The History of the Ridge
“The Mission Ridge” it was called, back when it separated the Cherokee Indian villages of the fertile Chattanooga Valley from the Christian mission named after David Brainerd. The impact of the Civil War battle that took place on Missionary Ridge is such that all other historical happenings for the area rarely show.
However, here is one that I have recently received information about. I add it here in celebration of Memorial Day, 2018.
The Night a WWII Bomber Hit the Ridge
There will be changes for this entry as more information comes in. For now, I'll introduce it using an excerpt from David Cooper's 2010 speech cited below:
Here are some more points of interest to add to this narrative:
Flying brand new aircraft to final armament assembly SHOULD have been a job that tilted the survival odds in his favor. Did Portmore angle for the duty because of his new wife? Or was he placed in the job because of sinus problems he had developed that prevented him flying any more high-altitude missions? What swing band hits did we miss hearing because of this man's early death?
The Civil War "Miracle at Missionary Ridge"
The Battle of Missionary Ridge was won decisively by Union forces here on November 25, 1863. Shocking both their Union commanders and the Confederate soldiers looking down at them from the Ridge, intrepid Union regulars under Maj. Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and George H. Thomas, without being ordered to advance, clambered up the steep slopes and routed the Rebels under General Braxton Bragg.
General Grant, not happy to see such an advance without his command, asked who had given the order. When General Thomas said it wasn't him, Grant warned darkly that someone would pay if the attack failed. Instead, various parties later contested for the credit.
Taking the seemingly impregnable position was called, "The Miracle of Missionary Ridge." Were the Union soldiers frustrated from the months of siege and short rations? Were they boiling with rage from the humiliation of Chickamauga? Did an 18-year-old color bearer with the redundant name of Arthur McArthur really instigate and inspire the charge while yelling, "On Wisconsin!" Or were the bluecoats just caught out in the open after taking the Confederate skirmish lines at the foot of the Ridge, and found ducking under the slopes and running upwards was better than taking fire while running backwards? The theories continue.
Bragg barely escaped in the ensuing havoc and never recovered the faith of his subordinates or his commanding status in The Great Rebellion. The victory opened the door for Sherman's "march to the sea" and tore away the railroad supply lines Confederate forces needed to continue in the area.
Outnumbered by more than two to one, Bragg weakened his situation by:
Descriptions of the Civil War often talk about the sound of cannon fire, how it was heard from miles away, or – an over-used adjective for it - “deafening”.
However, an exploding ball of iron that whizzes large jagged spinning metal shards through a close formation of soldiers and horses deserves an impressive sound.
In 2012, as part of the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Missionary Ridge battle, the National Parks Service brought a remanufactured Civil War cannon to Missionary Ridge’s Bragg Reservation and fired it (blanks of course) on the hour throughout the day. I took a couple of friends to one of the afternoon firings, which was preceded by an explanation from the Parks Service.
There were about 20 of us in a semicircle about 15 yards behind the cannon with its barrel facing toward Chattanooga. It was November and cold enough to see your breath.
The big-hatted Ranger spoke briefly about the battle and then, motioning toward the Confederate re-enactors present to begin, warned that they were about to fire the cannon. He then spent the next few minutes on what sounded like a speech prompted by lawyers: we want to warn you the noise is significant, if you have any small children present please cover their ears, please make sure all pets are on firmly-held leashes, you may not approach any closer than this mark, if you are prone to any of the following conditions… blah, blah, blah. It went on so long I was looking at my friends and chuckling in disbelief. Okay, enough already.
One final warning and he motioned to the re-enactors again and they pulled the firing line. The resulting concussion seemed to precede the sound even at 15 yards. My heavy jacket was flattened against my chest with a whump. I stepped back involuntarily and shook my head like from a left hook. The sound reverberated within us, then across the valley to Lookout and Signal mountains and then back again with almost equal force. Good Lord!
“That,” the Ranger said drolly, “was a half-charge.”
The Many Aspects of Missionary Ridge
A speech by David Cooper for the MRNA Heritage Celebration, April 18, 2010
"Trivia columnist L.M. Boyd once wrote that Bingham Canyon, Utah, was the narrowest town in the world. It was seven miles long and one street wide. He said it was so narrow the town dogs had to wag their tails up and down rather than side to side!
Missionary Ridge was once such a town -- a city if you will -- that existed from 1923 to 1929. It was about five miles long and was 1,100 feet wide – 600 feet west of Crest Road and 500 feet east of it, just big enough for lovely homes of myriad designs.
