John Shearer: Exploring And Searching For Greenways, Part 32 – Signal Point And Unique McCoy Homeplace

Tuesday, September 14, 2021 - by John Shearer

In early 2020, when I had just started this series and thought I might feature Signal Point soon, I was up at the popular lookoff area on Signal Mountain one weekday afternoon in the winter when hardly anyone else was there.

I was lightly jogging back and forth in a zig-zag manner on the steep grassy and tree-covered area leading down to the scenic point at the bottom when I noticed a woman who was probably close to 80 or older.

Likely a neighborhood resident, she was energetically walking with a good clip along the connecting streets and down to the point and back up. After she was back near the parking area, I asked her if she ever grew tired of the view off the mountain there.

Her reply surprised me. “No, it gets better every time,” she said to me full of enthusiasm.

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “What a neat perspective.”

That was a great and somewhat rare opportunity she was getting to enjoy daily, I realized as well, even though climbing a steep hill is required. But she no doubt found comfort and rejuvenation physically, visually and emotionally by such a daily jaunt.

It is an opportunity all people residing on the Chattanooga area mountains can experience daily and is a key component in making these places desired communities in which to live.

Signal Mountain seems to have a variety of places to enjoy the greenway and park experience, too. There are several trails around the mountain, including one leading from Signal Point, although the deep descent from that spot makes it a little challenging for someone who is not a regular hiker or lacks adequate flexibility for steep hills or steps.

Handsome Rainbow Falls is also one destination along the big Signal Point-connected loop, although it can be more easily accessed from elsewhere.

Besides these neat trails that offer scenic views of nature and peace amid an elevated form of suburbia, Signal Mountain has a variety of other open spaces that are enjoyable to experience. They range from the various school fields to the more unique Norris Field off Cherokee Lane, to the protected area along pretty Shoal Creek that I used to visit in winter when I lived across Green Gorge Road.

As Signal Mountain continues to grow and continues to have development pressures, an open space proponent might encourage leaders to set aside an additional open field or two not too far away from the heart of the community for exercise, leisure and maybe a little quiet time!

Some might even suggest the old Lines Orchids property, which has been the subject of debate for months regarding its possible future use as a grocery store site.

Of course, many Signal Mountain residents consider their own backyards nice greenway spaces.

While the greenway offerings and potential on Signal Mountain are plenty, I decided to focus on two during my recent visit: Signal Point and the relatively new – at least as a park space – McCoy Farm and Gardens.

I went to both on Saturday, Sept. 4, for my birthday, since it was a nice day and my wife, Laura, was not coming back in from her trip to see some of her family until later in the day.

To get to Signal Point, you go up Signal Mountain Boulevard (the main road featuring the Space House, not the W Road), turn left at Mississippi Avenue near the top, join briefly with James Boulevard, and then turn left at Signal Point Road by the older Alexian Brothers building.

The trip took me only about 20 minutes from my home near Northgate Mall in Hixson.

Since it was Labor Day Weekend, I thought Signal Point might be crowded when I arrived about 10 a.m. that Saturday, but I happily found a parking place in the small parking lot above the point.

I quickly walked down the hill the 100 yards or so to the bluff and snapped a few pictures. The sun was to my back and there was not a cloud in the sky, although there were maybe 8 or 10 people in different groups looking off the point before many went off on the trail.

Surprisingly, for the last five or seven minutes I was there just looking around and soaking up the place, I had the scenery basically to myself.

I have been to Signal Point many times over the years, although usually not more than once or twice a year, and I never get tired of the experience. I have also written about this site over the years.

I know it served as a Union-controlled point for sophisticated signal communication during the Civil War, and the National Park Service-owned site opened as a park not long after World War II.

It features nice amenities, such as a stone-covered wall at the edge, a covered picnic table and a handsome restroom building by the parking lot covered in stone, too, and obviously hinting of mid-20th century architecture. It is not often that a restroom building draws architectural praises, but this one does.

I also wrote one time about the name carvings in the rocks at the lookout area, noting that some of them dated to the 1800s. Of course, not everyone notices the homemade inscriptions because you need to look down to see them, and Signal Point is a place to look out.

The view of the Tennessee River below and Raccoon Mountain across the river is stunning and presents a setting much more bucolic and rural than the more urban one of downtown Chattanooga from geological cousin Point Park on Lookout Mountain.

After this 10-minute visual vacation, I walked back up to my car and drove out to the McCoy Farm and Gardens on the main Taft Highway (an extension of Signal Mountain Boulevard) and pulled in the park area just before one gets to Anderson Pike above the W Road.

Not many people were here, so I climbed out of the car and began my jog with my iPhone to take some pictures along the way. The 38-acre property features a nice trail through the wooded areas on the outer edge, but to me the most impressive aspects of this property are manmade, including the nice and historic stone home, a carriage house, a barn and other structures.

As a result, I tried to jog along the grassy areas in the center with these places, including the remains of an old in-ground swimming pool, in my view.

Accenting the various structures are interesting aspects of nature helped along by man – including some old and large boxwood bushes and some apple trees remaining from the property’s days as an apple orchard.

Flowers were also in beds around the home, but the old silver maple that had stood in front of the home when I first visited the property two or three years earlier for a story was gone.

Former U.S. Senator Nathan Bachman, who served in office from 1933 until his death in 1937 at the age of only 58, lived on these grounds for about 25 years when not in Washington, D.C. His daughter, Martha Bachman McCoy, resided there after his death.

Before her own death in 2004 at an advanced age, the likable Ms. McCoy began conveying the property to the Town of Walden, and it is now operated as a non-profit entity and is available for special events as well as visits.

To me, it is a real gem and shows what can happen when people come together to save a historic and handsome piece of property and do not allow it to be cut up into another, less-interesting residential area. It is a little like the historic Jack Benson Heritage Park in East Brainerd in that a large home and some additional buildings are incorporated into a park enjoyed by all.

Of course, it sounds like Ms. McCoy helped get the ball rolling on saving the Signal Mountain site.

I jogged around and checked out all the buildings, as well as some of the trees and bushes, and was enjoying this experiential birthday present I was giving myself, with some wet shoes due to the late-morning dew the only price to pay.  

Over near the pavilion/apple house, I saw some musicians and/or volunteers setting up for an apparent wedding or some event later in the day, and I felt glad to know Sept. 4 would become a significant day to remember for whomever was involved with that, too.

After about 30 minutes of jogging along the mowed grassy areas and seeing a small number of people here and there, I stopped to use the restroom in the carriage house before getting ready to leave. While the restroom building was nice at Signal Point, this one at the McCoy Farm and Gardens was extra special. In fact, it had three family-style restrooms that almost had an upscale feel to them, making me realize they might be the nicest restrooms at any park I have visited so far in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for this series.

As a result, I now feel above having to use a port-a-potty at a park, unless, of course, I am in an emergency, and that is the only offering!

While people might associate Signal Mountain with scenic views away in the distance, none of that exists on the flat McCoy property on top of the mountain.

But it offers a great inward glance – visually of the property structures as well as emotionally for a visitor touched by this nice, estate-like setting.

I know I was glad I stopped there on this nice September morning. 

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To see the previous story in this series, read here:

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