Robert Cravens is today perhaps best known for the house that bears his name on a small outcrop of level land about half-way up Lookout Mountain south of Chattanooga. In 1838, when Cravens moved to the area, Ross’s Landing had just been christened Chattanooga. The port on the Tennessee River was important to local cotton growers, who would transport their crop to the city and ship it via the water route to Memphis.
The cotton trade was short-lived. It all but ended with the completion of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad ten years later. By that time, however, Cravens had begun to manufacture charcoal iron, shipping it to points east by railroad. Soon Cravens iron business was a driving force in the Chattanooga economy. He was familiar with the area where he built his home in 1855. The outcropping was visible from the Bluff Furnace along the Tennessee River. Then the Civil War came to Chattanooga.
During the battle of Chattanooga, both the Union and Confederate armies used Cravens’ relatively opulent home as an observation post and headquarters. During the evening of November_23, 1863 Major General Carter Stevenson [CS] signaled General Braxton Bragg [CS] from Cravens House, indicating a possible federal attack on Lookout Mountain. The message was decoded by the Union Army and General George Henry Thomas [US] ordered an attack on the mountain because of the Rebels concern.
On November_24, 1863, the heaviest fighting during the “Battle Above the Clouds” occurred on the level plateau on which the house was built. Shortly after capturing the house, the 10,000 man Union advance was halted by a weak line of some 1,200 entrenched Confederates under the command of Stevenson. Although the home sustained minor damage during the fighting, it would later be destroyed by Union soldiers during a drunken brawl.
Cravens returned after the war and rebuilt the house. The original home was two levels, the lower or “underground” level and a second level in an ‘L’-shape. After the war a third level was added, which contains three bedrooms. Cravens struggled against increased competition to rebuild both his business and personal fortune, which had also been destroyed by the war. In 1868 Cravens helped revolutionize the iron business with the introduction of coke-fired plants.
88 acres of land owned by Cravens on the northern end of Lookout Mountain was purchased from his heirs by Adolf Ochs. Ochs combined this with land he had purchased from Col. Whiteside’s family and donated it to the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Park in 1893.
The house was completely renovated in 1956.