Local history: Nearly 150 years old, Chattanooga High has had seven sites

Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Public Library / Chattanooga High School was located at East Third Street and Riverside Drive from 1921 to 1963. This building housed Riverside High School from 1963 to 1983, and now houses Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS).

Next year, Chattanooga High School will turn 150 years old. It has been a seat of learning in seven sites around the city, following its founding in the office of the school superintendent in 1874.

Professor Henry D. Wyatt, a native of New Hampshire, and a graduate of Harvard and Dartmouth, was considered the father of the small Chattanooga school system, begun in 1872. While superintendent, he personally began teaching high school-level students.

For three decades, the school borrowed quarters around the downtown area at four sites: Masonic Building at Gillespie and Early streets; the Old Academy, also at Gillespie and Early; storerooms in a building on the north side of Patten Square; and in the First District School at McCallie Avenue and Douglas Street.

In 1905, the first building erected specifically for the high school was on East Eighth Street, on what today is the parking lot of the former Interstate Life building, subsequently the State Office Building. The Great War took place during the Eighth Street years. That structure later served as Dickinson Junior High.

As Chattanooga's population grew, a larger building was erected on East Third Street and opened in 1921. It occupied that site for 42 years. Honoring school founder professor Wyatt, a concrete W and H adorn the space over the central front door, standing for Wyatt Hall.

In 1937, wings were added to the building, turning the "T'' formation into an "E'' formation. The west wing was named for beloved longtime math teacher and registrar Annetta Trimble, and the east wing honored noted English teacher Lucy Holtzclaw McDonald.

Those who attended on Third Street went through the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, World War II and the Korean conflict. Many of the boys signed up for military service immediately after graduation in those war years.

The high school building on Dallas Road in North Chattanooga opened in 1963 and was often called the "new building.'' This fall the "new building'' will have been open for 60 years! The "old building'' is now 102 years old. The plants on Third Street and Dallas Road are the sixth and seventh sites for the school.

In the school's first fall on Wheland Hill, President Kennedy was assassinated. The stunning news was broadcast over intercoms throughout the building during fifth period on Nov. 22. A mock battle that had been planned to observe the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Missionary Ridge was called off in the period of national mourning. Chattanooga High and Baylor, portraying the Yankees, did not have to march to the Ridge to fight the defending Rebels of Central High and McCallie.

When local high schools were desegregated in the fall of 1966, the complexion of the student body was altered peacefully, unlike at many schools. Numerous City High grads served in the Vietnam War and other conflicts.

Col. Creed F. Bates was the wise principal almost all of the years on Third Street. After leading his people over "Jordan'' and getting the school squared away in new digs, he retired, by school rule, at age 70. He often quoted the Bible's Matthew 5: "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden ... it gives light to everyone.''

Col. Bates' personal choice as his successor was Dr. James W. Henry, a former assistant principal at CHS and a City High alumnus. After five years at the helm, Dr. Henry was chosen to be superintendent of the Chattanooga School System, years before its merger with the Hamilton County Schools. Similarly, City High's music leader, Jay Craven, was tapped to head music for all city schools.

The 102-year-old Third Street building continued as majority-Black Riverside High, then Erlanger School of Nursing and for some years has been Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. The Dallas Road location became a magnet school — the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts (CCA).

A history written by faculty member Elizabeth Kelley Wade on the school's 100th anniversary in 1974 states the auditorium at CCA is named for Col. Bates. On Oct. 26, 1986, the auditorium at CSAS also was dedicated to him.

In front of the school on Dallas Road, a Tennessee historical marker succinctly states that CHS is the oldest high school in Hamilton County. May it long continue its tradition of excellence in education, shedding light from its hill.

David Cooper, a lifelong Chattanoogan, was news editor at the Chattanooga Free Press and Times Free Press, where he served 52 years. The 1966 graduate of Chattanooga High also wrote the history of First Presbyterian Church. For more local history, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.