Ask Hamilton – Local Garden Clubs

(Above) Mrs. Elise Y. Chapin (1868-1957) was the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs’ first president, as well as the president of the Garden Club of Signal Mountain for a time. She was an advocate for the natural beauty of Tennessee’s wildflowers. The Elise Chapin Wildlife Sanctuary at Chattanooga Audubon Society is named in her honor.

Dear Hamilton,
I’m new to Chattanooga, and I’ve been amazed at how beautiful the city is. I’ve joined a local gardening club because I want to be part of continuing to beautify the city, and I’ve learned there’s a bit of a history to it. Can you tell me more?
Beauty Admirer


Dear Admirer,

You are correct! There is ample history of beautifying the city – a plethora of garden clubs were organized by many prominent ladies in the first half of the 1900s. Among others, there were the Lookout Mountain Beautiful Garden Club (est. 1912), The Garden Club of Lookout Mountain (est. 1916), the Garden Club of Signal Mountain (est. 1921), and the Highland Park Garden Club (est. 1925). Clubs based on certain flowers were also established, including the Chattanooga Rose Society (est. 1932) and the Chattanooga African Violet Society (est. 1947).

Besides being a social club, these garden clubs were extremely active in the community, working to better Chattanooga through not just beautification but also cultivation, conservation, and preservation. They planted city gardens and landscaped road-side beds. They were active in schools with junior garden clubs, teaching children about nature and the importance of conservation. They visited nursing homes, hospitals, and orphanages, bringing beauty with them. These garden clubs also dabbled in wildlife conservation and preservation of historic sites. Members of The Garden Club of Lookout Mountain were principals in the restoration of Cravens House on the side of Lookout Mountain.

These clubs hosted national flower shows, held local competitions, and were connected to statewide and national garden networks, like The Garden Club of America and the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs (TFGC). The TFGC was actually established in Chattanooga in 1926, when delegates and representatives from 17 of Tennessee’s 34 garden clubs met at The Read House.

Many of these garden clubs are still in existence today and now include men and women. They’ve done so much to make our city a more beautiful place!

Hope this helps!

Hamilton Bush,

Resident History Hound

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Mrs. Kathleen Lebron municipal garden club president chattanooga

Mrs. Kathleen Lebron served as president of the Municipal Garden Club, one of Chattanooga’s largest and most important civic organizations. The Municipal Garden Club managed many of the parks and gardens in Chattanooga.

Check out a float that the Highland Park Garden Club decorated for a parade on May 4, 1931. This parade opened Flower, Music, and Shopping Week in Chattanooga, and over 100 garden clubs participated in the parade.

Ask Hamilton –

The Chattanooga Rose Society worked with the city and Mr. John F. Brizzie to plant a municipal rose garden at Warner Park in 1932. The red Etoile de Hollande rose, considered Chattanooga’s official rose, was a part of the first planting. This garden was unfortunately removed in 2007. Pictured is Mrs. Clarence B. Doiron, Rose Society officer, in the garden.

Of course we can’t forget the beautiful Rock City Gardens, a whimsical landscape of flowers, gnomes, fairytale characters, and boulders. Frieda Utermoehlen Carter imagined and created this enchanted garden in the late 1920s and early 1930s. As we all know, her husband recognized the business potential of the garden and opened Rock City in 1932. The Garden Club of America presented the Award of Achievement in 1933 to Mrs. Carter for her outstanding contributions in horticulture and conservation at Rock City Gardens.


Photos Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and Rock City Gardens

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