Many of Cameron Hill’s finest East Terrace homes were designed and built by architect and contractor John Wesley Adams. This included its own stone beauty which stood at the north end of the terrace near W. Sixth Street.
Adams was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in 1848. He came from a large family, so his schooling was limited to Elyria High School, where the family moved when he was nine. . But he learned from his father, who was also a builder, and became particularly adept at mechanics through his own study.
When he was 20, he married Julia A. Reeves. They had one son, George B. Adams, and a second son who died young.
Like many others, it was the development of the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad on the south end of town that brought Adams to Chattanooga in 1871. He had the contract to construct several buildings, but, like many others, he was “left stuck”. by John C. Stanton. Adams, “far from being disappointed with his new home, found a job ready to build the most exclusive and artistic homes of the time.”
These included several in line with the large houses at the very top of Cameron Hill on East Terrace. Adams was the builder of the homes of TG Montague, Xenophon Wheeler, H. Clay Evans, and General John T. Wilder.
He recognized the beauty and durability of the native limestone, which was already available at the Stone Fort, near the future East 11th Street. Adams formed the Stone Fort Land Company and began quarrying blocks of limestone which were also used to form beautiful walls in several sections of Chattanooga, including Cameron Hill. This limestone was used in many of his Cameron Hill designs and was the centerpiece of his own home. In lowering the Stone Fort, Adams envisioned East 11th as a major thoroughfare. He used some of the excavated rock to fill in low areas and level a new street towards Missionary Ridge. The Stone Fort Land Company provided a site for a new post office in Chattanooga. The government was not authorized to accept such a gift, so Adams received a $1 payment for the site where the beautiful Custom House was built in 1893.
Adams, as his name suggests, was a prominent Methodist. He received the contract from the Holston Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to erect the main building for a new college in Chattanooga. The chosen property was on a hill on the north side of McCallie Avenue, several blocks east of Georgia Avenue. A payment of $31,000 was made for this 13-acre property. This interesting building, which was eventually demolished, became known as the Old Main.
He was a tireless religious worker and Sunday school teacher for 30 years at the Stone Methodist Church on the corner of McCallie Avenue and Georgia Avenue. He erected this church using his favorite material. The stone for the church was brought by barge and ox cart from Joshua Beck Farm across the river. This church was completed just in time for a memorial service after the death of US President and General Grant.
Adams also erected a new county jail on Walnut Street across from the county courthouse. The brick prison architects were TJ Dolan and Son of Fort Wayne, Ind.
He also built the handsome Adams Block along an entire city block on East Eighth Street from Cherry Street to Georgia Avenue. With its ornate stones, it was one of the finest business blocks in the city.
Adams was a main figure in the first project to use hydroelectric power to bring electricity to Chattanooga from Ocoee. He was a leader in the development of aluminum resources at Maryville, Tennessee, and zinc ore from another source.
Along with Adolph Ochs, he was a leader of the “Over the River Company” which raised millions of dollars for the development of properties on the north side of the river.
Much of the stone church has been demolished, although the bell tower remains. The Adams block was demolished to make a parking lot.
John Wesley Adams lived for many years in his ornate Cameron Hill mansion at 903 East Terrace. He also had a home in Signal Mountain and was there when he died on January 31, 1918.
His son, George B. Adams, later occupied the Cameron Hill house.
By the time the bulldozers arrived, the Adams House on Cameron Hill was being used as a Spiritual Chapel of Truth. The rest of the huge house was divided into nine apartments.