The Read House Hotel
The Read House Hotel is the longest continuously operated hotel in the South—it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2022. The story of The Read House parallels the history of Chattanooga itself. It holds within its glowing hallways and lush velvet-draped chambers the echoes of bygone eras, hushed murmurs of antebellum splendor, and echoes of post-war sorrow.
Construction and Early Years
The merging of the Western and Atlantic Rail Roads in the mid-1800s made Chattanooga much more accessible. Goods could be transported East to West, through Appalachia. With the influx of passengers and goods moving through, the city needed a hotel. In 1847 Thomas Crutchfield, who helped conduct surveys of the city in the 1830s and later (briefly) became the city’s mayor, converted his family home into the Crutchfield House, across from the Union Depot train warehouse.
Crutchfield House, ca. 1864
The Civil War Era
In January 21, 1861, at the eve of the Civil War, Jefferson Davis stopped at the hotel on his way home to Mississippi after resigning from the United States Senate. In the dining room, Davis delivered a speech in favor of secession, which was passionately countered by Union supporter William Crutchfield (Thomas Crutchfield, Jr.'s brother), who branded Davis a "renegade and a traitor.” The tension between the two men nearly erupted in a duel.
Months later in April, the war ignited, and Chattanooga found itself ensnared at the juncture of the opposing forces. During this time the Read House was used as a headquarters for confederate troops and then it was converted to “Ford Hospital” for Union soldiers injured at the Battle of Chickamauga, the costliest battle in the war’s western theater.
In 1867, the Crutchfield House found itself at the confluence of a more primal conflict—between the destructive forces of nature. 1867 marked the largest flood in Chattanooga’s history, with the deluge filling the hotel’s grant lobby with five feet of water. Small boats ferried people to check in at the front desk. The water eventually receded, but the building would not last the year, and burned to the ground a short time later.
The Late 1800s
A group of businessmen financed the construction of a three-story , Georgian-style office building on the site of the former Crutchfield House. Dr. John T. Read, a Civil War surgeon, purchased the building and christened it the "Read House" in his honor, opening it in 1872. The hotel became an important social center in Chattanooga, hosting numerous political and social events.
Grover Cleveland’s presidential victory was celebrated at the Read House in 1884.
In 1875, with the city in the grips of a devastating cholera outbreak, the location was requisitioned once more, serving as a quarantine facility and a hospital. Just two years later, a yellow fever epidemic further compounded the town's woes.
A New Era
In 1926, the Read House re-opened after a major transformation, the older parts of the hotel were stripped away and ten stories were added, with a design scheme influenced by the Palmer House in Chicago. During this period, it became a popular destination for travelers and was known for its luxurious accommodations and fine dining in the city’s center.
Newly erected Read House, 1926
A Distinguished Clientele
The Hotel continued to host famous and influential guests throughout the twentieth century. Winston Churchill and his daughter found respite at the Read House during his 1932 lecture tour. However, the visit took a rather public turn when Churchill made headlines by emphatically slamming the door of his suite on an inquisitive reporter.
A venerable roster of dignitaries and notables paraded through its hallowed corridors. Rutherford B. Hayes, Mexican President Miguel Aleman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Andrew Jackson all spent nights in the suites. Bing Crosby's dulcet tones graced its halls. Luminous stars such as Bette Davis, Liberace, and Bob Hope kindled the night's fervor with their brilliance. Even the notorious Al Capone found himself in the hotel's custody, a pause in his tumultuous journey.
The Read House Today
By the 1960s, the hotel had changed hands again, and underwent another renovation under the Noe Hotel chain. In 1977, it claimed its rightful real estate on the National Register of Historic Places. In the latter decades of the 1900s, the hotel saw a revolving door of ownership, with numerous different companies taking the reins.
Read House, ca. 1950
In 2016 the hotel underwent a final renovation; Avocet Hospitality Group bought the property and worked with locals, historians, and architects to create a modern adaptation of the1926 iteration of the design.
Today, the Read House still looms large in Chattanooga. Its modest façade conceals a lush interior of golden fixtures and glistening marble that immediately transports visitors to an opulent jazz era. Amidst these walls, you'll find yourself in the illustrious company of those who have shaped the tapestry of history.
Want to read more?
Check out the Read House’s history page.
Hidden in Plain Sight
History Blog Series
Chattanooga's history is everywhere! Welcome to a blog series delving into the intriguing historical gems scattered around Chattanooga. Explore the stories that make up this city’s rich past and form its culture of today.