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1875 John W. James


John W James 1874(Lived January 31, 1839 – February 21, 1898)

Born in Sullivan County, Tennessee, John James moved with his family to Chattanooga in 1856.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, James joined the Union Army and served in the Quartermaster’s Department.  James returned to Chattanooga following the war.

When James became mayor on November 23, 1874, he inherited a city in the midst of financial collapse.  Throughout the 1870s, each mayor and board of aldermen was able to hold the city finances together through stopgap measures.  However, legal issues of interest owned on city produced script and other financial matters led to a collapse of the city government’s finances.  An issue that Mayor James was able to resolve involved the tax code that had been put in place in 1865.  The tax code exempted industries and railroads from paying taxes.  Mayor James worked to correct this measure forcing city industries to pay taxes. 

The spring of Mayor James’ term saw Chattanooga’s second major flood since the Civil War, and though it did not reach the height of the 1867 flood, it did cause great damage in town.  Mayor James appointed Captain Hiram Chamberlain to head a committee to study what the city could do to prevent future flooding.  After studying the options for controlling floodwaters, Chamberlain’s committee suggested that the city spend $100,000 to build a levee around the city.  Luckily, the city did not act upon this suggestion.  On September 4, 1875, Mayor James helped christen the city’s first streetcar as he rode in the horse drawn trolley down the tracks laid in the middle of Market Street.

Photo by Phillip Stevens and Matt Lea