James Reeves Allison Was City's Watch Maker

Thursday, April 13, 2017 - by John Wilson

In Chattanooga's early days, James Reeves Allison was the city's chief silversmith and watch-maker. During the trying days of the Civil War, the Allisons were one of the few families to remain in town.

The Allisons reached Greene County, Tenn., in the early 1790s. David Allison Sr. in 1792 bought 200 acres on the north side of the Nolichucky River at Richland Creek. Younger Allisons in the same vicinity included Agnes who married William Henry in 1791, Elizabeth who married Hugh Blake in 1793, John who married Vise Reeves in 1797, Robert who married Susanna Smith in 1801, Mary who married John Davis in 1802, David Jr. who married Elizabeth Shields in 1804, and Margaret who married Samuel Reeves in 1808. John Allison had several hundred acres on the Nolichucky River, including 300 bought from Amos Bird in 1793.

James Reeves Allison was born in Greene County about 1816 and was apparently the son of John Allison and Vise Reeves. His father was a Pennsylvania native and his mother was originally from Virginia.

Sue Smith, an Allison descendant from Nashville and a genealogist who has done several books on early Davidson County records, believes James Reeves Allison traces back to John Allison, who died about 1770 in Newton Township at Cumberland County, Pa. He was said to be the son of William Allison, who died in 1739. John and his wife, Elizabeth, had John, Isabella, Robert and Elizabeth. In his will, John Allison of Cumberland County, Pa., mentioned his brother, Andrew Allison, of the Parish of Cappe in the County of Tyrone in Ireland, as well as “my estate in Ireland.”

John Allison, son of John of Cumberland County, Pa., made his way to Washington County, Tenn., where he died about 1800. Mrs. Smith believes John Allison, son of John Allison of Cumberland County, Pa., is the one who married Louisa “Vise” Reeves.That John Allison was born about 1776 and died in Greene County, Tenn., near the end of the Civil War. His children are listed as Anna, William who married Mary Jane Anderson,  Robert who married Lourinda Warrax, David Alexander who married Elizabeth Shields, James Reeves, Elizabeth who married Benjamin C. Jameson, Margaret who married Allen Bailey, and Mary Jane. 

James Reeves Allison made his way to Murray County, Ga., along with many other settlers after the Indian removal. Allison arrived in Chattanooga in 1852. His first wife, Jane, died here on June 4, 1858. She was buried in Citizens Cemetery. The following year, J.R. Allison took a young wife. He married Sallie Ellen Lipp, a native of Culpepper County, Va., who was just 17. He was 43. The ceremony was performed on May 31 by the Rev. W.E. Munsey at the residence of the bride's family. Sallie was the daughter of Henry William and Frances Jane Hoffman Lipp. The following year, Henry Lipp died in Atlanta. Frances Lipp then came to Chattanooga,and she married Frederick Divine in 1871.

The Allisons lived on the side of Cameron Hill at the corner of Pine and Seventh streets near Dr. L.Y. Green. The Allison shop was on Market Street near Fifth. It was near the Kennedy House. During the war, the Allisons stayed put though the city was repeatedly shelled and one army after the other held sway. They endured the terrible siege in the late summer of 1863, when food could scarcely be found. The family was forced to obtain permission from the military authorities to use the water from their own well. At the height of the siege, streams of thirsty soldiers made their way to enjoy the cold Allison well water. At one time, the Allisons were told that they would have to vacate their home to allow its use by a captain as his headquarters. James Allison wrote a letter to military authorities in protest, saying he was caring for a family of 16 and had been limited to use of just two rooms of his house. He said the family included his aged mother, and he said his wife "is now in very delicate health.'' Allison noted his loyalty to the Union, citing several Chattanoogans who could vouch for him, including Postmaster James R. Hood and Sheriff George Rider. The Allisons were allowed to keep their house.

At the time of the Battle Above the Clouds, the Allisons climbed to the top of Cameron Hill and tried to watch the fighting through the fog. On another occasion, future president James A. Garfield stopped by the Allison home. It is said that he saw a white linen coat hanging on a hook and asked if he could use it. "The request was promptly and willingly granted.''