That is just one interesting aspect of the mystique of Missionary Ridge, a battlefield turned prominent residential enclave. Some of us who have lived there think it’s the Center of the Earth!
To the Cherokee Indians and the early white settlers it was nothing but an inconvenience to east-west travel. Later it was a barrier to Chattanooga’s growth.
It was named with regard to the Brainerd Mission, an organization created in 1817 to Christianize and help civilize the Cherokee. That was located where Eastgate and Brainerd Village are today, just across the creek from Hooters restaurant where part of the Cherokee village Chickamauga Town was located.
A couple of footnotes about the Brainerd Mission. First: Missionary David Brainerd, for whom the mission was named, never came close to Tennessee and was dead 70 years before the mission opened. Yet roads, schools, churches, businesses and an entire suburb are named for him. Secondly: The first sitting president ever to come to the Chattanooga area – James Monroe – showed up unannounced at the mission in May 1819, just to witness the work of the coed institution.
After the Trail of Tears forced the Cherokees off the mission land, the third person to purchase the site was Philamon Bird. He operated a grist mill there – Bird’s Mill. Sound familiar? The road over the Ridge and out to that spot was known as Bird’s Mill Road for years. Most of it was renamed Brainerd Road in 1921. Just two short sections of Bird’s Mill Road still carry that name today, one being on the western side of Missionary Ridge, between Shallowford and Crest roads.
We’re all familiar with the infamous 45-year-old Ridgecut with thousands of cars and belching trucks noisily passing through each day. The Ridgecut is at just about the geographic center of the lengthy Ridge.
The Ridge runs north-south for about seven miles. It’s about 500 feet above the city floor, rising sharply on the town side and sloping more gently on the Brainerd-East Ridge side. It’s a well-known, well-kept linear neighborhood of fine neighbors and generally fine homes.
Its greatest fame came from its role in the War Between the States in 1863. The Confederate army under the command of the semi-competent and much despised Gen. Braxton Bragg held the Union Army in siege in Chattanooga from the conclusion of the Battle of Chickamauga on September 20, 1863, until the following November 25. Bragg’s headquarters was just above the Ridgecut. It was the view out the bedroom window of my youth.
Gen. Fightin’ Joe Hooker’s army hit the Ridge on the South. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army hit it from the north, a day after storming Billy Goat Hill, which, some jokingly call Angora Heights. Gen. George Thomas, “the Rock of Chickamauga,’’ hit the Ridge in the center, in the Shallowford Road area.
Bragg’s Confederates were repulsed southward into Georgia. The Rebels never smiled again. Twenty-six years later, soldiers reuniting here launched an effort that became the National Military Park System. Within a few years, land was set aside on the Ridge and on other battle sites for parks, monuments, tablets and artillery. It was dedicated 116 years ago.
Meanwhile the Ridge had become covered by a series of farms, some private and some with commercial orchards. And following the turn of the last century, the Ridge became a popular choice for prominent citizens wishing to reside away from downtown. Yet most homes had vegetable gardens, farm animals and barns.
You could just about count on two hands the roads that scale Mission Ridge, as it was known for many years. The park system provided the first unimproved road that ran continuously along the crest. Then the U.S. government laid the concrete pavement we’re familiar with today about 1929-1930. Sen. W.E. Brock was influential in getting that done. He was a Crest Road resident. The paving began below the Sherman Reservation and continued southward to Rossville’s LaFayette Road.
James Ensign, founder of Ensign Florist, once told me that the road builders obtained manure from the Sixth Cavalry in Fort Oglethorpe to mix with straw to lay over the fresh cement to keep it from freezing. He said that when it was removed, neighbors fought over the manure in order to fertilize their gardens!
Earlier, in 1911, Ridge citizens formed a taxing district to provide a line for water service. The next logical step was incorporation as a city. That happened in 1923. Hamilton National Bank founder T.R. Preston was the first mayor. Clothing manufacturer J.F. Holbert was the only other one.
A town hall/fire station was erected adjacent to Bragg Reservation and across from Missionary Ridge School, providing immediate protection for the school children. Townsfolk purchased a LaFrance fire engine which was better than any piece of equipment the City of Chattanooga had. Firemen often made runs along the Ridge to keep the engine operating well, and kids along the way would be given the most exciting of rides!
That station was located where an 18-year-old soldier rallied his Wisconsin regiment into taking the top of the Ridge in the 1863 battle and planted a U.S. flag not far from Bragg’s headquarters. Arthur MacArthur became a colonel and received one of the nation’s earliest Congressional Medals of Honor for his leadership using the electrifying rally cry of “On Wisconsin!, On Wisconsin!’’ “The Boy Colonel,’’ as he became known, years later became a general, but not a five-star general like his son, World War II General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.
