How We Found Our Land and Why We Picked Chattanooga

I was asked this question in a comment, but it is a good question, and so I thought I would answer it as a post.

My wife and I have always liked mountains, mountain geography and castles just seem to go hand in hand. We however have always preferred the Appalachians over the Rockies, we like the green.

We’re also both flexible in that we could live and work anywhere, so we started out trying to find where we wanted to live. It is a big decision, a decision many people don’t get to make. Deciding where to plant your family flag, think of all the little things that changes. My children’s first girlfriend/boyfriend will be from Chattanooga, odds are higher their eventual spouses will be, odds are my grandchildren will be raised in the area. One day my funeral will be held here. My wife’s family is largely moving down as well, so our decision on Chattanooga has affected their lives as well, and I’m constantly lobbying to try to get one of my brothers to move here too.

It really was a big decision, but Chattanooga was not always our goal.

We knew we wanted the Appalachians, and Tennessee was high on our list, because my wife had taken family trips there and enjoyed it. I had never been, except to drive through at night on the way to Florida. But we essentially looked all up and down the mountains, upstate New York and Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Northern Georgia, and we even considered Austin Texas for a time, even though it didn’t have the same terrain.

For a long time Knoxville was very high on the list, as well as Asheville North Carolina, but before too long we narrowed down on Tennessee because it had the cheapest land and lowest cost of living. We tended to gravitate toward medium size cities, we didn’t want too big, but we wanted big enough to have everything we needed. So once we chose Tennessee we looked at Bristol and the tricity area in the NE, Knoxville, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg, then Chattanooga. I sorta of worked my way down from top to bottom, we spent a lot of time looking at the Bristol area, it would be cooler up there, but ultimately I never really found good land I liked. There are some areas of Bristol with private property surrounded entirely by national park, and that was attractive, but it was pretty far out of town.

We looked in the greater Knoxville area for a long time, including strongly considering an island on Douglas Lake, which wouldn’t be a mountain lot, but come on , an island! The problem was Knoxville itself had amenities, schools, and things we would want, but the city was quite a drive from the mountains. The Sevierville or Gatlinburg or Pidgeon Forge areas east of Knoxville have absolutely beautiful views, and I looked heavily at some of those areas, even having realtors go out and look for me, but ultimately the traffic of actually getting into Knoxville was going to be a major annoyance.

When Knoxville wasn’t looking too hot I started looking further south to Chattanooga. I knew nothing about Chattanooga, absolutely nothing. I knew there was a country song about it in the 90s, and that is about it. So I started looking at it, I started looking at pictures, and wow, the mountains were pretty close to town. So that was a good thing, I checked the availability of good schools, and one of the best private high schools in the entire country is located in Chattanooga. So that all checked out. There were hospitals for my wife to work at and there was no reason why I couldn’t move my business there.

But would it have land for me? I looked, and looked, and looked. I’m really big into gardening and wanted a large lot, finding a large mountain view lot was nearly impossible. They were small lots, big houses, not a lot of yard. There were some larger lots available on Elder Mountain, but they have a very restrictive Home Owners Association, still, I wasn’t building a pink trailer, I was building something architecturally beautiful. So I tried, and I was told I could get exceptions, but I needed to pay full asking price for this land, which was listed at over a million dollars. I think it was overpriced, it did have an amazing gorge view, but was only 5 acres or so and rocky and there was another house up there for sale at the time, 17,000 sq/ft in the 2-3 million range, this house had even a better lot a better view, doing some simple math, unless you believed this incredibly luxury home was worth a very small amount per square foot, that land really wasn’t worth that much.

I found this lot down in the valley on top of a foothill. The plus is it was the peak of that foothill, the downside is the total elevation wasn’t much, and the site prep making a flat enough area to build the castle would be super expensive, and all told the neighborhood wasn’t so great.

Finally I found the lot I eventually bought. After we had narrowed in on Chattanooga I started using the Hamilton County Online GIS Map, which is like Google maps but showing high resolution aerial photography (from planes not satellites), property lines, ownership information, and terrain/elevation. So I was looking and next to Elder Mountain is the Raccoon Mountain Pump Station, which is the world’s biggest battery and is all owned by TVA (State electric authority). On the far side of Raccoon Mountain is this ridge that comes down off it and then goes back up, this ridge is the only private property located up high on Raccoon Mountain, many locals did not even know it existed up there. At the very end of this road someone had bought and combined 4 5 acre lots to make a single 20 acre parcel, and it including the peak of this ridge. What is more though, it wasn’t very steep, the high point came to a gradual height, a gentle slope, very buildable. It was all forested as well, the owner lived in Florida, and there was no building on it, and no HOA that I could find.

