“Precious Memories ‘88” is a booklet compiled by the Chattanooga Afro-American Museum in 1988. The publication documents the histories of several businesses in the Ninth Street (now M.L. King Boulevard) and West Side neighborhoods. Both communities were in the paths of urban renewal and transportation projects in the decades following World War II.
An advertisement for the Buchanan Funeral Home caught my eye as I read “Precious Memories.” With its address being 211 West Ninth Street, I knew that this was one of many businesses impacted by an article that appeared in the February 4, 1958 Chattanooga News-Free Press. The banner headline that day said, “WEST SIDE FREEWAY JOB RUSHED.”
The freeway – which later was named I-124 and then US 27 – was a dividing line in the history of downtown. Prior to the freeway and the razing of buildings that accompanied it, there were many homes and businesses along West Ninth Street and south towards Main Street. There was an angular turn at West Ninth Street just past the Read House, and the narrow, two-lane route proceeded up the lower slopes of Cameron Hill to a T-intersection with East Terrace.
The 1930 city directory listed Liberty Barber Shop and Dry Cleaning at 211 West Ninth. Both businesses were managed by Jerry M. Ragland. At 211 ½ West Ninth, there were the offices of John W. Atkinson (tailor), James G. Conyers (physician) and J.W. Lawrence (dentist). The pages of the directory contained many other business, church, and residential listings of the West Side.
By 1937, Otis F. Cox had established a funeral home at 211 West Ninth. Pauline Buchanan was the bookkeeper. Her husband, Percy Buchanan, was a porter for the Chattanooga Station Company a couple of blocks away at Terminal Station.
The 1940 directory reflected a major change in the lives of the Buchanans. After Otis Cox relocated his business to 610 West Main Street, the Buchanan Funeral Home opened at 211 West Ninth. Pauline Buchanan appears to have been the owner, with Percy serving as a funeral director. Willis Crombie, who later began a funeral home of his own, worked for the Buchanans.
The Buchanans ran an ambulance service from the same address.
By 1950, the Buchanans had added the Pine Street Garage at 816 Pine Street to their business pursuits.
The plans for the freeway, though, interrupted the daily lives of business owners along Ninth Street. There were to be interchanges at Fourth and Ninth streets. Both routes were to be widened to accommodate the increase in traffic. Widening meant demolition of buildings.
The Chattanooga Times reported on Feburary 8, 1958 that “West 9th Group Told Appraisals Will Begin Soon.” Mayor Rudy Olgiati addressed a group of fifty interested business owners, telling them, “We are going to pull the appraisers over there on West Ninth Street, and get the business property appraised and approved as quickly as possible so that we can buy your property and give you the most time we can to relocate.”
Buchanan Funeral Home relocated to 2628 Broad Street, and Percy and Pauline lived upstairs at the address. Their time at the new location was short, though. Pauline Buchanan passed away in 1962, and Percy in 1969.
The bulldozers that moved upon the West Side left few reminders of the homes and businesses. The freeway has been there for more than fifty years, and thus, not many recall what preceded the highway. Photographs and other documents of the West Side seem to be rare, so I’m grateful to those who compiled “Precious Memories ‘88” for their work.
If you have any photographs or memories of Chattanooga’s West Side, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chattanooga's pre-freeway West Side