James "Sweet Willy" Ingram discovered old-timey baseball five years ago, and he's been barehanding the old leather-bound, lemon-peel ball ever since. Ingram can be found on the polo grounds off Barnhardt Circle in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, suiting up for the Lightfoot Club of Chattanooga, a part of the Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball.
The style of play fits the Civil War era — think gingham shirts, royal blue dress slacks and red bow ties. Oh, and no gloves. Also, the balls are a bit different than the ones used today, which are about half an inch smaller in diameter.
"They're just as hard as a real baseball," Ingram says of the larger, historical balls. "When you catch them, it does hurt."
The vintage baseball league, which unfolds on weekends from April through August, is a perfect piece of Fort Oglethorpe. This is a town built on history.
Just feet from one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Chickamauga, Fort Oglethorpe began at the turn of the 20th Century as a military base. During the First World War, medics, dentists and nurses trained in one camp; the Corps of Engineers trained in another. Fort Oglethorpe also served as a training base during the Second World War before getting sold on the open market in 1947. Named for Georgia founder James Edward Oglethorpe, the city was founded in 1949.
While not born here (Ingram's mother gave birth at Chattanooga's CHI Memorial Hospital, where his grandfather worked), Ingram has spent his whole life in Fort O. He grew up off Lakeview Drive and graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School, where he served as the band's drum captain.
In addition to his time on the baseball field, Ingram enjoys driving up and down Battlefield Parkway. He fees his own personal history there; how he and the other students gathered at Burger King every morning, eating breakfast and hanging out until the final moments before school started. He's been amazed by the development of the area. You can see just about every known chain these days.
Ingram also enjoys Gilbert-Stephenson Park, where his family rents out a pavilion to catch up and cook out during reunions. The kids hit the park and the swimming pool, while some of the adults take to the walking track. He also likes to visit the 6th Cavalry Museum, an homage to the city's rich history and military origins.
For food, Ingram's favorite spots are Logan's Roadhouse and Golden Corral, a palace-like facade with the neon excitement of a Vegas casino and a menu as deep as a library card catalog.
Fort Oglethorpe is also known for its many festivals. City leaders organize events around Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Also located on the polo grounds, the holiday festivals often feature booths with local vendors, arts and crafts, balloon animal artists, live music, petting zoos and moments to honor military veterans. Ingram's Southern rock band, Midnight Promise, often takes the stage for free. They play the hits that people around here enjoy — a little Tom Petty, a little Skynard.
At the holiday events — and, really, just about everywhere else — Ingram runs into personal history. He still sees classmates from kindergarten. You don't lose touch around here.
"I don't think I've ever went to the store and not seen someone I know or someone I went to school with," he says. "The community who is here now has always been here. They're a family-style community."
BY THE NUMBERS
WHO WE ARE
Median household income: $44,327
» Among all residents, about 26 percent are under 19 years old. About 40 percent are between the ages of 20 and 49. About 20 percent are between 50 and 69. The other 14 percent are 70 and older.
American Indian: 0.5%
Two or more races: 3.7%
Source: 2017 American Community Survey
WHERE WE LIVE
The Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service shows that 12 homes were sold in Fort Oglethorpe in the first two months of 2019. Of those, the median sales price was $130,000. On average, those homes were listed for sale for 58 days.
Fort Oglethorpe is located mostly in Catoosa County, though a small part of the city falls in Walker County. Homes in Fort Oglethorpe usually sell for cheaper than in Catoosa County as a whole, though are about on par for Walker County. At the same time, Fort Oglethorpe homes are selling at a much slower pace than either county as a whole.
Of the 116 homes sold in Catoosa County this year as of press time, the median sales price was $165,000. On average, those homes were listed on the market for 24 days.
Of the 95 homes sold in Walker County, the median sales price was $129,000. On average, those homes were listed on the market for 36 days.
As of March 2019, there were 13 homes listed for sale in Fort Oglethorpe. The average home was listed for $165,000 and had been on the market for 94 days.
Battlefield Primary (preK-2)
Report Card: Schoolwide grade C (79.9)
» Overall performance is higher than 73% of schools in the state and higher than the district.
Battlefield Elementary (3-5)
Report Card: Schoolwide grade C (74.7)
» Overall performance is higher than 58% of schools in the state and similar to the district.
» Academic growth is higher than 52% of schools in the state and similar to the district.
» 59% of BES third-graders are reading at or above target grade level.
