Chester Martin Remembers Sand Mountain

Friday, September 16, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Chester Martin
Chester Martin

Mention of that good name, Sand Mountain, almost certainly brings a smile to the face of the hearer. IF he is a true Chattanoogan, or someone very familiar with our region, it certainly will. That name has a  definite "down home" ring to it that brings on a sense of happiness and well being.

Some of my very earliest memories go back to the days when I would ride to the curb market on 11th Street with my parents to buy fresh farm produce on Saturdays, and most often it was watermelons we would be looking for.

As our car pulled up to the curb someone from the nearest stall would immediately come up to the open car window and begin a spiel which began with something like, "These are all SAND MOUNTAIN watermelons and are guaranteed or your money back!" Then he would give a prospective melon the "plink or plunk" test by thumping it several times with his thumb. If the sound went "plink", it meant the melon was not yet ripe enough to be at its eating best, and would continue down his line-up  until he found us a great-looking selection that went "plunk". That test never failed, and it was true that Sand Mountain had a great reputation for producing high quality melons - and everything else, for that matter! We have left the curb market many, many times with our purchase of Sand Mountain products, secure in the knowledge that we would not be disappointed when we got home and ready to enjoy them.

My dad was from a farm in Chattooga County, Ga., just across the line from adjacent Walker County. His expert knowledge of farm products had been put to the test many times since coming to Chattanooga in 1913. He affirmed that virtually anything with a Sand Mountain origin would be at least as good as the Chattooga County product back where he grew up. Dad used to eat a lot of meals over at Chattanooga's old market house which was torn down to make way for Patten Parkway at the end of WW2. He always sought out the vendors from Sand Mountain, who seemed to him to be the friendliest of all. Dad was no jokester but enjoyed a jovial conversation with anyone along his mail route, and so these good farm folk from Sand Mountain were among his favorite people in town to pass time with.

But, back in the 1950's Sand Mountain was noted for a really lively and amazing industry which had a dynamic effect on their economy. Enterprising men from that entire area would drive north to find inferior cars for sale cheap around the large manufacturers' factories. They would buy them and tow them down U.S. Highway. 41 back home to Sand Mountain. There an entire family would apply themselves to turn the lemon automobile into lemonade. While I was stationed at Sewart AFB south of Nashville, driving my VW Beetle back and forth between the base and Chattanooga, I have encountered many such towing operations - all of them headed southward. Once repaired to tip-top shape the cars could be sold anywhere for a good profit, with Chattanooga being the best nearby market.

My mother also had very fond memories of Sand Mountain which went back to the year 1903. That was the sad year her father, James Lyde Young, died, at age 43. My grandmother was suddenly forced into being the head of the household, having two small children to care for - and the need to find a job to support them. By chance, my grandmother had a sister who lived on Sand Mountain who begged to keep my mom (age 7), and brother, (about 10) while my grandmother rearranged her life. Aunt Addie had no children of her own, so the two kids were soon packed off from St. Elmo and welcomed to their Aunt Addie's home somewhere on Sand Mountain. A man was hired to take them there in a farm wagon. (This was before CARS, folks!) They had to spend one night on the road – in a farmhouse -  before arriving safely at the aunt's home next day. I have a tape recording of my mother expressing the jubilation she and her brother got out of that summer spent on the mountain! They were apparently spoiled rotten by their aunt, and my mom describes community picnics with tons of food, home canned fruits, meats, vegetables and everything under the sun that was edible. She tells about meeting a snake in the road and a minor skirmish with a bossy cow. When one Mountain family would kill an animal for cooking, there were always too many parts left over, so the owner would go around to all his neighbors giving the extra pieces away to whomever wanted them. Then later, all those involved would reciprocate, so no one got cheated in the process. Mother and brother spent two wonderful summers on Sand Mountain while their mom went to work for the Chattanooga Medicine Company (now Chattem, Inc.). I heard Sand Mountain stories for as long as my mother lived!

That car towing thing, described above, got a lot of national attention, actually, as it showed American Ingenuity and Private Enterprise at its very best. I plainly remember Paul Harvey, the long-time ABC News commentator, devoting an entire 15-minute noonday broadcast to it, extolling the praises of their prosperous road to success.

There is a LOT of Civil War history all over Sand Mountain as well - far too much to get into here. If you like such history you can find it easily enough, but I, for one, was never a fan of that war. There is much to be said about the geology and the archeology of the area also. Remember that the famous Russell Cave ancient site is in the neighborhood, as is Nickajack Cave. Both Creek and Cherokee Native Americans claimed the mountain at one time or another.

There are also a great many larger and smaller communities on Sand Mountin, such as Bryant, Higdon, Geraldine, Ider, Henagar, Skaggs Corner, Ten Broeck, Boaz, etc. etc. Some of those names fairly beckon you on with their rather "quaint" or "early American", and totally unpretentious sound. Sadly, I have absolutely NO first-hand knowledge of the mountain. No relatives or friends there for me to visit; I just remember the good products and the industrious people who made it work. If you recognize half or more of those names, YOU might be from there!

Too bad I don’t have any images to share of the gorgeous scenery that they say can be found on and near Sand Mountain, and I apologize for the relative brevity of this writing.

(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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