Tour of Tennessee {Chattanooga: Read House, Ruby Falls, Rock City}

We kicked off our Tour of Tennessee close to home in Chattanooga.  We headed out of town Friday afternoon excited for our first adventure!

Day 1: Chattanooga

I adore historic buildings and couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay at The Read House.  Originally opened in 1856 and rebuilt in 1926, The Read House is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places and has hosted cultural icons like Winston Churchill, Gary Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and Al Capone.  The hotel has a great location, right in the downtown area and within walking distance to many attractions.

I did a little digging into the history of The Read House before our visit.  John is just as enamored by this stuff as I am so I had to know all the facts!  Back in 1856, The Crutchfield House stood on these grounds.  Located in the city’s center across from the Union Depot, it was Chattanooga’s first major railroad hotel serving travelers on both the Western and Atlantic and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroads. It was a focus of Chattanooga’s bustling economic and social activity.

During 1862, the Crutchfield hotel served as a Confederate headquarters for the garrison in and around Chattanooga. The commander, Gen. Samuel Jones, turned the hotel into a hospital in the winter. When Union troops occupied the town on September 9, 1863, the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry planted its regimental colors “on the third story of the Crutchfield House, the first to float over the evacuated town.” During the occupation, the hotel served as hospital for 500 Union soldiers wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga.

The Crutchfield House survived the war but burned in 1867. In 1926, Dr. and Mrs. John T. Read constructed the Georgian Revival-style Read House Hotel on the Crutchfield House hotel site.

The Reads set out to build the finest hotel Chattanooga had ever seen.  Over time, the Read House Hotel became synonymous with opulence and luxury.  It opened officially on New Year’s Day in 1872 to the excitement of the locals. The hotel was comprised of “terrazzo floors inlaid with marble, indoor paneling of quarter-sawed walnut, carved and gilded woodwork, mirrors recessed in massive arches and a lobby beautifully defined by its soaring columns.”

During the illustrious Gilded Age of the early 1900s, it was said that The Read House Hotel glimmered under the starry night–a beacon to all who wished to waltz through its doors and discover what Chattanooga had to offer.  The hotel seemed to have fallen into disrepair and was remodeled after, but we still loved exploring remnants of the past, like mail shoots, mail slots, old elevator dials, and telephone booths.

John was an eager participant in my hotel “explorations” during our stay.  One evening we came across this beautiful but mysterious Silver Ballroom on the second floor.  After peering through all of the doors, we HAD to look it up to learn more.  We found that during the aforementioned remodel, the contractors came across pair of sconces in this very room and, taking them for wrought iron, decided to toss them.  Bellman and employee for twenty-seven years, Howard Johnson insisted that they polish them rather than take them out.  It was discovered that the pair were solid silver and they can be found in the ballroom today!  (We went looking for ghosts but found silver sconces!)

Now, it’s not all glitz and glamour at Read House.  In fact, Room 311 is said to be haunted by Annalisa Netherly.  According to legend, Annalisa’s lover first brought her to the hotel sometime in the 1920s.  It seems she quickly took up with another man, parading her new love in front of her old suitor.  Soon after, she was found dead in the bathtub in Room 311 with her throat slashed open and her head nearly severed from her body. It was said that jealousy, or perhaps revenge, had been at the root of the murder.  There are other versions of the story saying that her first love turned to other women and abandoned Annalisa at the hotel where she died of a broken heart in Room 311.  Regardless, you can find various accounts on the internet that agree that Annalisa Netherly’s ghost still haunts Room 311 and she possesses a particular dislike of men, especially those who smoke.  On a different note, Chattanooga legend also purports that Al Capone was barred in Room 311 during his federal trial!  Again, John jumped at the chance to go on a little excursion to find this room.

In the spirit of complete honesty, I want to say that while the lobby was quite lovely, the room left much to be desired.  The beds and floors were clean and the room was spacious.  BUT, it was pretty worn down.  For example, wallpaper was peeling in places, there had been some poor repairs to water damage in the ceiling of the bathroom, and the shower head wasn’t even fully connected!  The room was relatively inexpensive (around $130/night) and the hotel has a great location within walking distance of attractions and restaurants, as well as on the little electric bus line (free).  Overall we had a fine stay here but the rooms do not mirror the quality of the lobby.

