A 100-acre section proposed for development along historic Stringer's Ridge is remarkably unchanged from the days when the ridge was traversed by wagons and when the Union Army came calling.
An old road is still in place and Civil War fortifications are as Gen. John T. Wilder's Union Army left them at the top of the narrow knobs that the road encircles.
But all that may change very soon as developers propose to level the top of a lengthy section of Stringer's Ridge and improve the old road as a route to four new housing clusters with 504 units.
Capt. William Stringer, who fought in the Seminole and Mexican wars, once owned all this section. He got it when land was just a penny an acre. He went in as a partner with Col. William Clift, who acquired 5,000 acres running from Moccasin Bend to North Chickamauga Creek for just $50. Clift kept the northern part near his home in Soddy, while Stringer got the section nearer to Chattanooga.
Capt. Stringer built his home on the other side of the ridge from Chattanooga - near the corner of what is now Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road. The Stringers were already settled here in 1837 when his son, John T. Stringer, was born "a short distance beyond Vallombrosa." Vallombrosa is the name of an ancient Benedictine abbey at Tuscany, Italy. The section near the Stringer place also came to be known as Valdeau.
The Stringer Road did not go across this property, but it went through the same gap where the freeway was built. A section of the old steep Stringer's Ridge Road is still intact behind where a new dentist's office was recently built - just to the left of the Stringer's Ridge Tunnel.
Capt. Stringer died in 1860. One of his daughters, Elizabeth, married Jefferson Elgin Sawyer. Sawyer Street near the foot of Stringer's Ridge is named for that family. Another daughter, Penelope, married Abel Beason, who kept the ferry on the North Chattanooga side of the river. The Stringers, Sawyers, Beasons and other family members are buried at the nearby Beason Cemetery.
The Beason Ferry was at the present Renaissance Park. The road went from there to the base of Stringer's Ridge and on up the ridge.
The Confederates first held Chattanooga, then in August 1863, while many were at church services, shells began falling in the city from Wilder's men who had occupied Stringer's Ridge and had advanced on down to the Tennessee River. Many of the Union soldiers came down the old Stringer's Ridge Road during their advance on the city.
As late as 1878 the area on the other side of Stringer's Ridge remained remote. There was a sighting that year of two bears crossing "the Washington Pike in the vicinity of the Stringer place."
When Seth Walker became county judge, one of his aims was to eliminate the mountain bottlenecks that hemmed in the city at Stringer's Ridge and Missionary Ridge.
The section beyond Stringer's Ridge was then still mainly a farming and dairy section. The steep Stringer's Ridge Road was the pathway for bringing in wagon loads of apples from Walden's Ridge and all sorts of farm produce from Dry Valley. A two-horse team could not haul more than 2,000 pounds up the steep road.
Work began on the 300-foot long tunnel in the fall of 1908 under the supervision of the county engineer and "without a tunnel expert." The work was done mainly by convict labor, though some paid workers sometimes labored at night to push the project to completion.
The builders did not encounter any rock, but the earth "was of an extremely treacherous nature and many precautions had to be taken to prevent cave-ins." There was a cave-in on the south side soon after the work started, and this caused several weeks delay.
It was also necessary to build a new road from the north end of the tunnel to a connection with the Washington Road. A number of deep cuts had to be made and there were numerous fills. The construction team found that "the soil in that locality is composed of red clay and rotten limestone. This is extremely difficult to handle, and it required a great deal of chert on top of the soft bottom to make a solid thoroughfare."
Judge Walker heralded the completion of the Stringer's Ridge Tunnel in March 1911, saying, "Farmers coming to Chattanooga will be able to carry more than double the load they could haul up the side of the ridge, and it is more than probable when they come to the city in the future they will return with a load of fertilizer or household supplies."
It was now possible to load up to 4,000 pounds on a wagon, and "a driver can now trot his horses all the way from the north end of the bridge on through the tunnel and miles up the valley. In addition to this, the wear and tear and strain on horseflesh by climbing the ridge has been eliminated."
It was computed that the tunnel would soon pay for itself in tax receipts as the values on the valley side of the tunnel quickly rose from $20 or $30 an acre to $100 or more.
This section of the ridge is now crisscrossed with trails, some of which spill over into Red Bank near the White Oak Park. One juncture near the top is known as Five Points. An old road that goes up from near Nikki's Restaurant is designed to serve as the access to the planned development.
Fred Joyner built some log cabins near the top of the tunnel, but the section of Stringer's Ridge to the east of the tunnel is so narrow that only one house has ever been built in that section at the ridgetop. Its brick chimney and the flagstone steps are all that remain of it.
The ridge forms three hills in this section that are a familiar landmark from Hill City below. The lesser knob known to locals as "Old Baldy" is below.