James R. Allison was an alderman representing the Third Ward during the early part of the war. He went into office in June of 1861 after Rufus Tankesley resigned to go fight for the Confederacy. At the time the aldermen were getting paid $35 a month, but they protested this rate and were raised to $60. Allison served through a portion of 1863. At the end of the war, he was an election judge for the city on several occasions. Allison on Dec. 4, 1864, registered for military duty in the Union's Civic Guard at Chattanooga.

The first Allison child by his second wife was Joseph, who died at a young age. A daughter,Nora Louvenia, was born just before the war.

Another son, Marcellius Blucher, arrived Feb. 24,1862 - after the war had started. James Wright was born on Jan. 19, 1865, just before the war's end. The other children were Istallena B. and John Henry Francis.

J.R. Allison kept his Market Street shop open for a number of years after the war. But he felt Chattanooga was so lawless during the post-war years that it was no place to raise children. He bought a farm at Birchwood about 1876 and moved to a dog-trot farmhouse there. The family would still visit Chattanooga on occasions, and they often would ride the steamboat. To alert the captain to pick them up, they would wave a towel in the daytime and a lantern at night.

Nora Allison married Stephen C. Pyott, a Rhea Springs, Tenn., native who was a clerk on one of the boats that plied the river between Chattanooga and Knoxville. Then he was a deputy revenue collector for eight East Tennessee counties. He was sheriff of Hamilton County from 1884 to 1886.

Istallena Allison married Franklin W. Blair, who was in the lumber business. His sawmill was at Douglas Street near the river. The family lived at 799 East Fourth St. Marcellius Blucher Allison was a railroad engineer. He married Mary Catherine “Molly” Abston, who was from Roane County. Their children were Sarah Edith, Tommie Catherine who married Roy R. Hill, Hazel Evan who married Harry C. Pierce, Minette, Blucher Frank James who married Marian Scott Kinkaid, Grace Elizabeth who married Alexander S. Benton, Marian Willene who married Sam Kennedy Green, Mary Marcena who married Duval E. George, and Mildred who married Herschel Houston.

Marcellius B. Allison died in 1940 at Muncie, Ind. James Wright Allison worked at the Blair saw mill, then later he was a railroader. He married Nancy A. Samples. Their children were Ethel, James Reeves who married Lou Della Pendergrass, Martha Ellen who married Jesse James Pendergrass, John A. who married Minnie Jane Priddy, Malissa who married Jeff A. Roark, Nannie Lena who married Willie Clivo Bower, Rodney Elmer, Stephen Caywood who was killed in World War II, and Thomas who married Lillian Bell Roark. John Henry Francis Allison had a farm at Sherman Heights. He later lived at Birchwood. He married Margaret Tennessee Beavers. Their children were Sarah, Ed, John Henry who married Icie Eldridge, Thomas Jefferson, Clifford Francis, Margaret Tennessee, Lenny Mae, Malissa Estelle and Leanna.

J.R. Allison was residing with his daughter, Mrs. Pyott, at Fifth and Cedar streets when he died in early June in 1892. He had fainted while walking near the home about a week earlier. His burial was at Citizens Cemetery. He was "an honored citizen and a man of sterling worth, whose friendship was everlasting.'' Another said he was "a well-known man for a considerable period after the war. He enjoyed a wide range of friendships.''

The Blair children included Blucher, Walker, Sarah who married Ralph Dwight, Hester who married Wray Boyd, Lena who married Carl Weigel, and Frances who married Dr. Dan Williams. Carl Weigel was chief engineer at Combustion Engineering before starting his own boiler firm. His son, Blair Weigel, and grandson,Edward R. Weigel, long operated Weigel Engineering Company. Dan Williams, son of Dr. Dan Williams and Frances Blair, remained in Chattanooga.

The Allison home on Cameron Hill fell to the wreckers, and the Blair home on Fourth Street was taken down for a parking lot for McKenzie Arena.


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