John Shearer: Saying Goodbye To DuPont School Trees, Historic Hamill Road Home

Thursday, October 4, 2018 - by John Shearer

In recent days, two more reminders of the days of yesteryear in the Hixson area have disappeared with hardly a trace.


And they were both on busy streets.


The first was an old pre-World War II home with an interesting side carport off Hamill Road.

It has been cleared for a new facility for Flywheel Brands print marketing firm, which is currently located nearby at 4793 Adams Road.


The lot is at the southwest corner of the intersection with Northpoint Boulevard, a street that when the home was young was known as Godsey Lane on that end.


And at DuPont Elementary off Hixson Pike on the south edge of Hixson a mile or two away, about a half dozen old and large trees have been cut down.


They had stood along the south end of the front parking lot of the school possibly since it was built nearly 60 years ago, or not long after it opened.


According to Hamilton County Schools spokesman Tim Hensley, the trees were taken down due to a concern for the safety of the children at the school and because of the condition of the trees.


“A couple of the trees had lost limbs and/or had fallen into other trees and they had to be cut for safety purposes,” he said.


A big spot where the trees were cut and grinded has been visible from Hixson Pike since the work was done, and one or two other large trees along the road and parking lot were trimmed.


Regarding the house on Hamill Road, former Chattanoogan Linda Courvoisier said that her grandfather, Richard Paradiso, and a friend, a Mr. Ferris, built that entire house back when Ms. Courvoisier’s mother was a teen in the 1930s.


She said her first cousin Ray Catlett, who lived in the home as a child and has owned it as well in recent decades until its sale, found some information in the house’s columns dating its construction to 1934 – the height of the Great Depression.


“He found the items with a newspaper clipping giving the date and the three teens living there. His (Ray’s) mother, my mother and a third sister had each placed a ring in with the clipping,” said Ms. Courvoisier, who now lives in Stockbridge, Ga.


“At that time the entire family lived in a small house that sat over to the left hand side of the bigger home until the residence was completed.”


She added that the front of the house was also decorated with the stones seen in the columns of that carport.


At the time the home was built, Hixson and Hamill Road were much more rural than today, and Ms. Courvoisier said stories she has heard confirm that.


“My mother said when they first moved there, Hamill Road was an old dirt road and had no neighbors to speak of,” she said.


Her grandmother and grandfather at that time worked in their own restaurant in downtown Chattanooga on Market Street close to where the Capitol Theater was.


 “My grandmother made her own chili, and hamburgers sold for 5 cents each,” she said.


Hamill Road was actually named after her great-uncle and his brother, Dan and Sam Hamill, respectively, she said.


Ms. Courvoisier has her own memories of the recently razed house when she was a child, even though she never lived there.


“My grandmother rented out the side part to the house (where the carport was located) and it had a trellis in front where I would stand sometimes and speak with the renters inside.”


Ms. Courvoisier’s father, Everett Liles, was an early employee of Chickamauga Dam when it was under construction in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when jobs were hard to find.


They had work badges, and she recalled her father telling her that the employees would proudly wear their work badges to places like church as well.


Mr. Liles’ church was Hixson United Methodist Church. He attended there for a number of years until his death in 2005. He bought the newest steeple at the church, his daughter said. She added that many of her family members are buried across the street from the church in the old Hixson Cemetery.


“I spent many happy times in Hixson,” she said, adding that she was in the first sixth-grade graduating class of Rivermont Elementary after it opened in the mid-1950s, and students were taken from both Hixson and Red Bank elementaries.


Rivermont School is still there, although it has been enlarged and altered on the outside since its original construction.


But the Hamill Road home is no longer there in any form.


Ms. Courvoisier said she is not shocked, as she knew Mr. Catlett had been marketing it for sale for years. But the buyer was a little bit of a surprise, as he assumed it would actually be sold to some kind of medically related firm, since it is near CHI Memorial Hospital Hixson, and numerous healthcare offices are in that area, she said.


An apparently empty mid-century ranch home on the razed home’s south side is still standing.


An idealist and historic preservationist would probably have loved to see the razed home preserved and turned into perhaps some kind of office suitable for being located in an old residence on a busy street.


That has been done in some places like Dayton Boulevard just south of the now-razed former Red Bank Middle School, and East Brainerd Road just east of Interstate 75.


But often in a city as big as Chattanooga, people are also looking for lots on busy streets to completely redevelop. And if no strict historic preservation-like code is in place, as does not exist in most areas of Chattanooga near commercial zones, they can quickly be leveled in the name of progress.


If this home and its adjoining sheds and out buildings and its somewhat large lot could have all been picked up and moved to somewhere like Signal Mountain, Red Bank or North Chattanooga, it would have likely gone fast if the price was fair.


Regarding the cut trees at DuPont, one consolation for tree lovers is that they are just a few among numerous ones still standing around the expansive school grounds.


In fact, the school actually still has nearly 140 other mostly mature hardwoods, a spot check of the school grounds last weekend revealed. The still-standing trees include oaks, hickories, a cedar, maples, dogwoods, and tulip poplars, among possibly others.


As a result, DuPont Elementary is somewhat unique in having so many trees, at least those that appear to have grown up organically instead of being planted by a landscaper. Many of them are located on the south end of the school in the triangular green space area that straddles the runoff ditch.


A couple of small ball fields are located within the two sections on either side of the ditch, as well.


This place near where Hixson Pike and Access Road come together has long been a rare bucolic spot to enjoy for passersby in an area of mostly commercial buildings sitting on asphalt.


More research would be required to learn all the factors that went into play in the layout of the school grounds just five years or so after the then-large DuPont plant opened amid fanfare not unlike that given the Volkswagen plant’s opening of recent years.


But one fact that is for sure is that many Chattanoogans of 2018 apparently care about trees. As evidence, a large amount of attention is being given a large post oak tree that might be taken down if a proposed development at the old Quarry Golf Course site in Mountain Creek moves forward.


An examination of the other DuPont trees did reveal that, while most seem to be in good shape, a few appear to have dead limbs or other problem issues. Several also have mature poison ivy vines or other vines growing up them, and one older tree near the far south corner has fallen down in recent months and is still on the ground like a fallen arboreal soldier.


City of Chattanooga urban forester Gene Hyde said in an interview that with any large grove of trees like these, the best way to care for them and check their health is through a certified arborist.


“There are a lot of factors that can come into play regarding the health of trees,” he said. “And a lot of these factors need to be considered when coming up with a logical plan.”


Follow-up efforts to find what kind of regular examinations these other trees receive or whether DuPont Elementary uses the trees in its teaching curriculum were unsuccessful.


But the trees’ aesthetic look along a stretch of road with few other natural amenities seems to be calling out for some kind of extra attention to be given to them to prevent as few as possible from being cut down while also ensuring safety.


Perhaps a volunteer group -- or organization from DuPont School -- working together with the county schools administration is needed in this day and time.


At least a tree lover might suggest that.


Anyone who loves the aesthetic fabric of Chattanooga – whether tree groves or architecturally pleasing historic homes – might think it is worth working through a little red tape of bureaucracy.


That might definitely seem better for many people than seeing the literal or figurative yellow tape of safety surrounding a demolition site, a scene that was found at both places in recent days.


* * * * *


Note: This is another in a series of stories looking at, analyzing and critiquing Chattanooga’s architectural, urban and pastoral landscape. To see the previous story in the series, read here:


* * * * *

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