Susan Berg Close
When the brick cornerstone is dug out and removed in the coming days, all that will be left of the former Missionary Ridge Elementary School are memories.
The school, once located across from Civil War-rich Bragg Reservation, was closed in 1977. It burned in 1992.
Today, where students once pushed pencils, workers operate heavy machinery in the early stages of what will become an $8 million condominium and carriage house development called Bragg Point.
The project is being developed on about three acres on the east slope of the ridge by Greg Vital of Independent Healthcare Properties LLC.
Excavation and utility work began in late 2007.
The project will include 12 brownstone condominiums on South Crest Road and six carriage houses off a newly opened portion of Sheridan Avenue where the school’s former ball fields were located.
“The area behind the school had fallen into decay,” Mr. Vital said. “We hauled a lot of garbage and junk out of there.”
When former students recall the red brick school, garbage and junk don’t come to mind.
“(The school) had an old smell to it,” said former student Susan Berg Close, of Chattanooga. “It had wooden floors, and the floors were always waxed. But it was a beautiful building.”
Though a Missionary Ridge school dates to the late 1800s, the building on the site opened as Mission Ridge School in 1912 and was built in three parts. The two-story center portion was built first, followed by a two-story north wing and a three-story south addition in 1929 after the city of Missionary Ridge was annexed by Chattanooga.
It contained grades one through eight until Brainerd Junior High opened in 1930.
Although the school eventually had upper and lower playgrounds, early students played at nearby Bragg Reservation where a five-story fire tower was a lure, according to a 1977 Chattanooga Times story.
Another draw was a confectionery stand run by a couple named Agnew. The confectinary was located where the Interstate 24 bridge over the Ridge Cut is now.
Dr. Colleen Maclin Schmitt, who attended the school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said the school had an “enclosed court” where she and her classmates played kickball, “wonderful” swing sets and a jungle gym, and long, narrow stairs to a lower ball field.
The lower field always had poison ivy growing through the fence, said Helen Bacon Yates, 59, who attended the school in the 1950s.
Mrs. Close, 52, recalled a merry-go-round that would often stick, forcing students to seek out an adult to get it unstuck.
A short block away, a fire hall, razed in the mid-1960s, offered the then-rare Dr Pepper and peanut brittle in vending machines for after-school enjoyment, Mrs. Yates recalled.
Inside the building, students remembered inspiring teachers and memorable programs.
Dr. Schmitt, 48, said her third-grade teacher, Ellen Johnson, read to the class each day. One of the books remains the Ooltewah woman’s favorite today.
“I was totally enchanted by ‘Charlotte’s Web,’” she said. “She read us a chapter a day. While she read, you could have heard a pin drop.”
Her sixth-grade science teacher, Ms. Griffin, also made an impression on the future gastroenterologist.
“Small things can influence an entire life,” said Dr. Schmitt. “I hope teachers will always treasure the smallest impulse.”
The schoolwide White Christmas program was a carefully choreographed annual musical program, former students said. On the day it was held, children in all grades brought food and items such as underwear and socks wrapped in white to share with the less fortunate, the students said.
At her first such program when she was in third grade, Dr. Schmitt said she was wide-eyed as she and her classmates filed past a wide stairway full of fourth- through sixth-graders singing carols.
“It sounded like angels,” she said. “They were standing in ranks, all wearing white, this beautiful, ethereal choir. I thought it was the most beautiful sound I ever heard.”
Even the then-principal took part in the teaching, Dr. Schmitt said.
When she arrived at Missionary Ridge, she said, she could read well but could not tell time.
“He took me by the hand to his office and sat me down,” Dr. Schmitt said, “and I may have a warped perception of how long it took, but he taught me how to tell time.
“Those are sweet, vivid memories,” she said.
Bragg Point, being developed by Greg Vital of Independent Healthcare Properties LLC, will include 12 brownstone condominiums and six carriage houses. The condos, which will be completed in phase one of the project, will face South Crest Road and Bragg Reservation. The three-story units will be 3,000 to 3,500 square feet and feature elevators and garages in the rear. Prices will start at around $550,000. The carriage homes of the second phase, which will face east, will have garages in the front. Prices will start around $300,000.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...