Chattanoogans: Gerry And Estes Stephens Have Witnessed Plenty Of Riverview History

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - by John Shearer

Bordering the Tennessee River and the Chattanooga Golf and Country Cub, Riverview has been a continually desirable neighborhood since its inception.

However, it has undergone basically three different waves of development during that time. That has included the building of mostly large homes in the early 20th century, the construction of mid-century houses on vacant lots, and the current trend of significantly remodeling or enlarging older houses in the now-built-up community.

For the last two phases and even part of the first one, Gerry and Estes Stephens have uniquely had front-row seats. Since the mid-1960s, they have lived at 1516 Lyndhurst Drive and have become among the longest continuous residents of the same home in Riverview. Not only that, but they both visited and spent time in Riverview years before.

As they colorfully reminisced about all those times one day recently from their home, they sounded almost like they were right out of the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.

Although they had moved into their new home during the second Riverview development phase of mid-century construction, it was still a time to look back as well. That was primarily because they received an opportunity to see the final days of the famed Lyndhurst mansion.

Shortly before the home was torn down about 1960, longtime Chattanooga developer and friend Tommy Lupton showed them the former mansion of Coca-Cola bottler J.T. Lupton.

“I was pregnant with Lucie (now Lucie Holland) and the house was in such bad condition,” said Mrs. Stephens. “Water had gutted it and wires were hanging down from the ceilings with big chunks of plaster. And there were holes in the floor, and it was too dangerous to go upstairs.

“It was a dumb idea to walk in the house, but we did and loved it.”

After the noted mansion of 34,000 square feet was torn down after being vacant for about 20 years, and Tommy Lupton redeveloped part of the estate into homes, the Stephens built a home on the old grounds in 1964. At the time, they had been living on Haywood Avenue just a little north of Riverview.

They hired Ted Franklin to design their somewhat uniquely shaped mid-century ranch home, with Mrs. Stephens offering significant input. Due to the shape of the sloping lot, some moat-like ditches had to be built around it.

Mrs. Stephens said she still vividly remembers trying to walk around the haphazard construction site and climb in a window to see the inside work, later realizing that was not a good idea from a safety perspective.

Mr. Stephens recalled that they also had to build a deep hole to hook onto the sewer.

A sophisticated, Roman-like drainage system had been put into place in the surrounding area for the Lyndhurst mansion years before, and it is apparently still there. Mrs. Stephens remembered that Fred Lupton, the brother of Tommy Lupton (and cousin of the J.T. Luptons), formerly liked to crawl through the pipes when he was younger.

One time years later, a neighbor was burning her leaves and the smoke got into the drainage pipe system and smoke came out at several places, causing the Stephens children – Allison and Gerry Jr. in addition to Lucie -- to think that must be where Hell is.

Some of the bricks from Lyndhurst were used in the construction of other homes in Atlanta and maybe elsewhere, but a small number were used for the Lyndhurst Drive entrance columns. The Stephens also got to take some of the bricks to a vacation home in Mentone, Ala., where they were partly used but were mostly just piled up. And many of them still remain in the same pile, they said.

Mr. Stephens remembered a Mentone neighbor found out about them and wanted to buy one for his brick collection. “I paid no attention (to the significance of the bricks) until that fellow got so excited,” he recalled with a laugh.

After moving into their home, the Stephens became acquainted with Cartter and Margaret Lupton, who lived in the still-standing and now-enlarged home on the south side of Lyndhurst. Cartter, the son of J.T. Lupton, was nice but shy, although they remember him joking with Tommy Lupton that he was going to have to bill him for water after he saw Tommy hook a hose up to his house during the Lyndhurst redevelopment work.

The Stephens became better acquainted with Cartter’s wife, Margaret, who had a sweet and friendly disposition.

When Lucie was only about 4 or 5, she wandered off and Mrs. Stephens later found her at the Luptons. “She was in Mrs. Lupton’s lap drinking Coca-Cola,” Mrs. Stephens recalled with a chuckle.

As Lucie and younger sister Allison became a little older, they sold Girl Scout cookies to Mrs. Lupton, who would buy 50 boxes from each girl and donate them to what was then known as the Girls Club.

On Halloween, the Stephens children received sweets in return from the Luptons.

“The butler would meet then at the door with a silver tray piled up with candy,” Mrs. Stephens said. “Mrs. Lupton was so sweet to the children and let them play in the yard except she told them not to climb in the dogwood trees.”

The Stephens also remember that when the younger Lupton home was still on about 28 acres, the staff would spend a long time meticulously trimming by hand the hedges that ran around the property and cutting the massive lawn by using only push mowers.

