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Contributed photo from ChatttanoogaHistory.com / This 1937 photo of the Farmers' Market on 11th street evokes memories of the Onion Bottom area of the city, says Gary Beene — owner of the photograph — who grew up there.

Some called it the 11th Street Farmers' Market, while others called it the Curb Market because farmers backed-up their vegetable-filled pickup trucks to the curb to sell their goods.

But to Gary Beene, a 73-year-old retired account manager and resident of Signal Mountain, and his family, it was simply known as The Place.

Several generations of Beene's family, including his father, Melvin W. Beene, and grandfather, Melvin R. Beene, sold produce at the Farmers' Market on 11th Street, which existed from the 1930s until the early 2000s as an outdoor bazaar for sellers of fruit and vegetables.

As a child, Beene says the Farmers' Market was "my growing up briar patch" — a place where he played and later worked at the family business called Melvin Beene Produce, which closed in the early 1980s.

Several other family members, including Beene's uncles and great-uncles, also owned and operated independent businesses at the market, he said. Some came from Alabama — his mother's side of the family — and some came from nearby Rhea County, Tennessee, by way of Kentucky — his father's side.

The photo accompanying this article was actually a Beene family heirloom, given to Gary Beene by his grandmother. It was shot in 1937, more than a decade before Gary Beene was born, in the early days of the Farmers' Market, which was established around the time of the Great Depression in one of the poorest parts of Chattanooga.

ChattanoogaHistory.com

Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available. If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives or original nondigital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

The photo is part of a collection of historic images which can be seen at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website maintained by local history buff Sam Hall. The round structure in the center of the photograph was perhaps some sort of water or fuel tank, Beene says.

The area along East 11th Street was called Onion Bottom because of foul fumes that often wafted up from refuse burning in a city landfill. Still, the Farmers' Market was a vibrant marketplace during the middle of the 20th century and one of the most racially integrated places in the city in terms of workers and shoppers, Beene said.

"It was a great time. It was a diverse time," Gary Beene said in a telephone interview. "It was also a very happy time."

Beene said he spent much of his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s helping out in the family business. He worked there during college summers and even into young adulthood, helping his father, Melvin, keep the books.

A deep dive into the accompanying photo shows a business called J Ernest Darr Produce. Beene said his grandfather was an employee of Darr's, before contracting to run the business later in life.

In 2006, the city of Chattanooga purchased the 11th Street property, which was later developed into a police station and headquarters of Family Promise of Chattanooga, among other uses.

Follow the Remember When, Chattanooga? public group on Facebook.

Remember When is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.

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