Sunday, December 15, 2013
- by M. Lee Rogers
Fifty years ago, Chattanooga possessed many in-town neighborhoods in the central city. These neighborhoods housed many of the metro area's residents before the march to Suburbia changed the city's demographic map.
One of the representative neighborhoods of the mid-20th century was called East Chattanooga. Let us take a look back at one of Chattanooga's less-remembered districts.
East Chattanooga sat at the outer edge of the central city area.
Its rough borders were Missionary Ridge to the east, the Southern Railroad Citico Yard to the west, the intersection of North Chamberlain Avenue and Bragg Street to the south, and the intersection of Dodson Avenue and Taylor Street to the north.
Billy Goat Hill loomed over the northern end of the neighborhood. Most residents stayed away from it because it had a bad reputation and the paved road quickly crumbled into a barely passable track. The hill now belongs to a conservancy--perhaps it will be developed as parkland in the future. (See the previous Chattanoogan article http://www.chattanoogan.com/2005/3/16/64120/Historic-Billy-Goat-Hill-To-Be-Preserved.aspx.)
This neighborhood was part of a series of tracts known as the Belt Line. The Belt Line ran along the western border of Missionary Ridge from East Lake through Ridgedale, Glenwood, Avondale, and East Chattanooga. Belt Line neighborhoods were predominantly white working-class areas whose residents worked in modest jobs around the city.
Unlike the closer neighborhoods, East Chattanooga was too far from downtown to walk. Fortunately, the area had two different bus lines that would whisk passengers toward Market Street. One line ran down Dodson Avenue past the Red Food Store, the 58 Drive-In Theater, and Hardy Junior High School. The other line ran down North Chamberlain Avenue past the Buster Brown Shoe Company factory, Children's Hospital on Glenwood Drive, and Memorial Hospital.
It was quite common for East Chattanooga residents, even young kids, to hop on the Southern Coach Lines bus and ride downtown to shop at the department stores like Miller Brothers or Loveman's, or to take in a movie at the Martin Theater (previously the State Theater) or the tastefully-named Rogers Theater. Some summer matinees aimed at the kiddie crowd served punch drinks in containers shaped like Gemini space capsules. After downtown pursuits had ended, one could quickly find a bus back to the neighborhood.
We should not over-romanticize this time and place. It was not an idyllic paradise. No one ever confused the area with Mayberry. East Chattanooga in the Sixties could be a rough-and-tumble area. School kids had their share of abuse and, yes, even fights.
The local school, East Chattanooga Elementary, did its best to educate the hordes. The principal was an old bear named F. Miller Pruette, who despite his gruffness had the entire school sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" at every assembly. One of the teachers, Jeannette Williams, was the wife of the former Election Commissioner Huck Williams. The school was eventually torn down. Habitat for Humanity built a large housing development on the site.
Although football was rapidly becoming the dominant sport in the Sixties, that news had not reached East Chattanooga. Baseball still held the primary interest of the East Chattanooga boys. If you look at a class photo from the elementary school in the late Sixties, you will see a few of the guys wearing their Dixie Youth Baseball uniforms promoting local businesses like Willwear Hosiery, Combustion Engineering, and Capital Motors. A long-time city employee named Jeff Hester worked long hard hours keeping the playing fields at the Recreation Center in usable shape.
East Chattanooga boasted a well-stocked shopping district in the Fifties and Sixties, more than most local neighborhoods. This area was centered on North Chamberlain Avenue and Glass Street. You could buy a dress suit at Smith's Clothing Store at 2457 Glass Street. Red Food Store was at Dodson Avenue and Crutchfield Street across from the Holsum Bakery at 2305 Dodson and American National Bank (SunTrust) at 2205 Dodson. Hamilton National Bank (First Tennessee) was at 2428 North Chamberlain at Glass Street.
Three drugstores served the area: Rexall at 3031 Dodson Avenue at Wilder Street, Sid's Pharmacy at 2505 North Chamberlain between Glass Street and Appling Street, and the B&W Pharmacy next to the Red Food Store. The veteran B&W pharmacist Pete White later spent time working at the Eckerd Drug at Northgate Mall before it closed.
A young boy might spend hours looking at toys at the Gannaway-Riley 5-and-10-cent store (the "Dime Store") at 2455 Glass Street or checking out the baseball gloves at the Western Auto at 2506 Glass Street next to Hamilton National Bank. If he needed screws or nails, he might wander into Dodd’s Hardware at 2509 North Chamberlain Avenue.
If a visitor wanted a quick meal, Whitey's Grill (spelled “Whittie’s” in the 1962 city directory) on Glass Street next to the new Post Office would serve Krystal-style square burgers and a cherry cola. Just up from Whitey's at the railroad track sat ABC Cleaners for clothing-prep needs.
To buy groceries without getting out of the car, a Golden Gallon drive-through store was located at 2203 Glass Street next to Brown’s service station, selling Sinclair or Amoco fuel. An Esso (Exxon) gas station sat across the corner next to Vick Genter Furniture. Just south of the firehall on Dodson Avenue was a Food King (formerly By-Ryt) Supermarket affiliated with another store in Riverview.
Later in the Sixties, the Honda motorcycle sales outlet opened at 2505 North Chamberlain and Glass Street. The car customer could buy a new Datsun (Nissan) at Standefer Motors across Dodson from Hardy Junior High.
Chattanooga was often called "The Buckle of the Bible Belt," and East Chattanooga had at least its share of Evangelical churches. The most impressive building belonged to East Chattanooga Methodist on North Chamberlain, but you could find a large East Chattanooga Church of God at 2110 Glass Street across from the drive-in theater as well as East Chattanooga Baptist at 2903 Taylor Street, East Chattanooga Church of Christ at 2601 North Chamberlain, and a small Wesleyan church at 2509 Taylor Street.
If you wanted a more fundamentalist style of worship, you could head up Dodson Avenue to the outer realms of Grace Avenue just below Harrison Pike on the way to Kings Point and the dam. Grace Avenue Baptist Church at 3811 Grace Avenue offered a very fervent service with lay preachers constantly shouting about the congregation's need to repent of its sins and “get saved.” Anyone who grew up in that style of worship will never forget it.
Heading out Harrison Pike, one would come upon another unique landmark. Many East Chattanoogans quenched their thirst at the Watering Trough at least occasionally. During a water contamination episode in the later Seventies, city police had to direct traffic at the Trough because so many people used it for emergency water. The Trough is now posted against drinking, but in its day, it tasted better than city water. It still runs, even if no longer drunk.
The intervening years have not been kind to East Chattanooga. Much of the old business district has been razed. Almost all of the old businesses are gone. Various groups have tried to revitalize East Chattanooga with limited success.
Let us hope that future efforts will take root and help turn the area around. It was once a good neighborhood, and one day maybe it will be again.
M. Lee Rogers