John Shearer: John Ross Building In News Once Housed D.S. Etheridge Ford/Lincoln

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The old and currently non-descript John Ross Building on the north side of Fourth Street between Market and Broad has been in the news in recent days with plans by Steam Logistics to move its headquarters there.

Plans call for greatly revamping the building into a glass-covered and contemporary-looking structure that appears much different from the almost windowless structure that exists now.

A look at some old newspaper clippings at the Chattanooga Public Library reveals the building also formerly had a much more appealing look than its current state, with plenty of windows covering it then, too.

During the early years, it housed the D.S.

Etheridge Co., which was the first Ford dealer in Chattanooga and sold Lincolns, too.

The building’s walls could literally tell tales of Mr. Etheridge recounting stories as a very early Chattanooga automobile salesman trying to get people to buy the horseless carriage over the horse-drawn one.

Some old newspaper clippings on file at the library from 1934 when Mr. Etheridge had been in business for 25 years tell of his early years when he was trying to sell cars almost literally out of his car. Prior to that, he had evidently been a photographer and picture framer, according to a 2005 chattanoogan.com article by Harmon Jolley.

The Model T – Henry Ford’s first mass-produced and more affordable automobile that he developed after several years of selling other cars that had been produced more slowly – came out in 1908. And in 1909, a young Mr. Etheridge, who went by Stokely, was trying to sell this automobile to a still-skeptical public.

On one occasion, he had entered the office of Dr. German Haymore on Market Street near Ninth Street (now M.L. King Jr. Boulevard) and approached him about buying a Ford. Dr. Haymore was not interested, but Dr. R.C. Graham, a dentist who had an office next door, saw him and told him he might be interested.

An enthusiastic Mr. Etheridge offered to show him what the automobile could do, and they even made it up Lookout Mountain, although not with as much engine power as later automobiles would have. Dr. Graham liked the car and bought it, apparently becoming the first Chattanoogan to ever buy a Ford.

And Mr. Etheridge would go on to become the longest-operating Ford dealer south of the Ohio River at the time he sold his business.

Exactly how he became interested in selling Fords might require a little more research, but he soon became successful after opening the first Ford agency at 10 W. Sixth St. The dealership soon moved to Williams Street, where it remained until 1911.

The Etheridge dealership then had its own sales room and service facility on East 11th Street across from the Customs House federal building.

In the 1934 anniversary tributes, McCallie School head Spencer McCallie said he used to visit the 11th Street facility, part of which was open air and muddy. He remembered that the facility was always overrun with business, a predicament later Chattanooga motorists have also encountered at repair shops.

The Etheridge business later moved in the mid-1910s to 401-03 Broad Street, but in 1925, Mr. Etheridge moved into the current John Ross Building that had been used for at least 10 years by a Buick-Cadillac dealership led by Emmett Newton of Chattanooga and W.M. Hardwick of Dalton.

Mr. Etheridge used the John Ross Building for his Ford dealership, and he had architect Louis Bull draw up plans for some arched buildings on the north side of the Ross facility.

The adjacent arched building that fronted Market Street was used as his Lincoln showroom, while the arched wing that sat back from the street farther north was used for his Etheridge Tire Service facility. The latter had exclusive rights in Hamilton County to sell Goodyear tires.

Some gas pumps were also in front of the tire store.

These two facilities were evidently considered architectural showplaces for the automobile trade in Chattanooga at the time.

Mr. Etheridge – whose nephews and nieces were Lawrences and Dosters, some of whom entered the automobile business as well – had also opened an apparently still-standing service station in the 2400 block of McCallie Avenue. There he also sold used and new cars from what was like a satellite facility.

By the mid-1930s, Etheridge kept its showroom in the Bull-designed facilities and its used car facility behind them along Broad Street, but it also now had another facility across Broad. Newton Chevrolet, meanwhile, began using the John Ross Building.

In 1941, Mr. Etheridge sold the Ford dealership business to Broadway Motors, which eventually became Furlow-Cate Ford, and he became Hamilton County manager from 1941-42. It must have been a position that in later years morphed along with county judge into county executive and now county mayor.

Mr. Etheridge also continued to operate a used car, trailer and boat business for a number of years at 319 Broad St. after selling his Ford/Lincoln/Mercury dealership.

Mr. Etheridge, who in later years lived on Chattanooga Valley Road on some property, died on April 13, 1965, at the age of 85 and was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery.

His obituary said he had also been involved with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Kiwanis Club, the Elks Club, the Mountain City Club and was a member of Lookout Mountain Baptist Church.

Newton Chevrolet continued to occupy the old John Ross structure and had also later taken over the Bull-designed facilities. Up until the 1970s, when Newton moved to West Ninth Street and Riverfront Parkway, the Ross building was used to store cars – since no expansive lot was available in downtown. Many a customer would walk into the parking garage-like building with a salesperson to check out the newest models. 

One or two other buildings had also sat on the south side of the Ross building before Fourth Street was widened in later decades.

After Newton moved was when the building became known as the John Ross Building.

And now the building waits for its new chapter with an entirely new look done much in the spirit of automobile models being updated.

But a few memories remain of its old days in its original appearance housing the Hardwick Buick-Cadillac dealership, D.S. Etheridge Co., Newton Chevrolet and possibly other businesses when Chattanoogans were growing in their love for the automobile.

* * * * *

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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