A great Chattanooga annexation effort was launched in 1929 and eight incorporated suburbs were pressed to be annexed. The effected people actually got to vote concerning their future! Hill City, Riverview, St. Elmo, East Lake and Brainerd decided to join Chattanooga. Alton Park, Ridgeside and Missionary Ridge elected to stay independent.
But high-minded and public-spirited Ridge residents saw that Brainerd was cut off from town, and when the legislature allowed a second vote, Ridge residents turned about and elected to come into the city. So did Alton Park. But Ridgeside, more popularly known as Shepherd Hills, remains independent today, an island within Chattanooga. My mother was mayor there in the early 1990s.
Quality education was a real perk for Ridge residents since before the turn of the last century. It was like a public version of Bright School. Its graduates always scored highest in the school system and were sought by McCallie, GPS and Baylor.
Many of us remember the building that burned in June 1992. My wife and I shared fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms there. The traditional structure had been built in three periods. The central section in 1912; the northern wing in the 20s; and the southern wing in 1930, after it came into the city system.
Before 1912, the school occupied a two-room structure that resembled a church, located where Main Street once crossed the Ridge. Grace McCallie, one of the three founders of GPS in 1906, had been a teacher there.
Two of Grace McCallie’s brothers, Spencer and Park, founded McCallie School on the family farm on the side of the Ridge at the eastern end of McCallie Avenue, in 1905. Their father, the Rev. T.H. McCallie, allowed use of the property as long as the Bible and Christian values were instilled in students.
Rev. McCallie, Civil War-time pastor of First Presbyterian Church, had settled in at the farm due to broken health during Reconstruction. When he recovered, he started Mission Ridge Presbyterian Church near his farm. It later moved to Dodds Avenue and then to Glenwood, becoming Westminster Presbyterian. Today it’s New City Fellowship.
Earlier, Ridge residents, not handy to downtown churches, erected Mission Ridge Union Sunday School across from the first Ridge school. Folks from all denominations, even Jewish folks, would combine for Bible study there. A bell in a bell tower called them to class from 1908 until 1926. The Sunday school sponsored Scout Troop No. 38 in 1915. Later, only the Scouts used the building from 1926 to 1942, at which time the building was converted to a private residence and apartments. My older brother sometimes baby-sat for some children who lived there in the 1950s.
Across the old ridge bridge on the south side was a little grocery and confectionary. It was operated by a number of couples over the years. It kept families from having to leave the Ridge to get provisions. Kids from the school could run to the store at lunch for soup and sandwich fixin’s. The grocery was the post office and the polling location, as well. On the morning of April 17, 1919, after the governor signed the right for women to vote, Dora Walter, owner of the store then, was the first woman in Tennessee to register to vote.
The Ridge became a streetcar destination in 1887, long before the advent of the automobile. The line went through Highland Park on Duncan Avenue, passed by the future locations of Central High and McCallie School, crossed McCallie Avenue and followed Shallowford Road until it reached near the top of the Ridge, then switched back south. The right-of-way passed below the later site of nightclub owner Billy Hull’s home, the house with an indoor swimming pool in the shape of the Playboy bunny, with ears that allow swimmers to enter bedrooms. The streetcar crossed under Crest Road at its intersection with Bird’s Mill, crossed back at Main Street and crossed back east one more time before rattling to a stop at 444 South Crest.
I’ve talked with folks who had great fun soaping the tracks and watching the cars’ wheels spin helplessly! The most scenic line in town was discontinued in 1945, taking with it the charm of a never-to-be-reclaimed era. As a teenager, I snuck my first cigarette on the abandoned woodsy streetcar roadbed. Shortly thereafter, I threw up on the streetcar roadbed.
The first of three tunnels through the Ridge, the one closest to McCallie School, was opened in 1913, after six years of starts and stops and repairs. It made living on the east side of the Ridge practical, opening it for major growth. The Bachman Tubes were next, opening in 1929. Named for the late Dr. Jonathan Bachman, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and city chaplain, they were dedicated by his successor as pastor and city chaplain, Dr. James L. Fowle. The Wilcox Tunnel opened in 1931. It’s the longest. It was named for T.S. Wilcox, chairman of the Hamilton County Highway Commission, after initial plans to call it Avondale Tunnel were scuttled. I know a couple in their eighties and nineties who, as young marrieds in 1946, moved their East Chattanooga house through Wilcox Tunnel to an empty lot in Eastdale.