Report Card: Schoolwide grade C (74.6)
» Overall performance is higher than 58% of schools in Georgia and similar to the district.
» Academic growth is higher than 88% of schools in Georgia but lower than the district.
» 65.5% of LMS eighth-graders are reading at or above grade level target.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High
Report Card: Schoolwide grade D (84.7)
» Overall performance is higher than 42% of the schools in Georgia but lower than the district.
» Academic growth is higher than 80% of schools in Georgia and higher than the district.
» Four-year graduation rate is 82.3%, which is higher than 30% of high schools in Georgia though lower than the district.
» 59.8% of LFO graduates are "college and career ready."
Catoosa Performance Learning Center
The Performance Learning Center was created in 2004 to serve students in high school who were at risk for not graduating from high school. The school began with 75 students and can now serve approximately 120 students.
The school's enrollment fluctuates almost daily, but the average number of students enrolled is 110. The staff consists of the principal, six core-subject-area teachers, one special education teacher assisted by a paraprofessional, and a full-time guidance counselor.
Source: Georgia 2017-18 School Report Card
WHAT WE DO FOR FUN
» Selected as one of four "Thriving Communities" by the tri-state Thrive Regional Partnership in 2018, Fort Oglethorpe received a $20,000 grant following the completion of the 10-month training program that will be used to bring an "Interactive Art Walk" to life in summer 2019.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
The Georgia piece of this 5,300-acre internationally known federal military park, the Chickamauga Battlefield, lies in Fort Oglethorpe. The park preserves the battlefield where Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. William Rosecrans faced off in the summer of 1863. There were more than 34,000 casualties in the three-day bloodbath that would become known as the Battle of Chickamauga, where the Confederates tallied their last major victory of the Civil War.
The Visitor Center is near the north entrance to the park at 3370 Lafayette Road. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the center contains museum exhibits as well as the Fuller Gun Collection, and an orientation film is shown every half hour. The battlefield has more than 1,000 monuments and markers telling the stories of Civil War action between the Union and Confederacy, placed there by the soldiers themselves following the war. The Chickamauga Battlefield App, available for both Android and Apple, provides an easy way to locate any monument, marker or tablet.
Visitors can tour the park on their own or join a tour guided by a park ranger. There are driving roads and foot, bike and horse paths throughout the park, and special tours and living history events are common. 3370 Lafayette Road. Call 706-866-9241.
Home to the city's historic district. Today, 21 historic captains' quarters built between 1900 and 1906 outline Barnhardt Circle, with the former parade grounds as the centerpiece. Many special events are held on the grounds. There are five ballfields on the north end of the property. Located a block off of Lafayette Road at Harker Road.
6th Cavalry Museum
Tells the story of the "Fighting Sixth" Cavalry, which traces its beginnings back to 1861 and was stationed at The Post at Fort Oglethorpe from 1919 to 1942. 6 Barnhardt Circle. Call 706-861-2860.
Offers walking tracks, tennis courts, a swimming pool, playground and picnic tables. The public pool opens the Saturday before Memorial Day, and can be rented for private parties. Corner of Van Cleve and Norris streets. Call 706-866-5045.
Source: FortOgov.com, Catoosa.com, National Park Service
» The city, aided by the volunteer Bark City Committee, is in the process of building an off-leash dog park near City Hall, where the group meets the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. To learn more or get involved, contact Jenny Simpkins at 423-680-0194 or email@example.com.
The town's annual Christmas parade is held the first Saturday in December.
The Fort Oglethorpe City Council is made up of six seats: mayor, mayor pro tem and four council representatives. The council meets the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6 p.m. City Hall is at 500 City Hall Drive and can been reached at 706-866-2544.
The Battlefield Civitan Club meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Rosewood Assisted Living, 14 Fort Town Drive. Founded in Birmingham, Alabama, the now international service organization focuses on community involvement.
The Kiwanis Club of Fort Oglethorpe meets every Friday at noon at Park Place Restaurant. Contact Paul R. Cook for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. The international service organization is dedicated to "improving the world, one child and one community at a time."
Seniors and Friends of Fort Oglethorpe meets each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Constitution Hall, 205 Forrest Road. The all-volunteer group offers games, crafts, blood pressure and blood checks, bingo, and refreshments. For information or transportation, call Karon Parker at 423-595-7109 or Taire Pulver at 423-227-7720.
The Veteran and Citizen Council meets the first Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The group was instrumental in establishing an Honor Park for all veterans, located at the end of Cleburn Street off of Shelby Street.