Robert Cravens was an ironmaster, coming to the Chattanooga area in the early 1850s. His iron business consisted of a blast furnace, a foundry, and a machine shop manufacturing mostly railroad engines and freight cars. By the late 1850s, Cravens was an established businessman in the community and was considered wealthy for the period. Deciding to make the Chattanooga area home, Cravens purchased land on the eastern slopes of Lookout Mountain. The original Cravens House, called “Alta Vista,” was completed in 1856 and was a modest one-story dwelling, with six rooms.
By late summer 1863, the clouds of war had drifted into the small rail town of Chattanooga. In the aftermath of the Battle of Chickamauga, the city became overrun with US troops. Confederates encircled the city from the north end of Missionary Ridge to Lookout Valley. Cravens supported the Confederacy, although, he had strongly opposed secession. On Lookout Mountain, Confederates occupied the summit, mid-slopes, and base. For over a month the Cravens family lived a siege within a siege. Confederate officers lived inside the house with the family, while the enlisted men were encamped all around the front yard. Cravens and his family continued to live in their home even though it had become the Confederate’s main line of defense against a potential attack. Eventually, the constant shelling by US cannon forced the family to leave their home and move to Woods Station, near Ringgold, Georgia.
On the morning of November 24, US General Joseph Hooker with approximately 10,000 men ascended the mountain and swept around the slopes of Lookout Mountain, attacking Confederate General Edward C. Walthall’s brigade of 1,500 Mississippians. By early afternoon, the Confederates had been pushed back beyond the house. During the night, all Confederates were withdrawn from Lookout Mountain and moved to join their other forces on Missionary Ridge.
After the Battles for Chattanooga, the city became the military base of operations for the Atlanta Campaign. With the hustle and bustle of military movement in Chattanooga, many newspaper correspondents came to the area. These correspondents set up their camp in the Cravens House front yard, where they wrote, sketched, and photographed. Though the “White House,” as the soldiers referred to it, had been repeatedly hit by cannon and small arms fire, it was intact after the battle. But during the days following, the house was almost completely stripped away. Much of the house was used as flooring for the soldiers’ and correspondents’ tents and as firewood. Also, many soldiers literally took parts of the house as souvenirs symbolizing their experiences on Lookout Mountain.
The Cravens family returned to Lookout Mountain at the end of the Civil War. Finding practically nothing left of their home, Robert Cravens decided to rebuild the house during 1865/1866. He continued to live in the new house until his death in 1886, and Mrs. Cravens lived in the house until her death in 1896.
In the 1950s, the Cravens House was restored to its present post-Civil War appearance by the Chattanooga Chapter of the Association for Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities. Today, the Cravens House is administered by the National Park Service.
By the time of the Civil War, Robert Cravens was one of Chattanooga's most industrial citizens. His white house, sitting on the side of Lookout Mountain, became a focal point prior to and during the Battle of Lookout Mountain.
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Last updated: December 17, 2021