For nearly 90 years, acreage along Bonny Oaks Drive — where The Dent House and University of Tennessee Extension Office are located — was home to hundreds of at-risk children.
Bonny Oaks Children's Home was a 300-acre combination of working farm and children's home that opened in 1896 and closed in 1985. Children placed there were usually deemed neglected or dependent by the court, not delinquents, explains Christine Haven, a 1959-1966 alumna of the home.
"Bonny Oaks was home to us, and the boys and girls were our family," says George Frazer of Knoxville, a Bonny Oaks resident from 1954 to 1958. "Our homestead has been sold for several years and most of the buildings we lived and worked in have been torn down and replaced with offices and storage buildings with nothing to show we ever existed."
But Saturday that changes.
Alumni of Bonny Oaks Children's Home will dedicate a bronze sculpture in the oval of Adamson Circle. Titled "Children in a Tree," it depicts children climbing in and swinging from the branches of a tree. The dedication begins at 2 p.m. and is open to the public.
The installation culminates a fundraising campaign that began in 2011 on the Bonny Oaks alumni website to reach former children's home residents scattered across the country.
"We are proud that over 95 percent of the funds raised came from those children," says Haven. "We are dedicating the statue to the Bonny Oaks arboretum and to thank Hamilton County citizens for providing a haven for its innocent, underprivileged children."
Frazer says the sculpture reflects the simple joys of childhood experienced by residents of the children's home.
"There were three mulberry trees by the boys building and we were always in the the trees. We had ropes hanging down, like kids do, and there were tree swings there. When a big tree fell, that was a playground to us," he chuckles.
Frazer says he lived at Bonny Oaks for five years before moving in with an aunt while he finished high school.
"My mother left me on a street corner and drove off. I was 12. I was a young person and didn't have a place to go," he says. "At Bonny Oaks, somebody cared about us. We were all required to do work and we went to school. But as long as we behaved ourselves, got our work done, we could go hiking and play. It was a good place to live."
Frazer says he volunteered to chair the sculpture's fundraising campaign in an effort to repay the generosity he was shown while a Bonny Oaks kid.
"At Christmas, people across Chattanooga donated money for us to have gifts. So many people gave to help us, this is just us giving back."
About $8,000 came in from former Bonny Oaks kids, their children and friends, he says. Donations ranging from $10 to $1,000 were postmarked from the four corners of the country -- Washington state, Florida, New York and California -- and everywhere between.
Haven discovered the statue online at largeart.com and ordered it from the company, located in Baltimore, Md. Her husband, Jerry, who was at Bonny Oaks from 1955 to 1966, agreed to handle its installation.
When the artwork arrived, James Strickland (Bonny Oaks 1964-66) and his wife, Tammy, stored it on their property for two months while the site was readied. A 6-by 6-foot foundation of reinforced concrete had to be poured to support the work.
"The only outside helped we needed -- and it was major help -- was lifting the statue. Guy Yates Wrecker Service in Ringgold, Ga., answered our call to lift the statue off the trailer and position it," says Haven. "Paul Parker, property manager for Hamilton County, was instrumental as our contact to coordinate and obtain permission with the county."
Haven founded the Bonny Oaks website 15 years ago as a way to find her childhood Bonny Oaks friends. She believes the new statue has also helped the children's home alumni reconnect.
"In the past 15 years, I've learned that everyone needs to connect with their past -- it determines their future," she says. "A vast number of Bonny Oaks alumni and our descendants became productive, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens, just like any other family would hope to produce.
"Bonny Oaks helped us break the mold that some of us came from, and provided a promising future for our descendants," she says.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...