John Shearer: Baylor, 100 Years Later

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - by John Shearer

One hundred years ago this summer, Baylor School was about to change significantly.

Its once-promising school facility that had opened in 1899 on Palmetto Street where the UTC Fine Arts Center now is had become somewhat confining. In fact, it was much less impressive than rival McCallie School’s spacious grounds on the slopes of Missionary Ridge.

As a result of that and perhaps other reasons, McCallie was the more successful of the two schools in drawing students at that time.

To help improve Baylor’s attractiveness and pump some new life into it, though, school founder Professor John Roy Baylor had hired John Couts as a fellow administrator. The school was even called Baylor-Couts School for the 1913-14 school year during Mr. Couts’ one year there.

But the University of Virginia-educated Professor Baylor had for a period been dreaming of adding something else to the school as well – a new and better campus. He had reportedly shared those plans with about anyone who would listen.

Well, as it turned out, someone was listening – wealthy Coca-Cola bottler and multi-faceted businessman J.T. Lupton, whose son, Cartter Lupton, attended Baylor.

As the late Baylor teacher, Jim Hitt, recounted in his Baylor history book, “It Never Rains After Three O’Clock,” near the end of the school year in 1914, Mr. Lupton came to the campus to have lunch with Professor Baylor and some others.

Among those gathering with them was young student John Pitner, who was waiting to receive a letter from the Baylor family to take to one of the nearby downtown Chattanooga train stations to be mailed.

It so happened that Mr. Pitner was also privy to an even more important piece of communication, at least as far as the school was concerned. As Mr. Lupton and Professor Baylor talked on the back steps, Mr. Lupton told him that he and a number of other friends of the school would be interested in building a new campus if the proper location could be found.

Mr. Pitner recalled that Professor Baylor was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak for a moment. And then, with tears in his eyes, he let out a chorus of “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!”

He suddenly realized that his old university preparatory school just might survive after all.

Now, he had to find the last missing piece of the puzzle – where to relocate his school. With a newfound enthusiasm, Professor Baylor scoured the areas not too far from downtown Chattanooga for a good campus location during his freer summer days.

Unfortunately, he could not find it, and he and Mr. Lupton began to conclude that such a pristine and ideal location could not be found close to the city.

But then one day Professor Baylor decided to catch the fairly new Signal Mountain streetcar line. As the car came to the Williams Island Station at the foot of the mountain, some interesting-looking farmland along the Tennessee River caught his eye.

On a hunch, he decided to get off the streetcar and walk over and examine it more closely. Almost immediately, he knew he had found the place where Baylor should locate.

He soon told Mr. Lupton about his finding, and the two later went out to examine it in Mr. Lupton’s automobile. Mr. Lupton, too, quickly realized they had found the ideal location.

As former faculty member George Bradford was quoted in Mr. Hitt’s book as recalling, “They climbed up a narrow, briar-lined path to the top of a hill overlooking the Tennessee. The river, the mountains, the sunset, all the beauty of the spot so touched them that they knew they had located the new Baylor School.”

Subsequent generations of students would be glad they found it as well and would also embrace with pride this scenic hilltop setting amidst mountains and a major river.

However, in 1914, one problem did exist with the location – it was not for sale. In 1900, it had been bought by Fred Hampton from William B. Owen. Mr. Hampton died in 1907, and his wife, Allie Hampton, now owned it.

And she was not interested in selling. Yes, standing in the way of this school that had been coed for a period but would be all male for 70 years after its move was a woman.

The daughter of early Chattanooga businessman and large landowner Samuel Williams, the namesake of Williams Island, Mrs. Hampton was in 1914 a well-known Chattanoogan who was in her late 60s and lived on Island Avenue in North Chattanooga.

Her home was next to what is now Girls Preparatory School, just above the family riverbank farmland that later became part of the Heritage Landing development.

A woman who was active in the social and cultural aspects of Chattanooga, she apparently loved the old land that Baylor University School wanted. Not only was it likely beautiful to her, but the so-called Locust Hill land also held personal meaning because she was born right across the river on Williams Island.

But Baylor officials did not give up easily, and somehow they persuaded her to allow them to lease and later purchase the land, which featured several Native American mounds on what became the lower fields.

Baylor announced its relocation plans later in 1914, and soon began construction on several W.T. Downing-designed buildings, including Lupton Hall, a dining hall, Founders Home, the Tower and a gymnasium. The school would relocate there for the fall of 1915.

Mrs. Hampton, meanwhile, also continued to stand strong in the community, at least figuratively. She lived until her mid-80s, dying on Aug. 14, 1933, at the Signal Mountain summer bluff home of her son, Foster Hampton. At the time of her death, her friends were said to be in the hundreds.

She also had two other children: a daughter, Annie Hampton Shepherd, and another son, Dr. Henry Hampton. Foster Hampton would live until 1968, Mrs. Shepherd until 1963 and Dr. Henry Hampton until 1959.

Services for Allie Hampton were held at her church, Northside Presbyterian, and she was buried at Chattanooga Memorial Park.

She was said to be active until shortly before her death, so one can only wonder if she looked off the bluff of the Signal Mountain residence down at Baylor School. If so, was she glad she sold it, or was she still a little sad or sentimental?

What is known is that Baylor and all its many students and alumni who have enjoyed the setting of the campus are definitely glad.

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