On December 31, 1879, at the stroke of midnight Cleveland ceased to exist. No longer recognized by the Tennessee State Legislature as a separate town on the map, Cleveland re-incorporated into Bradley County and disappeared from the record books. A hotly contested mayoral race did what even the American Civil War just a few years earlier could not - destroy an entire town.
The race between Mayor F.E. Hardwick and incumbent J.C. Tipton organized the town along strict party lines. Tipton, the staunch republican, won the election by a margin of only 38 votes. The townspeople revolted. Robert McNelley, editor of The Banner and a resolute democrat characterized the race as: “One of considerable excitement. One with lying and flowing whiskey… with drunk white men and Negros seen in every direction… to sum up the election it was a disgraceful farce.”
Fighting broke out all over town, in the streets, courthouse, restaurants and offices. Within a week, citizens circulated a petition calling for the abolishment of the corporation of Cleveland. After riotous debate, the bill passed the required 3rd reading on March 17, 1879. The abolishment of the city would take place on December 31, 1879 and all debts would be paid in full, successfully closing down the town.
Life went on. Former Cleveland citizens still rushed to their jobs on January 1, 1880 just like any other day. Craigmiles Opera House continued to show new acts and banks still operated their normal schedules. It took concerned citizens two years to draft a new charter for the town. The charter passed on May 20, 1882 with a vote of 225 to 4. Newly elected officials made their first order of business to license three new saloons in town.
Business and culture flourished following the resurrection of the newly minted City of Cleveland. City officials took on the challenge of bringing electricity and water to their constituency with the opening of Waterworks in 1892 and Cleveland Electric Light Company opening in 1895. These two advancements opened the door for downtown business to boom.
With every business boom comes a cultural revolution and Cleveland is no exception. Along with Craigmiles Opera House, three theaters opened in the early 1900s. The Moneta, Bohemia and Princess showed movies, plays and more while benefiting from the close proximity to Knoxville and Chattanooga for acts to make a quick stop in Cleveland. Social clubs popped up, including the Cleveland Dramatic Company, Music Club, Embroidery Club, Kiwanis and more. Each spoke to a new, ever changing demographic of Cleveland citizens, encouraging them to be a part of the community. Horse racing, roller skating and baseball became must-see outdoor entertainment.
Citizens advanced Cleveland from a town that ceased to exist to a city that rivaled the growth of Chattanooga and Knoxville in both business and entertainment. The infrastructure built by town officials allowed not a town, but an actual city to build up.
Building Cleveland Up features artifacts that tell the story of our re-birth from the businesses and cultural institutions that arose after arose after 1882. Join us for our member’s only opening on October 24th at 6:00 p.m. to explore this crucial period of growing business, culture, and infrastructure.