Full of delightful downtowns and astounding attractions, Greater Chattanooga is a great place to experience Main Street again.
To understand Greater Chattanooga’s communities is to know its history. Roots to the land run deep for many residents of the region, as their ancestors survived off coal and natural resources for economic opportunity and basic necessities.
Throughout time, these communities adapted their lifestyles to serve a broader public. It’s a story of resilience, and now, residents across Greater Chattanooga are investing in their communities to preserve that hardworking heritage.
“There is a picture of my great-grandfather on top of the building laying brick,” Dunlap native Rebecca Card recalls. “What they did to establish this town, I just couldn’t see us tearing it down.”
Card and her husband, Lewis, are two of several residents of Dunlap investing in their Sequatchie County hometown and revitalizing its central business district. The couple, along with their son and business partner, Cody McCarver, bought six buildings with visions of different gathering spaces, like a biergarten, outfitters and a recording studio.
The first project in their endeavor, The Dunlap Mercantile, has already been a huge success. “I hear, ‘This is going to keep kids here,’” Lewis Card says about his grateful mercantile customers.
The 6,000-square-foot building, which opened in 1894 and housed a general store, has been transformed into a performance and event venue that includes overnight accommodations, a full kitchen, catering and a full stage.
Main Street Programs Spark Revitalizations
“Downtowns are the heartbeat of communities,” says Sharon Marr, executive director of Main Street Cleveland. “You’ve got to maintain these center parts for your identity now and for future generations.”
Cleveland, in Bradley County, Tennessee, is just one of the many quaint towns in Greater Chattanooga that revamped its downtown areas through Main Street programs. Walking around downtown Cleveland, visitors see Lee University’s campus, the Centenary Avenue Historic District, a greenway and unique small businesses that are resuscitating historic spaces.
“The Old Woolen Mill is this iconic structure that has an advanced studio, several great retail shops and then an artisan market that holds 80 vendors,” Marr says of the 1890s building that now also offers signature event space.
As MainStreet Cleveland listens to its community for its needs, Marr has noticed a push for more downtown spaces dedicated to visual arts. A similar example can be found in McMinnville, which has a mural that proudly showcases the town’s name with an old-fashioned postcard effect.
Also Embracing the Arts: Fort Payne, Alabama
Fort Payne, in Jackson County, Alabama, is another community that has benefitted from Main Street revitalization efforts and is seeing a flourish of artistic expression from its residents.
Home to the renowned country music act Alabama, Fort Payne has a long history with performing arts. DeKalb Theatre, built in 1935, and the Fort Payne Opera House, a historic theater opened in 1890, continue to be in use and are popular gathering spots. “I am blessed to live in a community where people care about their neighbors,” says Connie Fuller, interim director of Fort Payne Main Street.
Fort Payne’s running trail and a meditation garden complement its outdoor recreation opportunities, and the bustling downtown includes antique shops and unique boutiques and museums. “We’re not just sleepily living here,” Fuller says. “We are pretty active.”
Craft Brewing and Winemakers Boost Region
Craft brewing is a part of the renaissance in many Greater Chattanooga communities. Cherokee Brewing + Pizza Company in Dalton, Georgia; Mash & Hops Craft Beer in Cleveland; Copperhill Brewery in Polk County, Tennessee; and Monkey Town Brewing Co. in Rhea County are just a few examples of craft brewing’s contributions to the redevelopment and creation of gathering places.
“I think there is a demand for supporting local. It’s a great way to bring the community together.”
Kayela Wintjen, Georgia Winery
Ringgold is home to Georgia Winery, a pioneer in the farm and winemaking industry. Georgia Winery, along with other surrounding businesses, utilizes local agriculture for its appetizers and wholesales its sweet Southern wines to small vendors in Georgia and Southeast Tennessee. The winery includes a tasting room and is a popular visitor destination and event space.
“I think there is a demand for supporting local,” says Kayela Wintjen, Georgia Winery’s event and marketing manager. “It’s a great way to bring the community together.”