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About the Book

John T. Lupton, the godfather of Coca-Cola bottling, and Harry Scott Probasco, founder of the “Coca-Cola bank,” guided Chattanoooga, Tennessee, with a quiet but powerful hand for decades. Generations later, the names Lupton and Probasco—and a handful of intermarried families—continue to form a controversial web of leadership for the city.

This strategic crossroads through the mountains is the scene of ancient warpaths, the launching of the Trail of Tears, the greatest two-day battle in American history, and the founding of the world’s most popular product. From its religious and progressive tension to its cryptic, indigenous name, Chattanooga proves to be an enigma at every turn.

“Chattanooga is a money town . . . more of a controlled city,” says Walter Williams, the town’s first elected African American judge, who contrasts this New South city with its neighbors —Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham. The judge points to Chattanooga’s prominent families as a unique feature. “Names run it now [and] clearly in the past ran Chattanooga,” he says.

A Northern elite joined Southern families to create a modern aristocracy of sorts that lingers to this day. Chattanooga arguably gave more philanthropic dollars than any other city in the South during the 20th century. Thanks to a number of fortunes, including several amassed by bottling Coca-Cola (a concept started by Chattanoogans), the city now boasts three of the nation’s most prestigious prep schools, one of the largest Christian foundations in the world, and, in the past century, perhaps the most concentrated wealth in a few hands in any town, anywhere.

Those families, who today live primarily on Lookout Mountain, were forged into a benevolent force by the unusually strong presence of the Presbyterian church. Worldly wealth is important not only for saving souls, but also for improving the community on this side of heaven, they were told. Meanwhile, those in “the valley” struggle to interpret the actions of their prominent neighbors as positive rather than paternalistic or even self-dealing. As the influence of Presbyterianism declines, the community looks for other solutions to bridge the gap between Mountain and Valley.

Journalist Dean Arnold provides a portrait of this extraordinary Southern city through interviewing fifty of its leaders, personalities, politicians, and prominent family members. He also weaves a number of historical insights from the Civil War to the Trail of Tears (launched from Chattanooga) to ancient Indian settlements and discussions on the meaning of “Chattanooga.” All this, along with the engaging conversational style, helps to make Old Money, New South: The Spirit of Chattanooga an enjoyable and enlightening read.

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Old Money New South