John Shearer: 90-Year-Old Riverview Home With Appeal And Interesting History For Sale

Thursday, January 20, 2022 - by John Shearer

At 1506 Riverview Road – just 100 yards or so toward Hixson Pike from the Riverview Bird Sanctuary – sits a home that has been slightly inconspicuous over the years to about all but nearby residents.


That is, despite being a 3,200-square-foot home built in the early 1930s with the fine artistic detail and craftsmanship typically found with attractive homes from that era.


Of course, any inconspicuousness it has might be due wholly to its location in the long-popular Riverview area, where several larger homes with larger lots can be found in all directions within a few hundred yards.

In other words, the home is like a Cadillac or Lincoln sitting on a Rolls Royce or Bentley car lot.


The residence has drawn a little more conspicuousness in recent days, however, as it went on the market on Jan. 11 for the first time in more than 50 years. Although it quickly got a pending contract on it after being listed for $1.35 million, listing agent Charlie Walldorf of The Group real estate brokerage firm kindly offered a tour of it after initiating the story idea.


A look inside and around it revealed that it stands out quite well with craftsmanship and building materials that are maybe even more detailed than is typical for a home of that look, size, and age. 


And a follow-up check at the local history section of the Chattanooga Public Library through some tips passed along by Mr. Walldorf revealed that it also shines with its history, including that it was the home of noted federal Judge Leslie Darr for a period. And an earlier family also left a mark.


The home has three large bedrooms, two full baths and a half bath on its two living floors, as well as mostly unfinished space in the basement and an attic space. 


But it is the details that really define the home. 


Featuring brick in different colors and angles over hollow tile on the outside, it appears to have elements of a Tudor home with its half-timber adornments and detailed chimney. 


It also looks like a cottage-style residence with its dormer effect on part of the front that is pushed out, as well as the steep pitches of the roof. It also almost seems to hint that it could have been built at the same time as some of the similarly styled residences on the older part of Crestwood Drive near the Center for Creative Arts school.


The home also has an appealing-looking porch for sitting on its front right side, and a two-car garage lined with similar brick in the back.


But inside the home are the real treasures. These include an open and eye-catching staircase that turns 180 degrees and features wrought-iron railing adorned with unique crest patterns. 


Also standing out are narrow white oak flooring in several rooms, numerous wooden and plaster arched interior entrances, leaded glass windows, and unusual built-in window screens that pull down.


The highlights of the inside might be the uniquely arched ceiling beams above the stairway that cause an observer to wonder how that was done. Also interesting is the sunroom/den area with vintage tile that not only covers the floor, but also uniquely the step leading to the dining room.


The first floor also has French doors, a carved fireplace mantel, a combined built-in seating area surrounded by bookcases in the living room, and a large kitchen area that will likely be updated.


Upstairs are large bedrooms and large-for-the-time closets, including a window-clad one that could serve as a small nursery or even office. Also on the second floor are some nice vintage-tiled bathrooms, with one featuring a walk-in shower like is popular with newer homes.


Other unusual features of the home are older and quality light fixtures, old laundry and coal chutes, several old sinks in the basement, and an unfinished basement bedroom and bathroom. And in the attic are a unique sunken space and a large old air-conditioning metal fan no longer in operation.


Mr. Walldorf said he thinks the numerous interesting and high-crafted features make the residence appealing to a buyer. And its location is not too bad, either, he said with a smile!


“It’s just an A-1 location,” he said. “The details, the location, the architecture and the construction” are great.


While its attractiveness grabs the eyes, its unusual history might grab the ears, despite that Mr. Walldorf said they have not been able to find who the original architect was. 


The home is listed as having been built in 1931 and has apparently had only three families own it over those 90-plus years, although it was initially thought to have had only two owners.


According to some old city directories at the public library downtown, though, it was lived in for the first 8 or 10 years by a man named Soly Josephs and his wife, Gussie, and likely their children. While old city directories do not say his occupation, nor could an obituary on him be found, it is known that he was involved with the local Jewish community. 


