Chester Martin Remembers His Uncle Chester Dean Young

Thursday, November 5, 2015

He was my mother's brother, and a couple of years older than her.  She talked about him all her life, and always called him "Chester," as if he were still alive. In reality, he was dead and gone long before I was born, but mom never let go of his memory.

In fact, he was so real to her that she frequently talked about him to her friends and family so vividly that they (and I) could not tell whether the "Chester" she mentioned was him or me. This could cause some momentary confusion until I could get her to clarify which Chester she meant. One could not always tell from the context.

Chester Dean Young was born in 1891, and mom in 1895. He was born in South Pittsburg, Tn., I believe, where his father - my grandfather - James Lyde Young, was employed in foundry work. For whatever reason, the family moved to Flintstone, Ga., where my mother was born. Later, while both were small children, the family moved to St. Elmo - Chattanooga's first suburb, It was at the foot of Lookout Mountain, and St. Elmo left an indelible impression on her. I am convinced she had thought about St. Elmo at least 15 times on the morning she died.

CDY must have also been greatly influenced by his years spent there, as he attended grade-school, and had several good friends there. His parents were devout, (but NOT fanatical), Methodists, and I am sure he also had church friends. I have never been able to turn up any evidence of a girlfriend, but, in those days, men frequently never even thought about marriage until they were in their forties.

One of his friends was Tom White, and Tom appears in at least one picture we have of Chester. Tom ran a store on Tennessee Avenue, just south of St. Elmo Methodist Church, well into my lifetime. (That store is pictured in the book, “Chattanooga’s St Elmo”, by Gay Moore). I'll always regret that I never met him, much less that I never got to talk with him. Unfortunately, Chester Young never looks too happy in any of his pictures, and in the later ones, he is always too thin - as the tuberculosis was already affecting him.   For whatever reason, I do not believe he completed high school. Instead, he put himself through a local business school, and was able to obtain good employment in the offices of Portland Cement Company's Richard City (now South Pittsburg’s) new plant. He acquired enough education to own and use a "slide rule," (the computer of his day), and seemed to have a bright future. (The box, and main part, of his slide rule remain, with his name typed on a sliver of paper, glued to the front). Another memento I had of his belongings was a copy of that one-time iconic book - perhaps the Harry Potter of his day, called, "Peck's Bad Boy". Mom kept it in the built-in bookcases in our South Terrace home, and then we moved it to Mayfair Avenue, in 1960. It was printed on very poor quality paper which deteriorated - virtually pulverized after 70 or 80 years. Had to discard it, but I think I kept the cover for its title.

In 2015 I found two letters from him to local family here in Chattanooga, written from Phoenix, Ariz., where he went for his health in 1912 and ’13. They show a beautiful calligraphic hand from so young a man of 21 years. In one of those letters Uncle Chester tells about a “ranch” he and a friend had started. From other sources I know that it was a chicken ranch, and not very large – but a start. He describes how so many people in the Phoenix area were too shiftless to do anything worthwhile to better their lot, and so we have to admire him for his inclination toward Private Enterprise!  

Although sufficiently well-educated for his time, he sadly developed tuberculosis - a disease for which there was little or no treatment then, and which ultimately took his life at age 24. They sent him, first, to Pine Breeze Sanitarium in North Chattanooga, which did him little or no good, and later, it was decided by his doctors, to send him "west" to Phoenix. (That long train trip remains commemorated by a number of post cards he sent home from every stop along his route. They are preserved among my "Family" stuff, and I hope to dig them out for easy access).   He must have been in Phoenix only a year or two, when it became obvious the dry air and arid climate was having no effect on his lungs, and his physical condition continued to deteriorate, causing him to return home. (His mom – my grandmother – went to see him and wrote home that he looked “awful”). He returned to Chattanooga and died, sometime about the end of World War I, in 1917, and is buried beside his mom, dad, and older brother, Cecil, who died in infancy. His original tombstone was a tall, thin, marble slab which fell over and broke. Mother had new stones made for him and all her people - much lower, and not so susceptible to breakage. They are buried at Hooker, Ga., cemetery in grave lots near the main road, which were sold to the Youngs by Uncle John Wesley Smith who was starting his “Tennooga” venture there.. There are good, clear pictures of his and all the stones.    (“Tennooga” was the name of a college or university that the Rev. Dr. J. Wesley Smith projected for Hooker, Ga. Read about it in Paul Jordan-Smith’s autobiography, “The Road I Came.”

When Chester Young realized the end was near, he told his sister, Mabel, (my mother) that he didn't think he could have had a better sister. Then, on the day he died, Mom was sent on to school, (Central HS), and when she returned home he was dead. My grandmother preserved the two quarters used to "close" his eyes, and they MAY still be in CYM's coin collection - in an old, brown envelope. (Quarters on the eyelids were quite common in the old days, and people kept them as a remembrance).     Mr. Fred Fry, a good family friend, whom I clearly remember, served as a pallbearer for Uncle Chester, even as he had for my grandfather, James Lyde Young, in 1903, and later for Great Aunt Linnie Smith, who is buried beside her mother in Forest Hills cemetery. The Fry family were best friends of the Youngs, and deserve a special page of their own in my mother’s family history. In 2015 I captured an image from Google Earth which shows their house in a beautiful summer light. Their house was the scene of many, many gatherings through the years, and delicious meals – especially at Christmas. Both my grandparents Young, my mother, and Uncle Chester had visited that house many times.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

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