Chester Martin Remembers Brainerd

Monday, November 9, 2015

The new suburb of Brainerd took its name directly from David Brainerd's Mission to the Cherokee Nation. It stood almost exactly where Eastgate Center stands today, and "Old Mission Road" led directly to it. That mission existed for about 20 years, ending in 1838 with Cherokee Removal.

For almost 100 years thereafter the land was devoted to farming, and was cut off from easy access to Chattanooga by Missionary Ridge.

When I was little, it was not uncommon to turn up a horseshoe or other farm implement when we dug in our garden. Also, growing up, I remember that "Ma" Austin - oldest member of Brainerd Methodist Church - would talk about going into town from her tiny home on Belvoir Avenue, and having to go "over the ridge". It was an all-day ordeal. “Ma” was in her late 80’s when we heard that story.

But in my day there was ONE tunnel on Brainerd Road, which could handle all the east-west traffic. When we spoke of "Brainerd" we were referring to the area near the entrance to that tunnel, which extended about three blocks east - and mainly on the south side of the street. There were businesses along there which attracted both adults and children. Brocket's Grocery was near the tunnel, and they would deliver your phoned-in order. My mother used them a lot, as she did not drive, and dad was at work all day. Next door was a popular radio-repair shop which was always loaded with work. Farther down (and recent home to the "Comedy Catch") was McLain's Grocery - and I remember passing there when the fragrance of an outdoor cantaloupe display permeated the air! That fruit did not last long!

In the next block down was a drug store where a neighbor-lady of ours worked temporarily while waiting for her husband to return from the war. Her son and I had just bought some little plastic water pistols, and she would fill them up with carbonated water for us, fresh from the ice-cream and soda counter. (We also got some free ice-cream when the boss wasn't looking!)

On the northeast side of Brainerd Road and Tunnel Boulevard, there was a tavern of sorts - a holdover, doubtless, from the days when Brainerd was far away from the city. This "tavern" was a low, one-story building - painted green - and called the "Green Lantern". All my friends and I were told directly by our mothers to "never" go there. Such direct orders only whetted our real desire to find out what we were missing, and so we all went - at one time or another. (I think I only went to the front counter on the ruse of "needing change". Although my heart was beating fast I looked around a bit and saw only orderly people sitting at tables and booths. No idea why the bad reputation, "EXCEPT", they did have a neon beer sign or two in the window! *Shudders*. As to the actual “lantern”, I never saw one, either inside or outside.

Next stop going east was the corner of Brainerd Road and Germantown. Jack and Joe's well-patronized garage was on the north side of Brainerd Road, just west of a gas service station.  Jack and Joes’ garage was possibly the last chance o get you engine tuned along US Highways 11 and 64 before Knoxville! Their large front door was always open and they always had a lot of work to be done. We kids liked to poke around in the oil-blackened dirt in front to find discarded ball-bearings. (They were good for playing “marbles”!) Directly across the street, set far back from Brainerd Road was a palatial wooden home, like a manor house of Europe. It was on a hill - long since removed to create a strip mall - and there was a very large lawn sloping downhill with tall evergreen trees bordering on Brainerd Road. The wind blew them about so gracefully. I have waited for the bus many times at that corner - in front of those beautiful old trees, and think of them every time I pass there now. (Sunnyside Grammar School was nearby). The northeast corner of this intersection was open fields - grown over in sedge grass. It was, sometime after 1946, the site of an ultra-modern "Brainerd Theater", which advertised a "cry room" for moms with unruly children! They had seats whose backs functioned somewhat like rocking chairs - quite comfortable - and had other amenities also - such as the first "butter corn" I ever tasted!  WOW! Was that ever good!

The southeast corner of Brainerd Road and Germantown had perhaps two or three tall Victorian style houses, painted white, where I delivered the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1946 and '47, but by 1948  they had been demolished, the area dug flat, and a new Krystal Drive-In restaurant built there! I believe that was the first experiment by Krystal to enter the drive-in scene. It was very popular!

On the southeast side of Brainerd Road was the widely-known, and long-lasting, "Windmill" service station, which was indeed a full-scale imitation Dutch style windmill. The blades were of thin wooden strips, crisscrossed to let the wind pass through. It was a real curiosity, and I am sure people came from everywhere to buy gas and other services there just to look at this curiosity. It was at the corner of Brainerd Road and Oriole Drive. And, no, the mill did not turn!

