Dick Cook never imagined the day he could get a cup of Starbucks coffee, go ax-throwing or watch a professional soccer match in his hometown, but the landlocked little city of East Ridge has changed a lot in his 63 years.
"When I was growing up here, it was just a sleepy residential suburb," said Cook, who has lived in East Ridge all his life and publishes East Ridge News Online. "It's not just a suburb of Chattanooga now."
The city will mark its centennial Saturday with a daylong party at Camp Jordan that will include a look at its 100-year history along with a celebration of the changes that have transformed the town over the years, said East Ridge Mayor Brian Williams.
The event attracted more than 90 vendors, about 25 sponsors, six bands and five breweries, he said.
"The response has been amazing, and I hope everyone can come by," Williams said. "It's going to be an awesome party."
If you go
What: East Ridge centennial celebration
When: Saturday, Sept. 25, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: Camp Jordan
The details: This free, day-long event will include a 5K race, music, beer garden, arts and crafts marketplace, history walk, food trucks, zip line, fireworks and more.
More information: eastridge100.com
According to Cook's news site, the early history of East Ridge began in 1840, when Pressley Lomenick moved his family east of Missionary Ridge and settled in the rural area close to the stagecoach road that ran between Chattanooga and Ringgold.
The town was chartered largely because the roughly 300 residents of the area wanted electricity extended to their homes, and a bill passed the Tennessee Legislature on April 4, 1921, making East Ridge a city.
Since he moved to East Ridge from North Georgia in 1997, Williams has lived in three areas of the town, which is just over 8 square miles and is bordered by Chattanooga to the west, north and east, and the Georgia state line to the south.
"It's a great little community, and it's convenient to everywhere," Williams said.
The East Ridge exit off Interstate 75 at the Georgia/Tennessee line has become a magnet for development since 2016, when Bass Pro opened a store in the Jordan Crossing development. That kicked off a spate of other new businesses, including restaurants from Buddy's Bar-B-Q to Chick-fil-A, as well as a Top Golf that opened in August 2020.
Also in 2020, Utah developer Bob Martino opened the Red Wolves soccer facility just across the interstate, the first in Tennessee built specifically for a professional soccer team. In addition, Martino is building $200 million in townhomes, apartments, condominiums, hotels, restaurants, retail space, offices and walking paths over five years for the 100-acre site that sits near the split at Interstates 75 and 24.
Reconfiguration of the interchange has improved safety and access to East Ridge, Williams said, but as development ramps up, the city will have infrastructure needs, including paving and sidewalks on Ringgold Road.
"We can't act fast enough from the growth, which is a good thing," Williams said.
The population of East Ridge boomed in the post-war 1940s, from about 3,000 in 1940 to nearly 10,000 in 1950. Growth continued at a steady clip until it began to slip in the 1970s, falling from 21,799 in 1970 to 20,640 by 2020. But it has rebounded in recent years, which Cook sees as a promising sign — though he also has some reservations about the focus on commercial development.
East Ridge population
Source: U.S. Census
"It's congested, and all these little houses out here, about 50% are now rental houses, so there's instability in the neighborhoods, which is not a good thing," Cook said. "You want to know your neighbors."
But he also appreciates the growing diversity of the city, which was almost entirely white when he was growing up, Cook said. Census numbers show the city was 93% white in 2000, but it now has a population that's about 15% Black and 13% Hispanic, according to 2019 census numbers.
"I have neighbors across the street from Guatemala, and they've turned out to be some of the best neighbors I have," Cook said. "There's a language barrier, but they're wonderful. From that diversity standpoint, I'm encouraged."
As the city grows and welcomes more residents, it's going to be important to distribute development geographically, and not just at Exit 1 off Interstate 75, Williams said.
"People are going to tend to want to focus on that end, with I-75 and hundreds of thousands of vehicles driving though there," he said. "Our citizens are wanting to see progress moving into the middle and west."
The relocation of Southern Honda Powersports near the city's midpoint and a new Food City on the west end of town will help with that, Williams added.
Contact Mary Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.
When local municipalities were founded
Hamilton County: 1819
Signal Mountain: 1919
East Ridge: 1921
Red Bank: 1955