Several of the finest homes on the East Terrace of Cameron Hill were designed and built by the architect and contractor John Wesley Adams. This included his own stone beauty that was at the north end of the Terrace by W. Sixth Street.
Adams was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1848. He was from a large family so his schooling was limited to the high school at Elyria, where the family moved when he was nine. But he learned from his father, who was also a builder, and became especially adept at mechanics through his own study.
When he was 20, he married Julia A. Reeves. They had a son, George B. Adams, and a second son who died in young manhood.
As with many others, it was the development of the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad at 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 stranded” by John C. Stanton. Adams, “far from being disappointed with his new home, found ready employment to build the most exclusive and artistic homes of the time.”
These included several in the line of great homes at the very top of Cameron Hill on East Terrace. Adams was the builder of the homes for T.G. Montague, Xenophon Wheeler, H. Clay Evans and General John T. Wilder.
He recognized the beauty and durability of native limestone, which was in ready supply at the Stone Fort in the vicinity of the later East 11th Street. Adams formed the Stone Fort Land Company and began quarry limestone blocks that 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 creations and was the centerpiece for his own home. In lowering the Stone Fort, Adams envisioned that East 11th could be a main thoroughfare. He used some of the extracted rock to fill in low-lying areas and level out a new street in the direction of Missionary Ridge. The Stone Fort Land Company provided a site for a new Post Office for Chattanooga. The government was not allowed to accept such a gift outright, so Adams received a $1 payment for the site where the handsome Custom House was built in 1893.
Adams, as his name might indicate, was a prominent Methodist. He was given the contract by the Holston Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to erect the main building for a new college for Chattanooga. The property selected 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, that was eventually torn down, came to be known as Old Main.
He was a tireless church worker and 30-year Sunday School teacher at the Stone Methodist Church at the corner of McCallie Avenue and Georgia Avenue. He erected this church using his favorite material. Stone for the church was brought by barge and ox cart from the Joshua Beck farm across the river. This church was completed just in time for a memorial service following the death of President and General U.S. Grant.
Adams also erected a new county jail on Walnut Street across from the County Courthouse. Architects for the brick jail were T.J. Dolan and Son of Fort Wayne, Ind.
He also built the handsome Adams Block along an entire block on East Eighth Street from Cherry Street to Georgia Avenue. With its ornate stonework, it was one of the finest business blocks in town.
Adams was a principal figure in the early project to use hydro-electric power to bring electricity to Chattanooga from Ocoee. He was a leader in development of aluminum resources at Maryville, Tn., and zinc ore from another source.
Along with Adolph Ochs, he was a leader in the “Over the River Company” that raised millions of dollars for the development of property on the north side of the river.
Much of the Stone Church was taken down, though the steeple remains. The Adams Block was knocked down 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 at Signal Mountain and was there when he died on Jan. 31, 1918.
His son, George B. Adams, later occupied the Cameron Hill home.
At the time the bulldozers arrived, the Adams home on Cameron Hill was in use as the Spiritual Chapel of Truth. The remainder of the huge house was divided into nine apartments.