What Is That Old Building? - Crombie's

Monday, February 2, 2004 - by Harmon Jolley
Crombie's Funeral Service on South Broad is up for sale. Click to enlarge.
Crombie's Funeral Service on South Broad is up for sale. Click to enlarge.
- photo by Harmon Jolley

Much of Chattanooga’s growth can be attributed to its rise as a manufacturing center. For many years, the city’s major manufacturing district extended west from Cameron Hill to the Tennessee River, and then south towards Lookout Mountain. Numerous foundries, mills, and related industries were established, and benefited from the Chattanooga area’s rail and river transportation and raw materials. Factory workers frequently lived in the shadow of the plant where they worked. As a result, the West Side and South Chattanooga grew to include homes, churches, schools, and businesses. A building still stands at 2211 Broad Street that, at different times, housed organizations that met two different needs of the community.


Like many cities, the growth of industry in Chattanooga attracted workers from distant locations. As an example, in the early 1900’s, my great uncle moved from rural central Georgia to take a job here with the Nashville, St. Louis, and Chattanooga Railroad. He soon convinced my grandfather to join him. Many came to town with little or no money. Some left family farms, where a certain amount of self-sufficiency had once provided for their needs. Others came from smaller towns, and left families and friends. When workers faced difficulties, such as layoffs, illnesses, and injuries, there was little help available from the employer or the government as there is today.

The need was recognized for a ministry to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of the workers of the area. According to the “Directory of Churches, Missions, and Religious Institutions of Tennessee” (TN Historical Records project of WPA, 1940), the Baptist Goodwill Center was founded in 1922. Marion Spigener Bankston and the women of the Ocoee Missionary Union organized the center as a mission to the mill workers and their families.

The Baptist Goodwill Center was first located in a small brick building at 2211 Broad Street. In 1926, the center moved to a new, two-story brick building at 2201 Broad. Inside were four classrooms, library, clinic, kitchen, and 100-seat chapel. Nell V. Bullock was the center’s first resident director. The new building was dedicated to Marion Bankston, who had died in 1924 at age 41 from complications of surgery. Her obituary noted that the First Baptist member “was tireless to the movement she launched a few years ago.”

Through the center’s ministry, the youngest members of the community received pediatric care, and evaporated milk. Working mothers were also assisted by the Little Miss Mag Day Nursery, which was on the opposite side of Broad Street at Sam Houston Park. For adults, there were health clinics, groceries, quilts, and shoes. The workers at the center didn’t have to look very hard to find workers to serve. Just a few feet from their back door was the Royal Hickman Industries, a manufacturer of art pottery.

Nell Bullock was followed as director in 1935 by Millie Mae McLellan. She came to Chattanooga from Biloxi, Mississippi, where she had worked at a Goodwill Center for twenty years. She served as director until 1960, when she left to become a visiting missionary with Avondale Baptist Church.

In 1958, the Goodwill Center moved to 1900 Roanoke Avenue in East Chattanooga. The building at 2201 Broad Street became available for a new tenant.


Meanwhile in 1958, a few blocks away at 2101 Williams Street, the Crombie’s Funeral Services building was in the sight of the surveyor’s transit. Like other nearby homes and businesses, Crombie’s was in the pathway of the new “23rd Street Freeway” that we now know as Interstate 24/US 27. Its owners decided to move to the former Goodwill Center, and displayed the name of their business in neon signs on the sides of the building.

Four siblings - Willis G., John S., Esther C. Crombie, and Marie Crombie Hill - had founded Crombie’s Funeral Services and Ambulance in 1950. Willis was a 1929 graduate of Gupton-Jones Mortuary Science College in Nashville. He was associated with funeral homes in Memphis and Blythville, Arkansas before moving to Chattanooga in the early 1930’s to become an agent with Universal Life. After service in WWII, he went to work for Buchanan Funeral Home, with positions as attendant, driver, and embalmer. Buchanan Funeral Home was run by Percy and Pauline Buchanan, and was located on the West Side at 211 West Ninth Street.

John S. Crombie graduated from Knoxville College in 1939, and then served as a school principal at Newport, Tennessee prior to joining the U.S. Army in WWII. In 1946, he graduated from the Cincinnati College of Embalming. According to the school’s Web site, it is the oldest school in the nation offering this training. John Crombie taught math at Winston-Salem State Teachers College in the late 1940’s before joining with his siblings to form Crombie’s Funeral Service. I was unable to find information on their sisters.

Crombie’s Funeral Service remained in business many years, despite many changes. The construction of I-24/US 27, urban renewal through demolition, and the closing of several manufacturers, greatly altered the surrounding South Chattanooga community. Today, the building is one of the few old buildings still remaining on South Broad. On a positive note, some have been beautifully restored. The deaths of Willis Crombie in 1969 and John Crombie in 1983 presented new challenges to the family-run business. Their spouses, Helen (Willis) and Mattie (John), ran the funeral home after the two brothers passed on. In recent years, it was known as the Crombie-Pinkard Funeral Home, and is now the Pinkard-Mee. The business is currently relocating, and the building on South Broad is currently for sale.

If you have memories of the Baptist Goodwill Center or of Crombie’s Funeral Services, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@signaldata.net.

Manufacturing district
Manufacturing district

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