Medal of Honor Heritage Center surpasses campaign benchmark four months ahead of schedule

The planned exterior of the Medal of Honor Museum is seen in this rendering. These are renderings of those interactive exhibits they're going to feature in the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center.

The Medal of Honor Heritage Center has reached a major milestone in its agreement with River City Company to build a state-of-the-art museum.

The center has now raised more than $4.1 million of its $6 million goal since launching its capital campaign in August 2017, surpassing its goal to raise $3 million by the end of 2018, officials announced Tuesday. The goal was the second part of the center's agreement with River City Company to reach two key fundraising benchmarks before signing a long-term lease.

"We've been very successful due to the stunning response of a local community of great patriots," said Burwell "B.B." Bell, retired U.S. Army general and chairman of the center's advisory board.

The milestone was made possible, in part, by a $250,000 gift from Farrow Family Foundation, a $100,000 gift from Mike and Amy Walden, of Walden Security, and $500,000 from three anonymous donors.

"It's just an outpouring of patriotic citizens who care about something that was born [in Chattanooga] in the Civil War, and that's the tradition of honoring our most valorous, brave, heroic warriors with the Medal of Honor," Bell said. "So it's only fitting that the birthplace of the Medal of Honor should house a place in its center - center of Chattanooga - to recognize the first great patriots who fought and served in this area."

Franklin Farrow, founder and COO of Morning Pointe Senior Living, will be one of the underwriters of the Desmond Doss exhibit.

Doss, a medal of honor recipient who is buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery, "really did a lot for young people and senior citizens," Farrow said. "He gave a lot back through time and telling his story. And I think that this heritage museum will continue to tell his story and others and highlight those character traits that need to be put in front of our young people every day."

In a statement, Mike Walden said he and his wife are "truly excited to be a part of this endeavor that will help mold the character of our youth for generations to come."

"The Medal of Honor Heritage Center provides our community with a special opportunity to build a lasting tribute to our nation's greatest heroes, one that will also help educate future generations and inspire them to use these examples of courage, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, citizenship and patriotism to influence change in their own lives and communities," Walden said.

The new center will be located in the former visitors center building in the Aquarium Plaza, the same space where the failed Chattanooga History Center was going to be located. The history center packed its bags in 2016 before it ever opened its doors after raising more than $10 million since 2006.

Medal of Honor center members and an ad hoc committee of community members embraced the former visitors center after being met with some public resistance to a 6,800-square-foot heritage facility in Coolidge Park. Some community members said they opposed the idea of relinquishing prime green space in the park to another building.

Construction at the new location is expected to start in January 2019, and it's scheduled to open in February 2020.

The 19,000-square-foot center will serve as the home and lasting tribute to Tennessee's 32 Medal of Honor recipients, including Andrews' Raiders, Doss, Charles Coolidge, Alvin York, Ray Duke, Paul Huff and Dr. Mary Walker - the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

The center will feature interactive and immersive exhibits. For example, people will be able to walk through exhibits built to replicate the trenches soldiers fought in during World War I. It also will feature periscopes that visitors can look through to see the Germans moving.

Each experience will incorporate the center's curriculum - approved Medal of Honor Character Development Program - which emphasizes six character traits embodied by Medal of Honor recipients: courage, commitment, citizenship, sacrifice, integrity and patriotism.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423- 757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.