Approximately across the street from the Windmill station was the HIGHLY popular Brainerd Roller Rink! Thousands flocked there, and I am confident that thousands still remember celebrating at least one birthday there. It would easily rate among the top 10 best remembered places in town.

Continuing east on Brainerd Road - at the corner of Provence Street - there was a very popular restaurant, one of the first, and few, good restaurants in Chattanooga that was not embedded in a major hotel. It was called, first, "Eddy's Grill", and then later changed to "Bethea's Restaurant", and finally it became a barbecue house...all owned by the original Bethea (be-THAY) family. I miss it still!

Proceeding east on Brainerd Road - still on the south side - there was for years a well-known ice-creamery, "Kay's Ice Cream", later called "Kay's Castle", which featured a huge sign outside, showing a boy on a ladder reaching up to lick a huge cone of ice cream. This was also a famous landmark for years...and farther on was Chattanooga Fire Hall #13, now moved farther east.

On the north side of Brainerd Road I used to deliver papers to an immense Dutch style mansion home - mostly hidden by surrounding trees. I loved going to that door to "collect" on Saturday mornings because of the pretty a location, even though directly on a major thoroughfare. A few years later it was sold and turned into "Edgerton's Dutch Manor" restaurant - mainly for evening dining. It lasted several years but eventually succumbed to the bulldozer. I never saw beyond the front entry way.

The intersection of Brainerd Road and Belvoir Avenue has also changed drastically through the years. First, on the southeast corner was another enormous, 2 or 3 story Victorian house. It was the "big house" of the original "Belvoir Estate". The old man who owned it in the 1940's was an accomplished organist who left that huge instrument to Brainerd Methodist Church when he died. He left his house to Brainerd Episcopal Church, and they used it as a church for a long time. Later they tore it down and built the beautiful yellow-brick edifice which is still there. I remember at the time of the old wooden Victorian church how - back about 1946, soon after WWII - I attended a small get-together with a group of German exchange-students, on the lawn in front of that church. They were homesick and voluntarily commenced singing old German folksongs. Although a hot summer night, no one noticed the heat, and everyone became totally immersed in their beautiful singing.

(That corner was also where we paper-boys picked up our papers for home delivery).

(Brainerd Road at Belvoir is where the "Brainerd-Belvoir" buses coming from town turned south to Anderson Avenue {which is now more nearly "South Terrace"]. They continued east to Moore Road where a group from OLPH would get on [or off]. The bus went north to Sunbeam Avenue, turning onto it until reaching McBrien Road. McBrien and Brainerd Roads were the "end of the line" where the drivers took a break. There was a gas-station on the corner and the buses parked in front.)

But - going back to Brainerd Road at Belvoir - we proceed a short way past Brookfield Avenue to Tuxedo Avenue. Here was the stop for Brainerd Junior HS and the Clarence T. Jones Observatory overlooking the school. Brainerd Church of Christ located on that corner, along with Brainerd Presbyterian, on Tuxedo Avenue.  Brainerd Baptist was always OFF Brainerd Road on Brookfield Avenue, not far away.  Brainerd Methodist Church, which replaced McFerrin's Chapel, before my time, has been at 4315 Brainerd Road all my life. Current name is, "Brainerd United Methodist Church".

In my day there was little of significance on that stretch of Brainerd Road east of my church (no other churches there as of 1945), except for the long-running Belvoir Pharmacy, and Red Food Store, until near Tacoa Street on the north side, where there was an archery range. At McBrien (end of the Brainerd bus-line) there were a number of businesses on the north side - much as today. Mr. M.C. Gross ran a popular grocery on that corner. Brainerd Golf and Country Club was already north on Tacoa Circle.

Beyond McBrien Road there were just bleak fields of sedge-grass and woodland, although after WWII the Skyway Drive-In Theater opened up on the exact spot as Eastgate Center - and the long-past Brainerd Mission. Farther out, on the left, before Chickamauga Creek, was one small drive-in restaurant that served cherry cider in old fashioned brown beer bottles!

Two important items saved till last: Brainerd Road got its second tunnel (to match Ringgold Road's double "Bachman Tubes") while I was in high school around 1950. AND Chattanooga's very first PIZZA house was built at the corner of Brainerd Road and North Seminole Drive! (I later worked with people who drove many miles to buy the product at that location). Pizza was a brand new word to most Chattanoogans and they were called Pizza Pies at that time; the boys had brought it home with them from Italy, presumably. (Dean Martin sang a popular song which referred to “pizza pies”).The white brick Pizzaria building is still there.

(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 cymppm@comcast.net )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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