(Yikes!  I did not intend to prattle on about the history of the hotel.  There is SO much to cover still!!!  So, without further ado…)

After getting settled in at the hotel our first night, we walked a few blocks to dinner.  On the way we passed multiple nods to Coke.  In fact, Chattanooga is home to the world’s first Coca-Cola bottler!!

We dined on pizza at Lupi’s and, honestly, it was nothing to write home about.  I actually feel bad writing that because it seems to have quite a following in Chattanooga.

After dinner we headed right across the street to MoonPie General Store!!!  Honey’s favorite, and I mean FAVORITE, sweet treat is the MoonPie so this was a must.  Back in the early 1900s, Chattanooga Bakery was home to the MoonPie at just five cents each.  One hundred years later (2017!) and MoonPie is going strong.  The General Store had all sorts of nostalgic gifts and wares, but the star is the variety of MoonPies.  You can have them right out of the package, in ice cream sandwich form, and even as a custom milkshake or sundae!!

I took mine with an RC Cola, the way they were meant to be served :-)

Honey and the boys bellied up to the bar and tried theirs in shake and sundae form!

We all thought it was a fun, yummy and nostalgic way to end our first night in Tennessee!

On the way back to Read House, we stopped to explore Neural Alley.  We learned that Neural Alley is one of a few public architecture exhibits installed by the city in the space between Chattanooga’s buildings (ie. alleys).  Here you find painted blocks that can be arranged to create pixelated images.  Passers by move the blocks to create their own art and the entire project is digitally captured!  You can view the evolution of this entire and extraordinarily unique piece of urban art at neuralalley.com.  It is a digital timeline and quite fascinating!!

Day 2: Chattanooga

On our first full day in Chattanooga, we were up and at ’em bright and early to explore the Lookout Mountain attractions.  Our first stop was Ruby Falls, America’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public.  It was discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert and a team of excavators over 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain.  The adventure starts at the Cavern Castle, modeled after a 15th century Irish Castle and constructed from limestone reclaimed from the elevator excavation in the 1920s!

Your tour begins on an elevator that takes you 260 feet down into the historic Lookout Mountain.  Then, you wind your way through the paths of the caverns seeing some pretty remarkable natural formations along the way.

The paths are quite manageable and easy to walk.  You do have to stay aware of formations over head that you could walk right into, but it is an easy and fascinating trek to the waterfall.  The guide will point out formations like the cactus and candle, frozen niagara, fish, potato chip and more along the way.  It is all quite awe inspiring in its natural beauty.

Your journey will eventually lead you to the breathtaking Ruby Falls.  At 145-feet, it is named one of the ten most incredible cave waterfalls on Earth.  I vividly remember seeing this as a child.  It is quite incredible!

Our guide insisted that we take this photo, along with every other family on the tour.  Hmmm…

If you go:

  • Go early – as in when they open!  We were on the second tour of the day and the line was extremely long by the time we got back to Cavern Castle.
  • The paths are all paved and easy to navigate, but the cavern is wet in places and the formations are dirty.  I only mention this because you might not want to wear brand new shoes and clothes.  John rubbed up against something that never came out of his shirt.
  • Take a camera – you can use flash and photograph and video anything you like.
  • Our guide was incredibly funny, engaging and knowledgeable.  They do accept tips at the end.
  • You will only have about 3 minutes at the actual waterfall.  They really shuttle you in and out.  Don’t dawdle – start taking your pictures / video immediately.  At the end of your group’s turn they shut out the lights and move you out.
  • Consider buying combo tickets.  We purchased Rock City, Ruby Falls AND the Aquarium at the same time and saved a fair amount of money.
  • There are no bathrooms in the cavern so be sure to use the facility before getting on the elevator.
  • Parking is free.

Located just a few minutes away from Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain, our second stop of the day was Rock City.  Like Ruby Falls, I remember visiting here with my family as a child!  We had so much fun letting the boys stretch their legs and explore this beautiful botanical and geological wonder.

