Ask Hamilton – Eastgate Mall and Audubon Acres

Chattanooga Area Trivia & Tales.

Greetings Chattanooga!

Old Hamilton here to tantalize you with those tidbits of local lore. We all share the collective experience of being Chattanoogans. Let’s celebrate our common history.

 

Dear Hamilton Bush,

When I was a little boy, I remember that Eastgate Mall was the place to go shopping in Chattanooga. The structure was not enclosed, and there was a big fountain area in the center. It was home to some beautiful swans. I spent some wonderful times at the old A&M Toy Store, and we did all our shopping for clothes at Loveman’s, Miller Brothers, and J.C. Penney. We loved the lunch counter at Woolworth’s too. What is the story behind the development of Eastgate and its changes?

Sincerely,
Missing the Mall

 

Dear Missing the Mall,

Now Old Hamilton is a native of this fair city, and you are right on target (the bull’s eye, not the store). Eastgate was a happening place for family shopping for about 30 years—that’s at least a generation. The mall was originally known as Eastgate Center, and when it was built it was not enclosed. The swans delighted shoppers young and old.

Eastgate Center opened in 1962, so its 50th anniversary was observed just recently. The developer was Independent Enterprises, a forerunner of the notable Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates, one of the largest developers of commercial and retail real estate in the nation. Eastgate Center was constructed on the site of a former drive-in movie theater, which had also been owned by Independent Enterprises. It was designed by the Atlanta architecture firm of Toombs, Amisano & Wells. When Joseph Amisano passed away in 2008, he was hailed as having defined the post-World War II progressive architecture of many Atlanta buildings.

The first big anchor store was the aforementioned Miller Brothers, and then in 1965, Loveman’s and J.C. Penney were added during an expansion. Later, a movie theater was also opened, and it was a big deal to eat dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria and trek on over to see a first-run family fi lm.

Sometime during the late 1960s or early ‘70s, as your scribe recalls, a serious fire struck the center, and it was heavily damaged. In 1972, Northgate Mall, all the way across the Thrasher Bridge and into the hinterland of Hixson, opened up and advertised it was “springtime all year long”—since the mall was enclosed and temperature controlled. Coincidentally, Northgate observed its 40th anniversary in 2012.

Sensing the winds of change, the owners of Eastgate enclosed their shopping center and renamed it Eastgate Mall. A few years later, a wave of mergers and consolidations swept the major department stores. Loveman’s became Proffitt’s, and Miller Brothers became Hess’s. Sears opened an outlet store on an outparcel, and J.C. Penney stayed with the program. Times got tough for Eastgate, and several of the stores relocated or closed down completely. For a time, Goody’s occupied the former Miller Brothers space. Proffitt’s exited in 1992.

Since then, there has been an ongoing series of redevelopment efforts with Eastgate. A repurposing of the facility generated major employment opportunities with call centers, office suites, the extension campuses of two area colleges, and some retail operators remaining. A significant construction project brought retail space along the Brainerd Road side of the complex, adding restaurants, dry cleaning, and other services.

For many of us, however, the many new and prosperous changes will never replace the fond memories of our younger days.

 

 

 

Dear Hamilton Bush,

I recently took my family on a local adventure to explore a resource that we knew virtually nothing about—Audubon Acres. Since that time, I have told all my friends and neighbors what a wonderful place it is. We packed a picnic lunch, hiked along trails, and learned about the earliest inhabitants of the area. The scenery was beautiful, not to mention the birds and other wildlife we observed during our visit. Can you tell us about the original Audubon Acres?

Regards,
Woodland Wanderer

 

Dear Woodland Wanderer,

Audubon Acres is indeed an area of great natural beauty and quiet serenity, and somewhat ironically, it is located in the East Brainerd area hardly a stone’s throw from the busy intersection of East Brainerd and Gunbarrel Roads. Now, that specific locale is certainly not known for tranquility!

Nevertheless, just a short jaunt down North Sanctuary Road will bring the traveler smack dab to the entrance of Audobon Acres, formerly known as the Elise Chapin Sanctuary. The site encompasses 130 acres of woodlands traversed by South Chickamauga Creek, and includes the banks of the creek and a slope to the top of a nearby ridge. Audubon Acres also serves as the headquarters for the Chattanooga Audubon Society, which was founded in 1944 by local citizen Robert Sparks Walker.

The mission of the Chattanooga Audubon Society is to provide education about the importance of preservation and protection of the environment, local culture, and the historical resources of the area. Audubon Acres helps to fulfill that mission handsomely. A variety of trees and plant life are clearly marked along the trails of the Cherokee Arboretum with information ranging from the name and species of the plant to its spelling with characters from the Cherokee alphabet and use in the everyday lives of Native Americans.

Also located at Audubon Acres are the Spring Frog Cabin and Little Owl Village. Spring Frog Cabin was named in honor of a Cherokee naturalist, and Audubon Acres founder Robert Walker once lived on the property as well. Now restored to its 19th century appearance, the cabin is a realistic depiction of life in the pioneer days. Little Owl Village is the site of a Native American settlement of the Mississippian Era, dating back to the 1400s.

Along with 4.32 miles of hiking trails, Audubon Acres includes a visitors center with notable exhibits, gift shop, the Walker Hall (which is available for group functions), green space for fun and relaxation, and a picnic area. Picnic tables and a group fi re circle are available after checking with the staff. The cost of admission (well worth it, your scribe might add) is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages fi ve to 12, and free for kids under 5.

The Chattanooga Audubon Society also owns and preserves the 18.8 acres of Maclellan Island located in the Tennessee River near downtown Chattanooga and Audubon Mountain, a 460-acre wildlife sanctuary in northern Hamilton County donated in 1982 by Mr. David Gray.

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