Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Featured Neighborhoods: Hill City in North Chattanooga

The modern boundaries of Hill City in North Chattanooga
Copyright © Hill City/Northside Neighborhood Plan

North Chattanooga is one of Chattanooga's largest areas, and made up of several distinct neighborhoods. One of the oldest of these is Hill City, which like many of Chattanooga's oldest neighborhoods has been remembered more and more lately by the local community. For example, Hill City Pizza recently opened, choosing to call itself not the "North Chattanooga" of the 1990s or the more recent "North Shore" of the aughts, but after the original name of the area.

The Hill City/Northside Neighborhood Plan sums up the area's history as one steeped in innovation and pioneer spirit.
"The Hill City Directory, published in 1904, states that 'Hill City is forging to the front.'  It boasts that at that time, there were '900 working people and heads of families.  Hill City has over 600 buildings, and we do not hesitate to say that if 200 more houses were built at the present time that they would be occupied in less than thirty days.'” 
It was one of the first developed towns in the area's history, although at the time it was a separate city across the river from Chattanooga proper. Today, just as back then, Hill City has been unafraid to reinvent itself and grow over and over, from a small frontier trading post to a modern eclectic neighborhood of historic bungalows, art galleries, and tangled old streets.
"Hill City has experienced a lot of change in the past 99 years, since this directory was published. Perhaps the greatest change is how the community defines its boundaries.  In 1904 Hill City had a much larger boundary, that included what we now call North Chattanooga.  For the purpose of this Plan, the community known as Hill City/Northside is bounded by: Stringers Ridge and the Red Bank City Limits to the North, Forest Avenue to the East, Manufacturers Road to the South, and US Highway 27 to the West."

Coolidge Park, with Hill City and Stringers Ridge behind
Like the  rest of Chattanooga, Hill City was hard hit by the manufacturing bust. As in other neighborhoods like Highland Park, Glass Farms, Glenwood, and St. Elmo, Hill City's beautiful old homes fell into disrepair. It was, for a time, a kind of Haight Ashberry of Chattanooga, full of drug houses, hippies, and disco scenesters looking for blow. In the early 1990s, before the aquarium was built and downtown started to recover, the scene was bleak across the river. Homes were cheap but the area was still considered dangerous. There were none of the shops or galleries or restaurants that are there today-- just old manufacturing sites and docks along the river and industrial waste dumps. The area was a mix of hippies and crusty punks and families in poverty. That all started to change as the rest of the city came back.

One of the major turning points for Hill City was the completion of the Walnut Street Bridge renovations. Built in the 1800s, the Walnut Street Bridge was an important connection between downtown Chattanooga and Hill City, which was then predominantly a black community. It was the site of racial tension, once infamous as "The Killing Bridge" because of two lynchings of black men accused of molesting white women. The bridge eventually fell into such disrepair that it was closed to motor vehicles in the 1970s, another casualty of Chattanooga's bust years. It took ten years of fit and start fundraising and construction before it was finally renovated, although only to standards sufficient for foot traffic. Thus the Walnut Street Bridge became a pedestrian thoroughfare in the 1990s, and an important connector between the growing tourist area downtown around the Aquarium and Hill City.

A hill at Rennaissance park constructed to safely contain and
beautify an industrial waste dumping site. Today it is a
popular local sledding spot for kids of all ages.
That connector was key to new business coming in. Before organic food became trendy nationwide, even before Chattanooga's organic grocery, Greenlife (now owned by Wholefoods) was conceived, one of Hill City's first new businesses was a small green grocery called Only One Earth. Although it is now closed, Only One Earth was a major step for Hill City towards the place it is today. True to the neighborhood's liberal demographic, other shops began to move in, including a new age boutique called New Moon Gallery. Two of the earliest restaurants to come in were an Irish pub called Durty Nelly's and a cafe called The Mud Pie. Both are closed today, their locations now home to Taco Mamacita and Hill City Pizza, respectively. Major Chattanooga organizations like AVA opened their offices there. Bit by bit the homes started to come back, some renovated by families looking for an affordable place to live near downtown or with easy access to private schools GPS and Baylor. Others were renovated by landlords who saw an opportunity to rent to college students and young professionals.

Condos and new business development on
the corner of Frazier Avenue and Market
Copyright © Times Free Press
In the early aughts, Hill City saw major changes thanks to additional tourism and the condo development boom. Coolidge Park was built, a huge urban renewal project that reclaimed undeveloped riverfront property into a public park featuring a 100 year old carousel restored with locally-carved horses, fountains, and trees, all connecting to Frazier Avenue and riverside walking paths. Later, Renaissance Park was added near by on adjacent piece of unused riverfront property. Around the same time, condos went up in the upstairs portions historic storefronts on Frazier and in new buildings integrated into the historic structure. New restaurants and shops opened, including North Shore Grille, Clumpies Ice Cream, River City Apparel, Leo Handmade Gallery, Blue Skies, Knitting Mill Antiques, Clearspring Yoga, Aretha Frankensteins and more. Two North Shore is a recently built LEED certified shopping center featuring the Whole Foods-owned Greenlife Grocery, North Shore Yoga, Hair a Go Go, Rock Creek Down Under, and more. The city bus system also extended its free electric shuttle services to the North Shore area of Hill City to accommodate growing tourist traffic.

Today, Hill City remains a neighborhood that is economically diverse area with a mix of affordable fixer-uppers, higher priced condos, new construction, rentals, and apartments. Hipsters, college students, hippies, yuppies, and families all coexist peacefully, adding to the rich history and beautiful success story of this great neighborhood. We love Hill City so much that's where we decided to open our offices!

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