The Read House in Chattanooga celebrates 150 years as the oldest hotel in the South

The Read House Hotel in Chattanooga is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the South, with a history almost as long as that of its host city.

The fledgling river town of Chattanooga was just 33 years old in 1872 when a couple from McMinnville, Tennessee – John and Caroline Read – opened their hotel along what is now ML King Boulevard in downtown Chattanooga after the end of the civil war. The couple ran the original 45-room hotel across from the Union Square rail terminal for seven years before handing the business over to their then 19-year-old son Sam, who helped expand and transform the hotel. hostel into one of the best accommodation establishments in the region. one century ago.

The Silver Ballroom has hosted hundreds of weddings, dances and special occasions, while the Green Room is famous for its frogs legs, peppermint ice cream and special dinners. Throughout its history, the Read House has hosted guests such as Winston Churchill, Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey, and several politicians who became President of the United States.

But legend has it that at least one of his guests never left the hotel. In the 1920s, Annalissa Neverly was allegedly murdered in the bathtub by her husband after he found her with a gentleman suitor in room 311. Neverly’s ghost in the mirror or witnessed other strange occurrences.

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The Read House hotel celebrates its 150th anniversary

The Read House’s history and stories are what prompted its current owners to purchase and restore the hotel in 2016.

Jon Weitz, a lawyer, developer and hotel manager from Charleston, South Carolina, who founded Avocet Hospitality in 2006, said the Read House “ran down on its luck and was in bad shape” when Avocet acquired the Read House after previously announced redevelopments of the 6-storey hotel fell short.

“It’s not just another hotel,” Weitz said in a phone interview from his Charleston office. “It has a famous history and there is no other place like it. We also knew it was well located in a dynamic and growing city.”

Under a series of owners, the hotel had operated under the Sheraton and Radisson brands “and strayed as the city’s grande dame”. said Weitz.

“We saw an opportunity to marry a historic hotel with great bones into a city that was developing a phenomenal personality,” Weitz said.

After spending the first year appraising the property, Avocent launched a $28 million renovation effort in late 2017 to restore the hotel to its 1920s grandeur when the original hotel was expanded.

birthday celebrations

To help celebrate the Read House’s 150th anniversary this year, the hotel will host a series of ‘Throughout the Decades’ dinners. Each of this year’s four dinners will begin with a cocktail followed by an era-inspired four-course menu with wine pairings. The first dinner will take place on Saturday, March 26 and will pay homage to the culinary scene of the 1970s. Tickets will be priced at $150 per person, per event. More information will be available on the Read House website at

“It was a revival, not just a renovation,” Weitz said.

The hotel’s renovation included a 10th-floor penthouse, a room that could be used as a luxury space or hospitality suite, and the addition of an upscale steakhouse called Bridgeman’s Chophouse, named after Peter Bridgeman, who was a well-known employee of The Read House for 47 years and referred to as “Peter Rabbit”, according to Read House general manager Jim Bamby.

Bamby, who has worked at the hotel from Avocet since 2016, said Avocet had “restored the shine” to the entire 241-room hotel.

“People love staying here because it’s a truly unique property and we do our best to help our guests experience something special while they’re here,” Bamby said during a recent visit to the Read House.

According to its website, the Read House has two distinct areas: the sleeker “tower” rooms, which were gutted and built from the ground up during the recent renovation, and the “mansion” rooms, which received a look refreshed four years ago.

The hotel still features some of its menu items from the last century, and the installation displays photos of its founders as well as historic phone booths, paintings, and decor from the Roaring 1920s.

Room 311, which some claim is still haunted, has been restored with the same furnishings and looks as it did when Neverly occupied it a century ago. Although the famous room is only rented out at the end of October for overnight stays, it is a frequent site of visit for those visiting the Read House.

Chattanooga Area Historical Association board member Tyler Logue is The Read House’s historian who has reviewed its archives, letters, and other visitor accounts over the years.

Chattanooga’s Oldest Businesses

1. TH Payne Company – 1865

2. Miller & Martin Law Firm – 1867

3. Chattanooga Times Free Press – 1869

4. Chattanooga Gas Company – 1869

5. Fischer-Evans Jewelers – 1869

6. Read House Hotel – 1872

7. Steward, Inc. – 1876

8. Chattem, Inc. – 1879

9. Franklin-Strickland Funeral Home – 1881

10. Leitner, Warner, Moffitt Law Firm – 1882

Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press Archive

“This hotel is like a hidden vault full of priceless treasures waiting to be discovered, and I’ve spent countless hours going through photographs, newspapers and other hotel ephemera,” Logue said in an interview. “In my role, I read about the hotel’s deep connection to Chattanooga history and wondered if Samuel Read would be happy with the hotel today. He always looked forward future and how to make The Read House a place where guests really call home. Knowing that, I think he would be extremely proud of where we are today.”

Weitz said Avocet specializes in hotels with historic and distinctive appeal, buying the Tides Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina in 2007 and an art boutique hotel in Charleston known as The Vendee, in 2012.

“What drew us to the Read House, like our other hotels, was that it had a story and a story that we recognized we could use to grow the brand,” Weitz said.

The current owners intend to keep the Read House under its own flag and are using the Read House’s 150th anniversary this year to help shine a light on the hotel’s history.

“Later this year they’ll be doing a time capsule and we’ll be asking the community to offer whatever history they might have for the Read House so the community can be a part of it as much as we are,” Brambrey mentioned.

Throughout the year, the hotel will also offer special menus from each decade, a summer party for local dignitaries and a historical exhibit in conjunction with the JW Kelly Bourbon brand, which was the original owner of the hotel’s bar. ‘hotel. The first of four “Dinners Through the Decades” is scheduled for March 26 and will feature 1970s cuisine.

“So many people from across the country and around the world have experienced the hotel over the years, and we hope it will be around for another 150 years,” Bambry said.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.

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