You never knew what would be around the next turn in this city of ancient rock formations.  We had so much fun squeezing through the Needle’s Eye…

Inching our way through Fat Man Squeeze…

And on the 180 foot Swing-A-Long Bridge!

At the top there are spectacular and sweeping views of Chattanooga and beyond.

In fact, Chattanooga is home to the legendary “See 7 States” view – Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama!

My favorite view of all was Lovers Leap.   Native American legend has it that two lovers from dueling tribes both met their death here.  After eloping and being hunted down, the man was thrown from the point.  His heartbroken wife then leapt to her death after him.

Honey would not join us out on Observation Point, but he was happy to get our pic from back on solid ground :-)

In addition to the incredible views, gardens and rock formations, Rock City is also home to Fairyland Caverns.

Right inside the gate is a pretty spectacular wall…

… but after that is a whole land of glow in the dark figures telling various fairy tales. This strange little place has been creeping out children since 1932.  I figure it first got me around 1988.  HA!  It hasn’t changed at all.

If you go:

  • Rock City is a self guided tour and can be done is as little or much time as you like.  I would leave 1-2 hours for it in order to take your time and explore all of the little nooks and crannies.
  • There are bathrooms and even a restaurant up top.
  • Parking is free.
  • Wear good walking shoes as you will have stairs, bridges, and changes in elevation.
  • You can take pictures and video.
  • Take quarters to use the binoculars up top.
  • Be sure to get a Rock City bird house in some size, shape or form as an iconic Chattanooga souvenir!  We got a Christmas ornament.

After our morning expeditions we were ravenous!  We had lunch at the “southern coastal” 1885 Grill in the St. Elmo neighborhood at the base of Lookout Mountain.  Everything we had was extremely good and we very much enjoyed our meal!   I would highly recommend this for lunch or dinner!!

For dessert we walked right across the street to Clumpies Ice Cream Co., opened by the son of a third generation candy maker.  The ice cream is hand crafted and their flavor selection was incredibly unique.  I had chocolate almond chunk and it was delicious!!

The third attraction on Lookout Mountain is the Incline Railway.  We didn’t do this one, but it can be purchased in combo with the other attractions and leaves right from St. Elmo near 1885 Grill and Clumpies.  It would be a good third stop after lunch if you wanted to do it!

I’ll be back tomorrow for the rest of our adventures in Chattanooga and then our arrival in Dollywood!!

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Dixie Delights Tour of Tennessee

in collaboration with
Dollywood  |  Visit Nashville  |  Memphis Travel

Chattanooga
Part 1 – Read House, Ruby Falls, Rock City + More
Part 2 –  Wild Cave Expedition, Tennessee Aquarium + More

Dollywood
Part 3 – Dollywood + Dixie Stampede
Part 4 – Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort

Knoxville
Part 5 – a quick morning in the city

Nashville
Part 6 – Hattie B’s, Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame
Part 7 – Hermitage Hotel, Wildhorse Saloon, Draper James

Memphis
Part 8 – famous ducks and rock-n-roll
Part 9 – civil rights and more

I also wanted to announce the winner of my elephant parade stationery giveaway!  The winner is Penny!! Please email me with your info and choice of item from my elephant parade line.

DIXIE DELIGHTS DELIVERED

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4 thoughts on “Tour of Tennessee {Chattanooga: Read House, Ruby Falls, Rock City}

  1. This post brought back so many childhood memories for me! Sadly, we’ve yet to take the boys! Maybe that will be our Fall Break trip this year…

  2. We were in the Chattanooga area in April, it was suppose to be in the 60’s and low 70’s during our stay. It turned out to be “the coldest week we have had this season”, according to the meteorologists! Ironically, we ate at Lupi’s too, and ours was ok. I missed Neural Alley, didn’t know it was there! Guess I will have to make another trip to that beautiful area! Thanks for sharing.

    1. We lucked out with pleasant weather while in Chattanooga. It got much colder towards the end of the week when we were in Nashville and Memphis! We didn’t hate Lupi’s, we just have so many great pizza places at home that it didn’t live up to its hype, in my opinion :-)

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