The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.
The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.
By Meghan O’Dea
Many a young bride is given a beautiful gemstone as a romantic token, but few went so far as Leo Lambert, who gave his wife Ruby a geological treasure of a different sort– a whole cave and waterfall deep inside Lookout Mountain. “It was truly a love story from the beginning,” says Leo and Ruby’s granddaughter Jeanne Crawford. “He had fallen in love with her when she was 14 and he was 15 and followed her to Chattanooga from Indiana.”
A chemist with a penchant for caving, Lambert was originally intent on preserving a famous cave that many early Native Americans, Chattanoogans, and even a U.S. President (Andrew Jackson) had explored. However, the famous Ruby Falls cave was found quite by accident.
The original cave had, unfortunately, been sealed off when the Southern Railway laid new tracks as Chattanooga entered its heyday as a railroad town. To get around the blockage, Leo Lambert, along with a mining company from Birmingham, Ala., drilled down from the top of the mountain to create an elevator shaft. Quite by accident, they discovered a second cave that proved even more beautiful and popular than the first. “It took an entire day to drive through five feet of solid limestone and they found the only crack in the whole thing,” says Crawford. “If they had drilled either way, they would have missed it.”
In trying to find a creative solution to a complicated problem, Leo Lambert redefined Chattanooga tourism and discovered one of the best natural wonders in the Southeast.
“My grandfather was a person who never stopped looking and learning. He never stopped singing his song,” Crawford says. “He used to say, ‘We travel through the valley, but if God gives you a vision, that is a glimpse of the reality He has planned for you. I think that’s how Leo felt when he discovered Ruby Falls.”
To Read About More of Chattanooga’s Founding Fathers, click the following links: