, circa 1920