The panoramic image above was donated to the Chattanooga History Center and was marked ‘…road to Whiteside (Broad St.) from Chattanooga.’ However, that description didn’t seem to visually match the scene. As someone who grew up on Signal Mountain - the view looked familiar to me. And, after some further investigation - I found it to approximately match current-day Signal Mountain Road.
This landscape of frenzied road construction is full of mule teams, but one automobile is seen under a tarp on the far right side. The road was completed in late 1912.
While the growth of the automobile was responsible for better roads - this particular boulevard, and development of Signal Mountain, had been envisioned for several years. The chief architect was C. E. James.
It is very possible that he is the man in his signature Bowler Hat near the middle of the photo.
James has a keener joy in the creation of big ideas than in the actual working out of their details. Again and again during his career he has originated a big project and set it going, and then, his mind already busy with other and bigger schemes, he has turned it over to others to complete and operate. 1918 - System Magazine of Business A. F. HARLOW
At first, the mountain was promoted to be the location of the ‘Interstate Club’, described as a national organization - its primary objective was ‘to bring together from time to time the statesmen, philosophers, thinkers and businessmen of the nation - without regard to creed or political affiliations.’ This effort was led by Senator J. C. S. Blackburn of Kentucky - with over a dozen organizational vice presidents that read like a who’s-who of business leaders and politicians. In 1906 land was purchased in Alabama for the club. At some point - the focus and proposed location was shifted to Walden’s Ridge.
But by 1907, thousands of acres of land had been purchased around Signal Point. The Interstate Club was now headquartered in the James Building, downtown Chattanooga. 1908 newspaper articles announced they ‘proposed to make various and extensive improvements, including a 100-foot (wide) boulevard from Chattanooga to Signal Point - build an electric railway, construct a hotel, lakes, polo and golf grounds; to build bathhouses on the river bank.’
It's not clear what happened to the Interstate Club concept. But C.E. James continued development toward a different purpose. An electric trolley would scale the mountain alongside the boulevard. A hotel was constructed; The Signal Mountain Inn, which is now an Alexian Village Retirement Community. And while the boulevard featured above is known today as Signal Mountain Road, James Boulevard spans the length of the town of Signal Mountain.