Chester Martin Remembers Clarence T. Jones

Sunday, November 15, 2015
Clarence T. Jones and sons Arthur and Bruce
Clarence T. Jones and sons Arthur and Bruce

The arrival of Clarence T. Jones in Chattanooga bode well for the city, as he was an architect by profession and an amateur astronomer for the pure delight of it. His personality was such that he quickly cut through "niceties" and philosophies, the sooner to arrive at substance. In this way, he was a bit like a Donald Trump, who readily speaks his mind! He arrived in Chattanooga "on the night the old Hamilton County Courthouse burned", or so said short newspaper sketches I have read.

That was in 1910, over 20 years before my time, and he set up offices in the James Building downtown.

Clarence Jones's contributions to the city were many, and several of his YM- or YWCA buildings are still in place. He also designed the old red brick Hamilton County Jail on Walnut Street which was long-since demolished and replaced by the present facility next door. The marble eagle from Mr. Jones's jail entrance is preserved beside the newer jail’s entrance, however.

I never knew anything about a Mrs. Jones; it was only Clarence and two sons, Arthur and Bruce, both of whom were qualified architects. In approximately 1935, he and his sons set out to build an observatory - on a hill overlooking Tuxedo Avenue and the new, very modern, Brainerd Junior High School. Every part of that new structure was home-made, except for the fine pieces of optical glass which had to be procured from a special source, and perhaps from outside the U.S. The foundry patterns for the telescope superstructure were stored downstairs in the basement after the castings were made, and Mr. Llewellyn Evans, another amateur astronomer with such impeccable credits as "Chief Consulting Engineer for TVA", was elated to find them there. There were abundant amounts of Jeweler's rouge stored there also, which bespoke the hand-making of the 20.5" primary mirror, and the smaller secondary mirror on the observatory premises. Clarence Jones personally saw to the perfect completion of every process, only calling in contractors who laid the brick, poured the concrete, and did the carpentry work according to Jones's plans. I feel certain there was a lot of "trial and error" involved in making so large and ambitious a telescope.

The new observatory attracted visitors from everywhere, and it became home to the Barnard Astronomical Society, which still meets there regularly. Through the years it has had many prominent speakers, such as Dr. Werner Von Braun, and Dr. Bart Bok. Dr. J. Park McCallie, son of the founder of McCallie School, also addressed the Society more than once, as his Doctorate had been in Astronomy. All of this activity had been set in motion through the enthusiasm of Clarence T. Jones.

For quite a number of years the observatory sat virtually unused, its directorship assigned to someone from the "Parks and Recreation" department of the city of Chattanooga. This "director" was nothing more than an attendant who simply unlocked the door once a week, and kept a log of the number of visitors. I am sure that Mr. Jones was disheartened to say the least.

But sometime in the mid-1940's the observatory was acquired by the University of Chattanooga, much to Mr. Jones's delight. It had been neglected and needed regular maintenance, however, being about five miles off-campus, it did not get the maintenance needed. The University brought in a brand new Associate Professor of Astronomy, Dr. Karel Hujer. Hujer was as much a philosopher as a scientist, his personality clashing with that of Clarence Jones. (These verbal disagreements were just that: purely verbal). Jones was advancing in years and had serious heart problems. There was a handful of young people (like myself) whom Clarence urged in subliminal ways to become, if not professional astronomers, at least devoted amateurs. His sons had families of their own and were involved in their own professional lives; only Arthur (Art) attended the Barnard Astronomical Society meetings regularly and contributed to the dialogue.

A very touching and memorable moment happened to me one evening there, out on the flat observation deck: Mr. Jones surprised me with the presentation of a small penknife, which I still have among my souvenirs. It was the aging Mr. Jones's way of asking me to be one of those "second generation" observatory boys who would carry the legacy forward. (You cannot imagine what receiving a knife symbolized in that day - I was to be one of his "anointed" ones - and I have totally failed him).

When I think back on Clarence T. Jones, I remember him as being very direct in expressing himself. He would interrupt you to inject his own opinion, and he had the clearest blue eyes - not exactly cold, but always flashing about as if signifying that his brain was constantly at work.

My mother and I attended Mr. Jones's funeral service at First Presbyterian Church (1953), and Llewellyn Evans drove us afterwards to Forest Hills Cemetery. One of my early heroes was gone.

(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 )


Jones Observatory in Brainerd
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