Hamilton County Pioneers - the Vaughn Family

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 - by John Wilson

In the years prior to the Civil War, Foley Vaughn was a leading Chattanooga merchant. He was a staunch anti-slavery man, who was personally acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. When the Baptist Church at Chattanooga was badly damaged during the war, Foley Vaughn was largely responsible for rebuilding it

Vaughn was a native of Virginia, and both of his parents were born there as well. However, he had lived at Bowling Green, Ky., prior to moving to Chattanooga. His wife was Emmeline Maxey. It was while living in Kentucky that their daughter, Jennie, was born in 1846.

Foley Vaughn was in the dry goods and auction house business in the 500 block of Market Street with John L. Divine. They did so much business that they expanded to another building up the street, then they began occupying a fine store built of “hand-dressed lumber” at the corner of Sixth and Market.

But, as the war approached, Vaughn was so opposed to slavery that he left the South. He moved to Springfield, Ill., and set up business near the Lincoln law office. Lincoln came to know him and to greet him as “Friend Vaughn.” After Lincoln was elected president, Foley Vaughn made a trip to Washington and went to the White House to see his old
friend. Once again Lincoln greeted him as “Friend Vaughn.” Vaughn was a delegate to the national convention at Baltimore in 1864 that nominated Lincoln for a second term as president.

After the close of the war, the Vaughns ventured back to Chattanooga. When they viewed the Baptist Church, they were dismayed to find that the fence was gone, the trees had been chopped down, and the church was in disrepair. This was at the southwest corner of Sixth and Lookout streets, where the County Courthouse now stands. Through Vaughn's leadership, the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga was reopened. The
Vaughns continued to take a leading part. Mrs. Vaughn would bake the bread for the communion service, while the distiller T.C. Betterton would provide the wine. Mrs. Vaughn kept at her house the church's communion service, which consisted of a silver tankard, two cups and two plates. She regularly polished this service, which was a gift from the First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C.

Visiting Baptist preachers would stay at the Vaughn house in “the preacher's room.” It was a privilege to have some of the Baptist divines at their house. However, not all the clergymen were so welcome. During the great flood of 1867, a preacher, his wife and four children came to stay until their place in South Chattanooga was out of the water. They were with the Vaughns nearly a month until Foley Vaughn had their home cleaned and filled with groceries. Then they left “reluctantly,” while the Vaughns felt “it was a joy to see them go.” That was the recollection of a Vaughn granddaughter.

Foley Vaughn built his home in sight of the Baptist Church at the corner of McCallie and Georgia avenues. He purchased a lot in 1869 from Thomas McCallie for $1,200. A 10-room brick house was erected on a hill at this site as a gift to Mrs. Vaughn. Foley
Vaughn had always said he wanted to build her a house like her father's near Bowling Green. However, Mrs. Vaughn never got to occupy the house. She died on June 2, 1870. The foundation of the house was of large stones that were said to be big enough for a store building. Vaughn believed in a firm foundation so these heavy stones were secured from the old Stone Fort near 11th Street. Bricks for the house were handmade. The house had a hall in the center and rooms on each side. There was a latticed porch at the rear
and a servant's room and coal room at the back. The large, high-ceilinged rooms had iron mantels with markings to resemble marble. However, there was a real marble mantel in the parlor that was the pride of the house. The Vaughn house was one of the few that was piped for water in the kitchen and had gas lighting. However, the family was afraid to go into the cellar with a light, lest there might be a gas leak and an explosion. Therefore, all the household supplies were brought up before dark. For keeping the milk and butter, a trench was dug in the cellar and was filled with gravel. From time to time, cold water was poured on it. A block of ice covered with sawdust would often be added in the summer. Since the river water was considered too muddy to use, a cistern in the yard supplied the drinking water. Water from the gutters was filtered through charcoal into this cistern. A grape arbor led from the house to the barn, where Vaughn kept a horse and a cow. There was also a vegetable garden and an orchard. A stone wall enclosed the lot.

Vaughn re-opened his dry goods store on Market Street. He was now assisted by Henry Harrison Knox, a Confederate veteran who convalesced the last part of the war at Athens, Tenn. The Vaughns were also in Athens at this time. Knox was married to Jennie Vaughn.

Foley Vaughn was living at Athens when he died in March of 1887 at the age of 87. He was eulogized as “a consistent and most devoted member of the Baptist Church and a most estimable Christian gentleman.” The body was sent back to Chattanooga by
train and many citizens were at the depot when it arrived. At the Baptist Church there was “no sermon, but a talk on his life.” The minister spoke of his “Christian character noble and pure, of his honorable life and acts that were upright and righteous.”

Emma Sue Knox, granddaughter of Foley Vaughn, had been born at Athens at the close of the war. She graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1883 and taught music at Carson-Newman College for four years prior to her marriage to George Madison Smartt. The Smartts lived on Oak Street not far from the Vaughn residence.

In the early 1900s, the Foley Vaughn house was torn down and the hill was leveled to make way for an apartment project by J.T. Lupton. The Elizabeth Apartments were then built at the site. A small city park is now at this location.

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