Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park will sponsor the Historic Cravens House Christmas Program on December 2 and 3. There will a living historical interpretation of how a traditional Christmas could have been observed on this very site. The National Park Service relies on the talents of the Lookout Mountain Beautiful Garden Club to make the transformation of the Cravens House a magical Christmas event. Chairwomen Mrs. Glynda Warren and Mrs. Chris Bailey researched extensively to understand the décor of that era, and their findings might very well surprise you.
Instead of rustic decorations, Christmas in America in the 1860s was under the Victorian influence of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who loved the extremely sophisticated German affects of the day. By the time of the Civil War, families were sending Christmas cards to faraway family members and friends, and these cards, portraying Victorian scenes of Christmases past, were saved and used as paper chains around the tree. Gold and silver garlands, made from foil chocolate wrappers, adorned the tree, and ladies searched their sewing boxes to make silk and velvet ornaments. Fruits were dipped in sugar to provide a little sparkle, and angels were seen throughout the homes, watching over the families. Knitted stockings danced in front of the fireplace, waiting to be filled with oranges, candy and nuts. Along with replicating these realistic decorations, the Lookout Mountain Beautiful Garden Club members will cut greenery and flowers native to Lookout Mountain to decorate the Cravens’ House: magnolia; fir; holly; beauty berries; spruce; pine; hydrangea and nandina.
Robert Cravens (1805-1888) was a pioneer Chattanooga industrialist who helped organize the East Tennessee Iron Manufacturing Company, chartered in 1847. This company consisted of a blast furnace and a foundry with a machine shop for the manufacture of both railroad engines and freight cars. He built the first blast furnace, which was coke-fueled, in Chattanooga, and it still remains operational.
In 1854, Robert Cravens purchased 1,000 acres, where he maintained orchards, grew cotton and built an L-shaped summer home, which he called “Alta Vista” because of its magnificent views. His home became the site for the Civil War’s “Battle Above The Clouds” on Nov. 24, 1863. This historic landmark witnessed some of the most intense and decisive fighting of the Civil War. His home, which was the only remaining Civil War-era structure on the mountain, was used as a headquarters for both armies. On Nov. 24, 1863, Union troops took possession of the Cravens House from the Confederates and it became the headquarters for Gen. W.C. Whitaker’s command. The Union soldiers used the floorboards, siding, walls and ceiling boards for firewood. The monotony of camp life caused many soldiers to stray to less desirable activities, and there was more and more fighting, gambling and drinking in the camp. The house was burned down by a Union soldier in a drunken brawl, but Cravens rebuilt in the style it is today in 1866.
War encampments brought disease, starvation, lack of clean water and death in these cold desolate months for both Confederate and Union soldiers. Soldiers in cold bleak winter quarters were reminded more acutely than ever of the domestic bliss they had left behind by the letters and packages from home during the Christmas holidays.
As the guests of the Craven House step back into the holiday season of the Civil War soldiers and their families, one can imagine the air of profound melancholy that had settled over our entire nation.
The Lookout Mountain Beautiful Garden Club will decorate Craven’s House exquisitely as a “Designer Showcase Christmas House” illuminating the Civil War period. Tickets are free, but limited, and last year many were turned away. To make a reservation, and for more information about this event, please contact the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center at (423) 821-7786. Tours begin at 6 p.m. each day, and run every 30 minutes until 8:30 p.m.
You will be captivated by the beauty of the city lights glistening in the distance as you step back in time to experience a vivid glimpse of a Victorian Civil War Christmas.
For more information about upcoming programs at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, please contact the Lookout Mountain Visitor Center at (423) 821-7786, the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center at (706) 866-9241, or visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/chch.