I used Google Earth then to park my camera over this spot and try to guess what the view might be like and it was amazing. I could see Lookout Mountain, the City, Moccasin Bend and the River, and, according to Google earth, when it is built and I’m up on the tallest tower I might have a view of the gorge to the south, which is interesting, in that I would have a view of the Tennessee River to both the North and South.

I sent the owner a letter, made her an offer, she said no, we negotiated, she said yes, my offer was contingent on boots on the ground, so 3 years ago in April we took a trip down. Chattanooga definitely impressed us, the newer family friendly riverfront and downtown, and beautiful mountains framing the city. We drove by the schools we liked, we met with a CEO of one of the hospitals for my wife’s future employment, and of course we checked out the land, and it was better than I could have imagined. Nothing but huge oaks and hickories, hardwood forest (the best kind) all over. Gorgeous views, and very private… and yet… 10-15 minutes later we could be downtown, and it is just about the prettiest drive you’ll find. Our lot was still in the city limits in fact, 20 acres of forest with deer and turkeys bordering state land and it was in the city limits. Truthfully, I’d rather it weren’t, I’d rather it be under the county and not the city, but oh well.

In the meantime we had done more work and research on Chattanooga, finding out it had the fastest Internet in the Western Hemisphere, learning it had been consistently voted one of the best cities to live by various magazines, everything kept coming up golden. So we made the final decision, and bought the property 3 years ago in July. I wanted to get the land for less, but I feel like I got a steal. I have like a quarter mile of brow view frontage, in a mountain area that is equivalent to lake frontage. It is very very impressive in person, especially now that the land clearing is done. It was so forested before you couldn’t see anything when standing on the highpoint, but I (and Google Earth) had the vision to know the view was there, and it is the highpoint, the ground slopes away from the house on every side, which is good for a whole host of things. You can’t see another house from my property, not without binoculars looking across the valley to Lookout Mountain, where they measure brow view frontage in feet and the homes are crammed in like sardines.

I have enough land to garden as much as I want, to allow my children to explore the forest and build forts, and to raise a small amount of animals. I have more land than I need honestly, my lowest 5 acres has what I call the best undeveloped view of Chattanooga, and I’d sell it for the right price. It is down the front side of the slope facing the city and Moccasin bend. If someone built on it I wouldn’t even see their house, so I’m happy selling it one day. Most of the land bordering my property is state owned and will never be developed, other has such challenging geology it is highly unlikely to be developed.

My overall impression is I really lucked out with the land. The pictures I can post here really don’t do it justice, when the view fills your entire frame of vision, it is really something.


  1. Ishmael – Thanks so much for this post! It was certainly more than I was expecting, but exactly the background I was hoping for. I’ve been going through a very similar process as I look at land and figure out what it is we might want eventually. I’m mostly still looking at the same NE/mid-Atlantic corridor you mentioned (upstate NY to North or South Carolina). My wife and I are from the East and we too like the green. That said, I love the look of rocky formations and western mountains, so I’ve played with the idea of a Colorado/Montana/Oregon type location. If weather weren’t an issue, I’d probably go way upstate NY since it has the rocky formations and the green as well, but the winters are so harsh.

    Anyway – I really do appreciate you sharing your experience. I’m not sure where my search will ultimately end, and it will likely take another decade since I have the time and have many years of saving ahead. But it helps to know that you went through a similar process. Sometimes I feel like, “I couldn’t go there. I’m just picking a town out of no where that I have no connection too and setting up a permanent (very – I mean it’s a castle) home base for family.” But sounds like you worked through that.

    Seems like I am more okay with being further from town since I also seem to want a bit more land, but still – very helpful. Again – Thanks for being willing to share! Really appreciate the detailed post.

    And yes – It sounds amazing and glad you had the vision to pursue it. Good luck!

  2. That is a great question. I too wondered how you selected Chattanooga. I just visited the Chatt area last week to see family. Can’t wait to my next visit and maybe there will an opportunity to come visit your building sight.

    Thanks for sharing all you do with us. Look forward to your updates!!!


  3. I love the idea of choosing a place to settle by using tools like Aerial photography. My family all lives with-in a 2 mile radius and it is so cozy to go visit because everyone is easy to see when me and my husband go visit. I will encourage my children to find land to build on (that is close and in the same way) after reading your article. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for the brilliant write-ups over the years. We much look forward to every future entry! What kind of zoning issues did you face? What building height restrictions did you face? How was it getting your utilities connected at your site?

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