The McCallie Tunnel suffered a cave-in on February 20, 1938. It took four months to repair. It had been built as a county project, but by 1938, land on either side of the tunnel was now in the city. The tunnel wasn’t. So the county had to make the repairs.
Two military planes have crashed into the Ridge. Both stories are sadly fascinating.
The first occurred Sunday night, January 2, 1944. Four airmen in a B-24 Liberator bomber couldn’t find their way through heavy fog as they headed east seeking Lovell Field. At 136 North Crest, young Josephine Houston was talking on the phone. Her parents were in the living room and sister Mary David was in her upstairs bedroom in the limestone block home. Suddenly the phone went dead. A few seconds later, the bomber’s left wing seared the roof of the Houston home and the right wing demolished the massive front porch at the house next door. The burning fuselage crumpled to the ground between the two stately homes. Three airmen were killed outright, the other died shortly thereafter.
Just eight days earlier, for Christmas, Mary David had gotten new bedroom furniture. It didn’t fit in her right rear bedroom, so she had moved to the front left bedroom. The plane made her former bedroom a fiery deathtrap, but Mary David was able to exit in safety from her new digs.
On September 30, 1949, a B-25 bomber crossing the city developed irreparable engine trouble and was on fire. The bomber was flying south above Dodds Avenue. Seven airmen parachuted out between McCallie Avenue and Main Street. One was caught in a tree. Free Press Editor Lee Anderson, then a young reporter, was following the plane in his car. He located that airman who hollered for help to get down. Always the newsman, Lee said, “Let me snap a picture, then I’ll help you down.’’ Another airman landed in phone lines. One landed on Ridgedale Elementary’s roof and another, whose chute malfunctioned, hit the school yard and perished. Another glanced off the Ridgedale Bank at Main and Dodds and landed on the sidewalk. The courageous pilot, William E. Blair, guided the craft to a woodsy area near the eastern portals of the Bachman Tubes and crashed where no one but himself would be killed. The nearby American Legion post is named in Mr. Blair’s honor.
We’re all familiar with Ensign the Florist on the south end of the Ridge, but did you know one of Chattanooga’s first two florists had his greenhouses behind his home at No. 1 North Crest Road? Crouch the Florist operated in the late 1890s with his Rose Terrace Greenhouses. James Crouch had a shop downtown and many years later in Brainerd. The street Rose Terrace, is adjacent to his former greenhouses. A late octogenarian friend said that as a kid he used to duck into the greenhouses in winter to get warm on his mile and a half walk to Missionary Ridge School.
Another U.S. senator besides W.E. Brock lived on the Ridge for a time. That was Estes Kefauver, who, while representing Tennessee, was on the ticket in 1956 with Adlai Stevenson running for vice president. Two congressmen – Sam McReynolds and LaMar Baker -- also have resided on the Ridge.
Tom Griscom, until last year, publisher of the Times Free Press, who earlier served as Communications director in President Reagan’s White House, grew up at 88 South Crest. He was responsible for keeping the phrase, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’’ in Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech.
Did you ever hear of Dot and Peg Productions? In 1941, long before Barbie was conceived, society mavens Dot Hedges and her sister, Peg Lamb, developed a paper doll line called The Young American Designer. The six-figure business operated out of a guest house at the Hedges’ home on South Road, before a fire sent them to new quarters downtown.
Another longtime Ridge resident was Dr. Irvine Grote, a career chemistry professor at UTC for whom the natural sciences building is named. He was the inventor of Murine, for the eyes, Soltice for aching joints and was co-inventor of Bufferin, for your headaches. He traveled to over a hundred countries over many years on his royalties alone.
Did you know there was an Audubon Society wild life preserve on the Ridge? It was given by the Frank Hutcheson family in 1944 and extends several blocks along the west side of Crest Road southward from Old Ringgold Road.
Among the most notable homes on the Ridge, my list would include Windcrest, the longtime Frank and Samuel Hutcheson castle-like home, built in 1894; Hexagon Place, possibly the oldest home on the Ridge with its five six-sided rooms and owned by Margaret Kelly, who lives here now; the Seymour Shavin home, the only Frank Lloyd Wright structure in Tennessee; the Alex Rhoton home, built by and resided in by Reuben Harrison Hunt, the architect of many downtown Chattanooga landmark buildings; Elmwood, the home built by banker T.R. Preston from bricks that came from the Stanton House hotel, which was demolished over 100 years ago to make way for Terminal Station, now the Chattanooga Choo-Choo; and the Watkins home at Shallowford and North Crest, a great example of Victorian architecture. The 100-plus-year-old home occupied for many years now by Jim and Kathy Queen at 42 North Crest, was owned for many years by a King family, hence the name King and Queen house.
