Hamilton County Pioneers - the Warners

Sunday, January 18, 2009 - by John Wilson

When Joseph Henry Warner shifted his interest from the hardware business to trolleys in the early 1880s, Chattanooga was served by only a small horse-car line. By the time “Major” Warner was finished, there were some 50 miles of streetcar track radiating from downtown to the growing suburbs and the horses had been replaced by shiny electric cars. He even managed to install trolley rails down the center of McCallie Avenue, though its proud residents went to Chancery Court to try to stop him. Warner also helped establish two banks here, organized a slate company, and served on the city's first board of commissioners in 1911. His home at 500 Vine St. was one of the city's most
handsome residences.

The Warners had a distinguished origin -- with Capt. Augustine Warner arriving in Virginia from England prior to 1730. He was a justice and burger and member of the Virginia Council. His “Warner Hall” in Gloucester County was described in 1898 as “said to be the oldest colonial home now in existence -- built about 1635.” His daughter, Sarah, married Col. Laurence Townly, and Gen. Robert E. Lee was one of their
descendants. Augustine Warner Jr. studied in London, then returned to Virginia to marry Mildred Reade. He was also a member of the Virginia Council and was speaker of the House of Burgesses. A daughter, Isabella, married Col. John Lewis, and a descendant was explorer Meriweather Lewis. Another daughter, Mildred, married Laurence Washington. Their son, Augustine Washington, was the father of George Washington.

Major Warner was also descended from the Cartwrights. Robert Cartwright had been one of those who made the flatboat trip with John Donelson in 1779 that passed by the future Chattanooga. A brother of Robert Cartwright was killed by Indians near the area that became Ross's Landing. The Cartwrights were among the first residents of Middle Tennessee.

Jacob L. Warner, who was born at Buckingham County, Va., in 1806, made his way to
Sumner County, Tenn. A farmer and stockman, he was active in the Masons and the Presbyterian church. He married Elizabeth Cartwright, a granddaughter of Robert Cartwright. Their eldest son, James Cartwright Warner, married Mary Thomas Williams after going to Nashville in 1847 to clerk in a hardware store. One of his sisters was the wife of Dr. William Kennedy. In 1853, James C. Warner had moved on to Chattanooga to operate his own hardware. He lived in a two-story brick house on Montgomery Avenue (Main Street). James C. Warner was one of the organizers of the Centenary Methodist Church. He was mayor of Chattanooga when the war erupted in 1861, and he was in the 34th (Confederate) General Assembly from 1861-1863, representing Hamilton, Bledsoe, Rhea and Sequatchie counties. The James C. Warner children
were Leslie, James Cartwright Jr., Harry, Percy, Mary Thomas, Joseph, Andrew and Edwin Warren.

J.C. Warner sought to remain neutral during the war, though it was said that during his legislative term he “was active in procuring the passage of a series of measures separating or dissolving the connection between the state and the United States.” He sought to remain at home with eight women and six children. However, the Warner house was in the middle of a battlefield, and the family evacuated after the house was bombarded and a Federal soldier tried to set fire to it. The Warners fled, taking with them only the portraits of Mrs. Warner's parents. Their silver was hidden in a well, but was not found after the war. Soon after they left the house, the stately residence was taken down “from garret to cellar, so that scarcely one brick rested upon another.”

After the war, the James C. Warners settled in Nashville. J.C. Warner became a leading industrialist, heading the Tennessee Coal and Railroad Company. He was a pioneer in the manufacture of pig iron and charcoal. He died at Nashville in 1895. His family remained prominent in Nashville, and the city today has its Percy Warner Park.

Joseph H. Warner had joined Co. A of the 19th Tennessee Infantry in 1862 when he was 19. He was captured within sight of his home in the battle of Missionary Ridge, and he spent that night huddled at the Union Depot in the cold with no fire. Marching down Chestnut Street the next day, he saw his friend Hiram Rider, who was a Union soldier, and Warner was able to exchange his “bad hat for a good one.” He spent the remainder of the war in the Federal prison at Rock Island, Ill.

After the war, Joseph Warner clerked in a hardware at Davenport, Iowa, and had his own
hardware briefly in Nashville, but he was back in Chattanooga by December of 1865. The following year he married Alice Grey Hord of Rutherford County, Tenn. He opened J.H.
Warner & Co. hardware merchants that grew to occupy a commodious five-story brick building at Seventh and Market. There were 20 male employees as well as five traveling agents who worked several states. The Warner hardware carried products from the E.I. DuPont Co. among others.

In addition to his streetcar activities, Major Warner helped launch the Third National Bank and then, later, the Fourth National Bank. His slate company had mines in Blount County. The slate was shipped by river and rail for use in roofing and flagstones. He owned a line of Tennessee River steamboats, including the “J.C. Warner.”

The Warners first lived on Gilmer (East Eighth) Street, but they erected a large, brick
house on Vine Street at the corner of Palmetto in Fort Wood. The house featured a stained-glass window from Austria, silver door knobs from Germany, a third-floor ballroom, the “great golden orb” sunburst of oak in the side of the handsome staircase, fine paintings and classical friezes. There were a number of family servants, including a butler, cook, carriage man, upstairs maid and children's nurse. The children were Porter who married Katherine Jones, Nellie, Grey who married John M. Marshall, James who married Mary Matilda Linholm, and Mary Marguerite who married Augustine Littleton.

Major Warner was in charge of public parks during his term on the City Commission. The old Olympia Park was renamed Warner Park in his honor. Another of his projects was the old Citizens Cemetery that had fallen into disarray. He had it cleared and fenced. When Maj. Warner sold his Vine Street home and retired to Bradenton, Fla., he gave the wrought iron gates from the Vine Street residence for use at the cemetery. Major Warner was “conservative and unostentatious, but an enterprising businessman.” He was “quite cosmopolitan in his views, and as regards religion was a member of no church.” Mrs. Warner, however, at the time of her death in 1944, was the oldest living member
of First Presbyterian Church.

The Joseph Warner home still stands as one of the showplaces of historic Ford Wood.

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