published Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Ferger Place, city's 1st planned neighborhood, turns 100


by Tamara Best
  • photo
    Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - A Ferger Place resident leaves the neighborhood on Tuesday during the morning rush. Ferger Place will celebrate its 100th birthday on Saturday.

If not for the sputtering of sprinkler systems, home security signs in manicured lawns and family SUVs, Ferger Place, just off Main Street, would seem as from a different place and time.

On Eveningside Drive, Casilda James faithfully tends to her garden each day. It's on this street, where during the Great Depression, neighbors gathered after dinner to play crochet and shuffleboard.

Over on Morningside Drive, one house has been passed through four generations of the Sutton family, experiencing everything from World War II to the dawn of a new millennium. Back on Eveningside Drive, Ray and Gwen Gross who met as children, fell in love and later married, still call the neighborhood home.

Today Ferger Place, Chattanooga's first planned neighborhood, recognizes its 100th birthday with a daylong celebration filled with food, music and entertainment. Mayor Ron Littlefield and members of the Ferger family are scheduled to be present for the celebration.

"We're getting ready to invite the city into our home," said Tami Harrison, chairperson of the celebration committee for the Ferger Place Neighborhood Association.

All week neighbors pitched in to do everything from hanging new banners to making wreaths.

"It makes me feel good at my age to have a part in all of it is like a milestone," said Lou Miller, 86, and a Ferger Place resident for over 30 years.

EARLY BEGINNINGS

In 1910, Herman and J. Fred Ferger of Ferger Brothers Real Estate developed Ferger Place, formed in the shape of a horseshoe, and touted it as "country living in the city," complete with a private restricted park and post Victorian-style residences.

"Ferger Place is what still stands and holds their legacy. That's why this birthday is so special. It's like a homecoming," Mrs. Harrison said.

Louise Rothe, 90, the oldest living resident of the community, first moved to the neighborhood when she was 8.

"When we first moved there, a gas man would come around and light the lamps," she said of the lampposts that line the streets today. "It was a wonderful place for children to grow up."

The neighborhood continued to expand and more families built homes and during World War II, some of the houses were converted into apartments.

A COMMUNITY TRANSFORMS

In the 1960s, the neighborhood was racially integrated and one resident in a June 2, 1975, letter described the neighborhood as "an island of tranquility in the middle of progress."

Over the years the neighborhood has remained just that, even as Chattanooga has been transformed from a smoggy industrial town to one with cleaner industries and an environmental cachet.

Realizing the neighborhood's historical significance, Mrs. Miller spearheaded efforts for it to be designated as historic.

"Boy that was a trip. But I thought it was worth it and so did the majority," she said. Ferger Place became part of the National Register of Historic Places in May 1980.

GROWING PAINS

Ferger Place Celebration

* Where: Ferger Place, just off Main Street

* Time: Today, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

* Parking: In the neighborhood and Second Baptist Church (directly across the street)

* Vendors: Good Dog, Mayfield Ice Cream and Chattanooga Bakery

* Things to do: A walking tour and activities for children are available.

ABOUT FERGER PLACE

The streets were renamed to Eveningside and Morningside after a contest by residents.

However, by the end of the decade, things began to change.

"All at once we had drug and prostitution houses," Mrs. James said. "I decided that drugs and the prostitutes were not going to run me out of my house, that this was my territory and I was going to reclaim it."

Mrs. James and other residents formed a neighborhood watch and police started patrolling the neighborhood. Within months there were significant changes, she said.

"The community worked very hard with people in the city and inspectors and slowly but surely we got all the houses rid of drug activity," Mrs. Harrison said. "It's done a 180 in here, just a total turnaround in the last 12 years."

Today, all the residences are single family homes again and the neighborhood has returned to the quiet place many longtime residents say first drew them to Ferger Place.

Ms. Rothe, who relocated to an assisted living facility in late 2008, said she's looking forward to one thing during today's celebration.

"I'm excited to see my house."

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