Did you know that there is a Missionary Ridge in southwest Colorado? It was named in the late 1800s by soldiers serving there who were veterans of the Civil War battles here. They thought the Colorado ridge resembled our Missionary Ridge.
I’ll conclude by mentioning that in April 1992, in the closing horserace of Santa Anita’s spring season in Arcadia, Calif., before a crowd of 17,000 people, a 5-year-old horse won $5,000. The horse’s name – Missionary Ridge!"
Ed Johnson's Grave is on Missionary Ridge
The last man to be lynched in Chattanooga, Ed Johnson grew up on Missionary Ridge in a poor black family. His earliest work as a child was at the fertilizer mine on the Ridge.
Nevada Taylor was the pretty blonde 21-year-old daughter of the caretaker for Chattanooga’s premier graveyard in the early 1900’s, Forest Hills Cemetery, located in St. Elmo near the foot of the Incline Railway.
On a particularly dark evening on January 23rd, 1906, about 6p, Nevada was making her way home from her job as a bookkeeper at W.W. Brooks grocery on Market Street. She had just gotten off the bus. As she walked toward her father’s house through the gravestones, she was attacked from behind, choked with a leather strap and raped. When later questioned by the Sheriff, Nevada wasn’t sure at first if the attacker was black or white. Then she said it was a Negro man with big muscles and “a soft, kind voice.”
It’s hard to appreciate the public outrage this incident caused. The month prior (December of 1905) a black man had raped a 15-year-old white girl living at the Vine Street Orphanage. One week later a 16-year-old girl had been severely stabbed by an escaping black burglar. The day after that a black man attacked a white schoolgirl in downtown Chattanooga. This was followed by a Chattanooga constable being shot by an infamous black gambler.
The two local newspapers, the morning Times and the afternoon News, competed with each other for inflammatory and indignant rhetoric about these incidents, as if attempting to be more likely quoted at the local saloons. “Desperadoes Run Rampant in Chattanooga” blared the headlines.
The prevailing sentiment put forward was that a message needed to be sent to the black population or no white woman in Chattanooga would be safe. Sheriff Joseph F. Shipp, a former Confederate captain, was up for re-election soon.
24-year-old Ed Johnson was identified by one white man after a $375 reward for information was posted. The several witnesses who saw him elsewhere that night were denigrated in court as untrustworthy due to their being either black themselves, or at a saloon where Ed was working that night. Nevada Taylor was at first unable and later very reluctant to identify him as her attacker. The court records reflect a tainted and biased process.
At this time, to be white and disagree that Ed Johnson was guilty was to invite violence upon yourself. To be black and say anything about the incident was to do the same. Yet the citizenry and their newspapers loudly objected to the idea that any local trial could be anything but fair.
Two local black attorneys appealed Johnson’s conviction first to the state and then to the federal courts. The Supreme Court reviewed the case and issued a stay of execution for further review. To local residents, only barely deterred from a previous lynching attempt on Johnson, this was too much.
Aided by intentionally weak security measures at the jail, on the night of March 19th, 1906, a lynch mob broke into the county jail in downtown Chattanooga, dragged Ed Johnson to the Walnut Street Bridge, beat him, hung him and shot him (in that order) until he was dead. They hung him from the second cross railing back from the city side of the bridge because another black had previously been lynched from the first railing of the nearly-new bridge, with the intention, one man yelled, of working their way across the bridge.
Despite the beatings and threats and promises of leniency if he would confess his crime, Ed Johnson’s last words were, “God bless you all. I am an innocent man.” Those were the words placed on his tombstone.
The Pleasant Garden Cemetery, established in 1891 as one of the first black cemeteries in the state of Tennessee, is located on the southeast side of Missionary Ridge, just below the crest, in the community of Ridgeside, not far from Shallowford Road. Ed Johnson’s grave is there.
Burials at Pleasant Garden continued into the late 1960’s. The property is now privately owned. Although it includes hundreds, probably thousands of graves, it fell into such neglect that it was practically unrecognizable as a cemetery by the late 1990’s. Efforts are now underway to at least stop further decay of the grounds.
(Much of this information is from the book, "Contempt of Court" by Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips, 1999.)