Chester Martin Remembers A St. Elmo Family Friend - Kate Gothard

Thursday, January 10, 2019 - by Chester Martin
Kate Gothard
Kate Gothard

Kate Gothard was my mother's closest lifetime friend. They first met through attendance at the St. Elmo Methodist Church, going on through grades 1-6 at the North St. Elmo Grammar School (about 1907), and maintained their "best friends" status all the way through High School - at Central - where they both graduated in 1913. The picture shown here is of Kate in sixth grade at the North St. Elmo School.

Kate married, though, long before my mom, and moved to a dairy farm at Boynton, Georgia, near Ringgold, with her new husband, Charles Kellerhals. Their dairy was very successful, and the Kellerhals family was well-known.

Kate grew up with at least two siblings, "Miss Ginny" and "Miss Nanny" Gothard, as they were affectionately known in those more courtly late Victorian times - and who never married. They continued to live in the family home after their parents died and their house was on one of those numbered, very steep streets directly on the side of Lookout Mountain.  The Patriarch of the family had been their father, Gustavus Gothard, who was widely known for many years as "Gate-keeper of Forest Hills Cemetery". I am told that the foundations of his gate-house still remain in plain view, inside the walls near the present cemetery entrance.

Recently, while hospitalized for a minor surgery, one of the hospital staff members came to my room for a short visit - and a very pleasant chat about St. Elmo ensued. She had first-hand knowledge of many of the  names there, and second-hand knowledge of others. Although the hospital lady was happily married, I was reminded of how in my mother's time in St. Elmo, there were not enough men for all the women, and many a St. Elmo lady was deprived of a husband. That is where the Chattanooga Medicine Company (now Chattem, Inc.) fit into the picture, as they only hired unmarried women during their earliest years. (Such business practice was very common throughout the country in the early 1900's). So, as it turned out, the "Medicine Company", as it was called locally, became a godsend for many a St. Elmo spinster lady who sought employment.

My visitor from the hospital staff also brought out the strong sense of Community which once existed in St. Elmo (and I think still does to a certain extent today). She knew of all the many different churches in the area which all seemed to be of a very co-operative spirit, and the people of St. Elmo held together as one strongly unified civic force. Maybe it was the slight feeling of isolation caused by being geographically enclosed in a narrow valley between two slopes, east and west, which was cut off from "town" to the north, by several long miles,  and also the more immediate trestles of the L&N Railway which conveniently created the northern border of the suburb. No Alton Park yet existed behind the ridge to the east, and the Georgia state line marked the southern border. A true "cut off" community, it soon developed its own sub-culture, as the luxury of a "family car" prevented easy mobility for at least two more decades in the future, and this helped  the community to look inward, becoming self reliant in the process. Streetcars did indeed exist, but they are nothing compared to the freedom granted by a private car. The "glitz and glamour" of Old Chattanooga was hard to access in those olden times - at least from the distant St. Elmo suburb!

It was fun chatting about the past - a past that gets dimmer and dimmer, even for old-timers like myself. Names like Gothard, Cathcart, Watson, Fry, Krichbaum, Poindexter, Ogleby, Anthony, Hendrix, Bates, and dozens of others, stick in my memory, however, and serve to recall those old times and define a community.

Yes, St. Elmo has produced some wonderful, influential, and successful people, not least among them the Gothards. My mom took me once or twice, while a small child, to visit her friend Kate and husband, Charles, on their dairy farm, and I remember their son, Charles, Jr., as he rapidly worked in one of the dairy out-buildings to wash what seemed like thousands of milk bottles. He used a really low-tech system of spinning brushes and soapy water to wash each bottle individually by hand, rinsing thoroughly so as to get them ready for re-filling with fresh milk for the next day's home delivery. There was very little real mechanization in those days of which I am speaking now - the 1940's - and in earlier stories I have told how glad I am that I was able to glimpse a tiny bit of those past delightfully un-sophisticated times when the old "hand" skills still ruled! Kate Gothard Kellerhals and husband, Charles, were exemplary of that era.

When my dad died in 1977, the first person to call my mom after reading dad's obit was her oldest and truest lifelong friend -  from St. Elmo - Kate Gothard Kellerhals.

* * *

Chester Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net


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