It has also been lost regarding whether the Great Depression of the 1930s negatively affected their lives while they were there, as it did for so many Americans and Chattanoogans.


After Mr. Josephs’ death in late May 1939 while in his late 50s, he was buried at B’nai Zion Cemetery off Lullwater Road in the southwestern section of Red Bank. 


His wife, Gussie Josephs, who would live until January 1962, continued to reside in it for a brief period. The 1940 city directory lists an Adolph Kaufman, who was employed with Kay Jewelry Co. at 630 Market St., as also living there with her after her husband’s death.


The Josephs family had lived at 356 Glenwood Drive near East Third Street prior to moving to Riverview. 


About the time the U.S. became involved in World War II, the widowed Gussie Josephs had moved to Washington, D.C. At the time of her death at age 71, she had two surviving daughters and some siblings, but none in Chattanooga. She had been involved with a Jewish congregation in Washington and with Mizpah Congregation in Chattanooga.


Out of interest and with the help of an online search, I went and found the couple’s graves this week.


By 1941, Judge Leslie Darr and his family had moved into the Riverview home. A native of Jasper, Tn., and the son of a Methodist minister who had to get into other work like newspaper publishing due to illness, Judge Darr attended Cumberland School of Law, then in Lebanon, Tn.


He then practiced law out of Marion County and in 1926 defeated Judge John Raulston for a state Circuit Court judgeship in somewhat of an upset. Judge Raulston was best known for being the judge during the famous Scopes Trial in Dayton the year earlier.


In 1939 under President Franklin Roosevelt, Judge Darr was first appointed to a federal judgeship. He and his family then moved to Riverview a few months later from Marion County. 


Perhaps his most famous federal case, which came late in his career before he took senior status in 1961, was his ruling that the local schools did need to desegregate. He was following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and Judge Darr would be considered on the right side of history today by civil rights advocates and many others.


However, the complete work in desegregating to meet federal guidelines and compliance would take years and further rulings and approvals by subsequent local federal judges, including Frank Wilson and Al Edgar.


But because of Judge Darr’s ruling and the fact that the Josephs family was likely one of the early Chattanooga Jewish families to move north of town in an era of slow dispersion of cultural minorities from the downtown area, the home has two civil rights-related connections.


Judge Darr’s other memorable cases involved a kidnapping by a man who claimed to be Robin Hood reincarnated, and a case in which two Marion County men were accused of murdering a federal alcohol tax unit investigator. 


The latter was a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that a confession is not admissible unless the accused person has been taken before a magistrate for arraignment. That ruling evidently set the standard for other cases.


As much as his cases, Judge Darr was also known for the atmosphere in his courtroom. People in the gallery had to sit quietly and not read, and lawyers had to stand before a podium to address the court. Smoking, which apparently took place in many courtrooms then, was also not allowed.


Besides being respected, he was also apparently well liked. He and his wife were faithful members of what is now First-Centenary United Methodist Church, and he was involved in other civic endeavors.


While continuing to hear cases on senior status, including getting the prestigious honor of sitting before the Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., he became ill with cancer and died in late May 1967. His wife, Barbara Katherine Raulston Darr, had died in November 1965, and they were both buried in Pine Grove Cemetery near Jasper. 


They had two children, Katherine Hastings, and a son, Leslie Darr Jr., who had attained captain in the U.S. Marines before retiring. The judge was also survived locally by a brother, J. Ernest Darr, who had been a local produce broker and lived at 638 S. Crest Road on Missionary Ridge.


A detailed collection of Judge Darr’s papers and other items are preserved at the Chattanooga Public Library.


In 1968, the John Little Sr. family, which included two sons and two daughters, moved into the Darr home. One of the sons, Jim Little, later became a champion junior golfer.


Mr. Walldorf said that the Littles mentioned that Leslie Darr Jr. had stopped by the home once over the years while they lived there.


John Little Sr., who had enjoyed a successful and fruitful career with State Farm insurance, died in 2017, and his widow, Sue Little, died in June 2021.


And now the home awaits its next chapter as it nears the century mark. 


* * *

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