Uncovering Chattanooga’s Hidden Gem

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Missionary Ridge is Chattanooga's "diamond in the rough" that can spearhead a new era in our city's growth.

Way back on Nov. 25, 1863, soldiers under the leadership of General Ulysses S. Grant stormed Missionary Ridge and broke the back of the Confederacy.  The Battle of Missionary Ridge demonstrated the superior forces of the industrialized North and gave their soldiers a chance to behold the beauty and opportunity that lies in the Tennessee River Valley.

The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was the first of four military parks established in the early 1890s that also included Shiloh, Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Is it too late to ask why 159 years after the Battle of Missionary Ridge is there no Visitor’s Center to tell the story of that fateful encounter? 

Consider the beauty of the Tennessee State Flag representing the three regions of our great state. This symbol of three stars connected by a gold ring has never been associated with the controversy surrounding neighboring states whose flags have paid homage to the Confederate States of America. Now imagine the concept of a trinity superimposed over the Chattanooga region. By connecting a line between Chickamauga Battlefield, Lookout Mountain Point Park and Missionary Ridge, one creates a nearly perfect equilateral triangle.

Crest Road extends in a nearly perfect northern direction from the Iowa Reservation at the southern end of Missionary Ridge in Rossville, Georgia to Sherman’s Reservation at its northern terminus. This seven mile stretch provides views that surely inspired many settlers to move to Chattanooga and create one of America’s top ten industrial cities.

The push in the 1950’s to complete America’s interstate highway system led inevitably to the Missionary Ridge Ridgecut. Owing to the brittle bauxite that makes up Missionary Ridge, it was necessary to remove a good quarter mile of the ridge near where Missionary Ridge Elementary School was once located.

Today atop Missionary Ridge there are six historic parks with monuments and markers that tell the story of that fateful day back in 1863. Yet for visitors seeking a deeper understanding of the Battle of Missionary Ridge - or even a public restroom, there’s not much to be found.

Enter the flat landing that lies at the eastern foot of Missionary Ridge on the north side of Shallowford Road. Beginning in 1865, an elementary school for black Americans was established there that gave rise to a well-educated class of citizens that contributed to the success of the Dynamo of Dixie. As the prime real estate along Missionary Ridge was developed, a large community of black Americans grew up around the school and the 1st “Colored” Baptist Church of Missionary Ridge, established in 1874.

These two properties - the church and adjoining farm comprise 3.45 acres of scenic land with a large flat landing in the back created long ago by countless truckloads of dirt dumped for construction projects. Across the street on the south side of Shallowford Road lie six acres of undeveloped property that back onto the Ridgeside Pool and a number of houses along Ridgeside Road that predate the Shallowford Road improvement that extends west up to Missionary Ridge.

If one were to imagine a site for a Missionary Ridge Visitors Center, there could be no more ideal place than the lands that straddle Shallowford Road at the eastern foot of Missionary Ridge. While the heat of the battle did not take place there, Shallowford Road is nevertheless a veritable front door to Chattanooga from the airport that could use some improvements. 

From Dalewood Middle School to Crest Road, Shallowford Road meanders two miles with one red light at the Tunnel Boulevard intersection. Presently there are no sidewalks on either side of this section of Shallowford Road that make for difficult conditions for any would-be cyclist or pedestrian.

It is my hope that interested parties in the community and at large will take interest in this project to uncover the diamond that is Missionary Ridge. Perhaps nowhere in the United States can one find so much history combined with spectacular views. Certainly, the battle that took place along the western side of Missionary Ridge resulted in a crushing defeat for the Confederacy and in turn moved our nation closer to abolishing the scourge of slavery.

In recent years, there have been countless developments in downtown Chattanooga. Meanwhile, the communities east of Missionary Ridge lie waiting for a wave of investment in an otherwise neglected part of Chattanooga. By drawing attention to the momentous event in 1863 that happened along the entire Missionary Ridge, Chattanoogans will gain a renewed sense of pride in their city. Visitors will also see that Chattanooga pays attention to its past while building toward a brighter tomorrow.  It's not too late to commemorate Chattanooga's finest hour!

Bob Edwards

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