A plan to create a conservation-themed neighborhood on the site of the former Scholze family estate off Old Wauhatchie Pike can go forward now that the property has become part of Chattanooga.
The Chattanooga City Council voted last week to accept 43 acres of scenic and historic property owned by the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, which wanted city services for the 24 homes it plans to build on 3.5 acres of the old Scholze home place.
The conservancy will use profits from selling the homes to finance conservation projects on the entire 50-acre property, including new connections between the Tennessee Riverwalk and the Guild Hardy Trail; a bouldering field, and a pavilion and amphitheatre that could host events.
"Our idea is to attract people who want to live in a recreational community," said conservancy executive director Robyn Carlton.
The property is in City Councilman Erskine Oglesby's 7th District, and he said he's excited about the project's potential.
"I think it's a real great addition to our city and to the neighborhood," Oglesby said. "It could be a prototype for how future development is done, where you have market rate housing that blends in with the environment."
The Scholze mansion, which overlooked Wauhatchie Pike and had its back to the Tennessee River at Moccasin Bend, was built in 1888 by Robert Scholze, who founded Scholze Tannery and Southern Saddlery in the years after the Civil War. Carlton said when the conservancy bought the 7-acre property from the family, the house had fallen in on itself and the outbuildings — servants' quarters, storage sheds and the like — were swallowed by brush and trees that had grown unhindered for decades.
The conservancy has spent about $500,000 acquiring the property and has worked to clear it of everything from trash and kudzu to methamphetamine- contaminated homes, an "adult motel" and a former water slide on the site that is now John Wilson Park.
The conservancy promised the Scholze family it would keep and repurpose everything it could from the house, Carlton said. Now much of the home place is cleared. Interns from the Howard School have cleaned and stacked 36,000 antique bricks in stubby columns on the hilltop, with many more to be recovered from the remaining tangled undergrowth.
Carlton said a welcome center will stand near the remains of the home's foundation. She envisions a two-story building that will preserve and transmit the history of one of Chattanooga's oldest neighborhoods.
"This used to be the most vibrant place in Chattanooga," Carlton said. Wauhatchie Pike, named for a Cherokee chief who lived in the area, was the main route up Lookout Mountain before Cummings Highway was built in the early 20th century.
The neighborhood dwindled after the pike eventually was blocked off and turned into a dead end. But the remains of centuries of occupation are all around, from a stacked rock wall built by the Cherokee to Civil War relics and bits and pieces of Chattanooga's early days as an industrial center.
"We feel like we're on an archaeological expedition every time we dig," Carlton said.
The houses, in nine floor plans ranging from 800 to 2,200 square feet, will sit facing Old Wauhatchie Pike among black walnut, magnolia and other native trees that will be preserved during construction.
She said the prices haven't been set, but they won't be "superexpensive." The conservancy wants them to be affordable for active people who will be drawn to the opportunities to hike, bike and climb.
Carlton said the Howard School interns have been invaluable. Besides cleaning and stacking tens of thousands of bricks, they've built trails, hauled rock and gravel and built platforms in the bouldering area at the top end of Wauhatchie Pike and, starting with a single corner post, constructed an entire raised-bed "teaching garden."
They cleared and leveled the space, built the beds and a fence and installed the irrigation, built the beds and chose which vegetables are planted. That has led to cooking lessons for the kids so they can feed their families.
"The kids have gotten a lot but I have definitely benefited more than they have. It's a two-way street," Carlton said.
Oglesby said he got involved with the Lookout Mountain Conservancy project through the Howard interns, and he's seen how valuable it has been for those students.
"What it does for those kids is life-changing. It gives them experiences they normally would not have. And I like the fact it creates work ethic within kids, something I think is a lost art," he said.
Carlton said the conservancy hopes to identify a developer and break ground on the housing in 2018. In turn, selling the houses will have a "huge impact" in financing future development of the park on a three- to five-year timeline.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.