John Shearer: History Of The Hardy Home On Lookout Mountain

Monday, March 25, 2013 - by John Shearer

If the large Tudor Revival-style cottage just south of the Cravens House were located on about any other lot on Lookout Mountain, it would likely be a sought-after property, even in its current less-than-perfect condition.

The reason would likely be due to both its architectural features and its history as the residence of former Chattanooga mayor and Marion County industrialist Richard “Dick” Hardy, who was apparently also a well-liked citizen.

But because the home now sits on National Park Service property and getting it ready for any long-term use in this era of limited public funds would be expensive, its status is much different.

“It would cost about $1.2 million to bring it up to code,” said park ranger Anton Heinlein, who is stationed at Point Park.

As a result, the National Park Service is seeking the public’s help through April 8, in trying to decide whether to remove the home or preserve it, just as it is with other Lookout Mountain national park-related properties, including a log cabin-style caretaker’s building on the north side of Cravens House.

The issue of the Hardy home began when the Robert Williams family, the most recent owner, sold it and its acreage to the Trust for Public Land. The Trust in turn donated the property to the Park Service, due to its location where the Civil War Battle of Lookout Mountain took place on Nov. 24, 1863.

“We purchased it primarily for the historic nature of the land and its position on the mountain during the Civil War,” said Rick R. Wood, Tennessee state director for the Trust for Public Land in Chattanooga.

Mr. Wood added that when the home was purchased, officials contemplated using it as a potential ranger residence. However, that has not occurred.

Ranger Heinlein added that if the Hardy home were torn down, the Park Service would likely make the site into a parking lot. The current parking lot just west of the Cravens House would then be turned back into a grassy and landscaped area to give more of a historic feel to the area immediately around the Cravens House.

The National Park Service announced in early February that it was conducting a public survey on the home and other properties around Cravens House and Point Park. As a result, about 40 people attended an informational meeting on Feb. 28, Ranger Heinlein said. Also, interested citizens have entered ideas online.

But the dialogue is evidently much quieter than when some other issues were being debated on that side of Lookout Mountain in November 1863. And part of the reason may simply be that the Hardy house has rarely received much public attention, despite its early owner.

A check in some old Chattanooga city directories shows that Mr. Hardy and his wife, Ethel Soper Hardy, had been living on Lookout Mountain as far back as about 1910. That was just about two or three years after the Michigan native came to Southeast Tennessee to help oversee the development of the Dixie Portland Cement Company plant in the Marion County company town that would be named Richard City after him.

He was secretary of the Dixie Portland partnership at its start, but he eventually became president and no doubt became a successful and wealthy businessman. Legend has also stated that early Western movie star Tom Mix worked at the plant in its early days.

Prior to coming to Southeast Tennessee, Mr. Hardy had been a school superintendent, and worked in such business fields as insurance and educational supplies sales work. He had also been a standout pitcher for the University of Michigan baseball team in the early 1890s, when baseball was definitely America’s pastime.

The former moundsman apparently liked being on elevated places, based on the fact that Lookout Mountain was the only place he lived while in Chattanooga until his death in 1927. Because exact addresses are not given in old city directories for outlying areas, it is possible that he lived in that home as far back as about 1910. More detailed research would probably be required to verify if he lived anywhere else on the mountain before settling in that home.

While the home is of a good size, it is certainly not as showy as some houses built by some well-known families about that time. Perhaps the best feature, besides the view, is a screen porch that no doubt captures some of the nice breezes coming from the westerly and northwesterly directions.

UTC art and architecture professor Dr. Gavin Townsend thinks the home has several positive qualities that make it a great example of the Tudor Revival style popular in the 1920s. Among them are metal casement windows and a slate roof.

“The multi-colored slate roof, so unusual in the South, looks to be in excellent condition,” he said. “Indeed, it’s a model of the type. And the half-timbered detailing and stucco walls appear to be in a good state of preservation.”

Dr. Townsend also very much likes the fieldstone foundation of the carriage house, which rises to the height of a single story toward the rear and coordinates well with the stone walls around it.

However, he is a little disappointed that the fireplace mantle and chimney breast in the main house are missing.

“But otherwise the house looks to be intact,” he said, adding that he would encourage potential restorers to paint the green-colored half timbering a more appropriate brown.

While the home was likely a nice retreat for Mr. Hardy from the stresses of running a big business, it likely became even more of one when he was appointed in 1923 as Chattanooga mayor to replace A.W. Chambliss, who had been named a state Supreme Court justice.

During his service until 1927, when Mayor Ed Bass began a 20-year tenure, Mayor Hardy oversaw several changes in the city. These included the opening of Memorial Auditorium that he had supported, the extension of Broad Street southward, the annexation of the 12th and 13th wards, the opening of the city-owned Brainerd Golf Course, and the development of a more modern health department, which he considered his greatest contribution.

He was also interested in education dating back to his early working years, and the R.H. Hunt-designed Hardy Junior High on Dodson Avenue in East Chattanooga was a testament. So was the company school built in Richard City, which was renamed in his memory after his death.

He and his wife had no children, but he reportedly helped dozens of young people by paying to send them to college. He also took an interest in his company employees, and knew the first names of all of them. He also paid to send several World War I veterans to American Legion national conventions every year.

He was also beloved among the African-American community, old news reports said.

Although recent Chattanooga mayors Jon Kinsey and Bob Corker put their financial interests in blind trusts while serving, Mayor Hardy evidently kept a close eye on the Dixie Portland company during his term. It later merged to become the Dixie-Penn company, and he moved to New York to run it after leaving the mayor’s post.

He and his wife lived in the Biltmore Hotel there, but he died of heart-related complications at New York’s Roosevelt Hospital on Aug. 14, 1927, at the age of only 59.

Because of his popularity and likability, and the fact that he died shortly after leaving the mayor’s post, his funeral drew numerous Chattanoogans. His body lay in state at City Hall, and then the funeral was held at Memorial Auditorium before his burial in Forest Hills Cemetery.

Officiating were Episcopal Bishop John Durham Wing and Dr. T.S. McCallie.

His funeral was originally scheduled for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where he was a member, but was likely moved to the auditorium due to the crowd expected.

His wife, whose brother, Ellis Soper, had been involved in the construction of the Market Street Bridge and was a partner in the cement company, apparently continued to live in the Cravens Terrace home until at least not long before her death in January 1944.

She was very active in the development of the local humane society for animals.

A newspaper item at the time of Mayor Hardy’s death said that the Hardys had lived for a number of years with Mrs. Lewis Coleman.

While many of Mayor Hardy’s contributions have been forgotten due to the passage of time and the fact that those who knew him well are no longer living, his house is back in the forefront.

It is only halfway up the mountain, but the man who lived there literally climbed the proverbial mountaintop in business, civic service and popularity.

Note: To find out more about the public input process regarding the Hardy home and other buildings at Cravens House and Point Park, click here: http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=365&projectID=14746&documentID=51678

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

 


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