After Cartter Lupton died in 1977, Tommy Lupton was trying to sell this home and about three lots for $125,000. The Stephens got to look at this home, too, and its condition was a sharp contrast to the neglected Lyndhurst home years earlier.

“You could eat off the floors in the basement,” Mrs. Stephens recalled. “They had cleaned it up.”

The Stephens also became well acquainted with all the other neighbors. The Dr. Richard Donaldsons and the Ned Boehms lived on the west side at 1512, while the home across Lyndhurst Drive at 1519 Lyndhurst Drive has seen more residents. It was built by Dan Trotter, and such people as Lyle Finley and Jim Steffner later lived in it.

For a period in the early years, about every other adult male that lived on Lyndhurst Drive was a medical doctor. Mr. Stephens – who enjoyed a career as an executive with American National Bank – remembered that the neighborhood children all innocently called him Dr. Stephens, too.

Among the doctors on the street was Bob Demos, who lived at 1508 Lyndhurst. In 1965, not long after the Stephens family moved in, a now-deceased man named James Pickens Davis had robbed the old Hamilton National Bank (now First Tennessee) in Red Bank and then went to the home of Dr. Demos on Lyndhurst Drive.

He was staked out there holding Dr. Demos and family members hostage for a period before he and Dr. Demos left at the doctor’s encouragement to keep others safe. Dr. Demos later escaped unharmed from the kidnapper’s car in North Georgia. However, while the situation was transpiring on Lyndhurst Drive, it was very tense, the Stephens remember.

“We had a bomb shelter (basement) and there were sharpshooters there (on the street) and the police made us go down in it,” Mrs. Stephens recalled.

They also remember one time when some gypsy types came through the neighborhood and would try to get someone’s attention outside while another might break into a home.

But the vast majority of the memories are of fun and happy times, they said. That included the Stephens children exploring other mid-century homes under construction. One local adult resident apparently enjoyed exploring the homes on his own as well.

Ed Chobot Jr., a schoolmate of Mr. Stephens from McCallie and well-respected doctor, was building a house at 1512 Lexington Road where the Brent Mills family lives now. He had gotten some brick from a former Lutheran church downtown when it was torn down, but he liked to check out the other homes under construction.

“Eddie would go in a house and get ideas,” Mrs. Stephens recalled with a laugh, adding that he would even try to barter for an unused item like a beam to put in his own home.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Stephens were connected with Riverview even indirectly when they were younger. Mr. Stephens had grown up on Avon Place off Duane Road – just a short distance north and across Hixson Pike from their current residence.

His father, Chester “Check” Stephens, was a Penn Mutual insurance official. The younger Mr. Stephens remembered playing golf sometimes at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club while at McCallie and then having to walk the mile or so home. Needless to say, he burned a few calories in the process.

He lived not far from the home of Mrs. Sim Perry Long, and remembers when Girls Preparatory School’s May Day was held a couple of times at her well-landscaped home in the 1930s when he was a child. “I sneaked through the bushes to see it,” he recalled.

Mrs. Stephens grew up on Lookout Mountain as the daughter of Provident insurance treasurer John Otey Carter Jr. But she as a student had spent the night at the Cartter Lupton home in Riverview with the Luptons’ daughter, the future Elizabeth Fontaine and later Elizabeth Davenport.

“Elizabeth was shy but Mrs. Lupton always made us feel comfortable,” she said, pointing out it was probably not easy for Elizabeth as the member of such a wealthy family to figure out who genuinely wanted to be her friend.

The Stephens and Carter families had known each other, but Gerry and Estes did not. However, one time while working at the former American National Bank branch in North Chattanooga, he received an invitation to a party from a friend. The note said he was to take Estes Carter in what was a fun matchmaking custom at the time.

He called up Estes and said he was sorry he could not go, that he had a bank employees’ Christmas party scheduled that same night. They started talking and he invited her to go to the bank party. She accepted and they had a great time conversing at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, in between her calls to her father that she was OK and would be home a little later. A romance soon blossomed and marriage followed.

Mr. Stephens jokingly remembered that he had invited another woman to the bank party before calling the future Mrs. Stephens, and that woman had declined. Only when he saw the wedding announcements in the paper a few days later did he realize why – she was engaged.

From their beginning at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, to raising a family a few feet away and now enjoying their retirement years more than 50 years later, Riverview has created numerous positive memories for them, they said.

“It was a fun neighborhood for children,” said Mrs. Stephens.

Added Mr. Stephens, “It is safe and convenient and has positive people. It is a happy neighborhood, and it has just been ideal.”

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