Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chattanooga, 21 Feet and the Richmond Family

Picture by Brad Snoke
On Wednesday, January 2, 1929, The Chattanooga Times included a small article titled “Twenty-One Feet on Market Street Sold for $125,000”. The headline intrigued me even though there were tons of other interesting titles, such as “West will hear of Chattanooga” and “Chase ends in wreck; Transporter Jailed”. In a nutshell, the article was about the sale of a former drug store for a large amount of money, $125,000 to be exact, which was a good amount of money for the early days of the Great Depression. I wanted to find out more about the store and its “new” owner.

The article stated the property was located at 803 Market Street. It was 21½ feet wide (front) by 100 feet deep. It had been owned and occupied by Mr. Jo Anderson for five years. The building in which the store set was a two-story building. The Nisely company took up most of the larger building but a portion of it held a candy store owned by Louis Schneider. The store was purchased by Edward Dean Richmond and his sister, Mrs. Ruth Richmond Thomasson for the above mentioned $125,000 (equivalent to $1,682,902.05 in today’s money).

In 2013, 803 Market Street is the home of Kennedy & Associates (lawyers) and is in the same block as Fischer Evans, which was in business at the time of the 1929 purchase, in downtown Chattanooga. The Nisely Company and the candy store have been gone for many years. So the stores have changed and their time has passed, but what about Edward Dean Richmond and his sister Ruth? Who were they?

Well, these siblings had a legacy of successful businessmen in their lineage. Their grandfather, Dean Richmond, was president of the New York Central railroad. While in charge of the New York Central Railroad, Dean constructed the first four-track railroad in America. At his death, he left an estate worth (in 19th century currency) ten million dollars. Their father, Edward Gould Richmond, was a man of many talents and is even credited with bringing manufacturing to Chattanooga. He served as mayor of Bavaria, New York and a bank president in Denver, Colorado. Upon his arrival in Chattanooga, he immediately set about turning Chattanooga into a manufacturing center. He founded the Richmond Cotton Oil Company (a pioneer in southern production of cotton seed oil), Richmond Hosiery Mills, Richmond Spinning Mills and other enterprises. In Americana (American Historical Magazine,) he is described as being one of the South’s leading manufacturers and philanthropists.

According to the magazine, Americana (American Historical Magazine) in the 1914 issue, Edward and Ruth Richmond were the children of Edward Gould Richmond, of Attica, New York and Caroline Pfau of Cincinnati. Edward Dean was born April 7, 1892 and his sister Ruth was born February 12, 1896 in Chattanooga, TN. In 1901, the family moved into one of Chattanooga’s finest homes, former mayor, Edmond G. Watkin’s home (now the Mayor’s Mansion in the Fortwood District).  Edward Dean died unmarried, but Ruth married Eugene Thomasson and would eventually move to Pennsylvania. They would leave a legacy in Chattanooga, though. It was called the Richmond Memorial Room otherwise known as the Children’s Room at the Chattanooga Public Library.

Apparently, Chattanooga owes a good amount to this family. Not only did Edward Gould promote manufacturing in Chattanooga, he and his estate contributed liberally to every organized charity in Chattanooga, according to an editorial in the local newspaper. His wife donated a large tract of land to Hamilton County at Signal Point (Signal Mountain), known as Richmond Park, for a public park. Upon Edward  Dean’s death, following in his father’s steps, he also left many donations to different charitable groups across Chattanooga.

It is amazing to think that a small article in an old newspaper would lead to such an important part of Chattanooga’s history. I will have to keep my eyes open to see if I can find out what happened to the Richmonds’ store.