Chester Martin Remembers The Hoge Family Of Sequatchie Valley

Monday, October 16, 2017 - by Chester Martin

The Hoges were great people with hundreds of friends, and, seemingly, with as many family members! I knew the entire bunch of them, starting about 1941. There were Mr. and Mrs. Hoge -Ann and Ted. Ted was my special friend, and he has remained such for all these years.

 

No one was ever mad at the Hoges. They were always cheerful and fun-loving, and it was this cheerfulness that attracted me to Ted.

 

 

We first met at Anna B. Lacey Grammar School while in the second grade, and soon found that we lived very close to each other. Our mothers got along very well, and it wasn't long until we were visiting back and forth almost daily.

 

The Belvoir section of Brainerd, where we both lived, was laid out very nearly as it is now - except for what the 1960's excavations for Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System scooped away. Ted's old house remains, but every board, brick, and blade of grass from my old house and yard was demolished for that project, but, fortunately, for nostalgia's sake, everything north from our two respective boyhood properties remains pretty much the same. That means only that we can easily re-trace a lot of our old adventures without having to over-use our imaginations. More on this, perhaps, in another writing.

 

But, back to my story: the Hoges were a wonderful family, and Ted and I played together as friends for about two happy years. He would invite me to parties at their Brookfield Avenue house, and we would occasionally spend the night at each other's house. Being such great friends it killed me when I learned one day that they were moving, and not just to another house or part of town nearby, but to a farm in the Sequatchie Valley some 25 or 30 miles away. My heart sank at the news. I had two immediate concerns: one was the distance involved, and the other was that it was to a farm. At that point in my life I hated farms because most farms I had seen at that time were dilapidated, tumble-down, unpainted and very ugly blotches on the landscape - or that was my childhood perception of the ones I had known.

 

Ted tried to reassure me about both the distance over to the Sequatchie Valley, and how I would be invited for frequent visits to their new house. Such talk was encouraging, but, still, the idea of visiting a farm struck a nerve I did not like. It was a thought my system could not easily program.

 

Ted and I had played all over the Belvoir section of Brainerd and knew all the stormwater ditches (which had been constructed of limestone in about 1925), the alleyways where garbage trucks collected garbage at the rear of the homes so the residents would not have to blight their front yards with unsightly garbage and trash cans. Ted's sister Ann, already in Junior High while we were in second grade, was friendly with us both, but, being a girl, she had her own set of friends - and cats. At some point while I was not present,Ted got mixed up with two boys - brothers - several houses away from his, whose house was also on Brookfield. I can't remember what the nature of the grievances were, but it was not a very pleasant episode for me as I had not seen all that had taken place. A lasting feud erupted, then, between us and them which really was of a serious nature, and I am certain that Ted was glad to move away to Sequatchie Valley where he could leave all this latter mess behind. One of the two neighbor boys later went on to become a commissioned Army officer, while the other continued on a downward path. (Some real blood had been drawn one afternoon and the event was in no way pleasant). I have often pondered how two brothers with such similar backgrounds could turn out so differently. Of course by now I see all those problems of childhood through the "rose-colored glasses" of nostalgia, and can almost smile about them.

 

The Hoges moved, and a big war was avoided!  Exactly when, I do not know. But very soon thereafter I started receiving the promised invitations to their house. And what a house it was! Neatly painted solid white, and with a bay-window in the living room it looked amazing! So very livable. The interior was all done in knotty pine - either varnished or shellacked, which, being very new, emitted the most pleasant odor imaginable. It was a real joy to sit in that living room and read the morning "funnies" in the newspaper, or look at one of Ted's many books. A wide doorway led from the living room into a sort of den area, where there was a piano. Both Ann and Ted played well, although Ted confessed to playing by ear. He could play some of the wildest Boogie-Woogie on those 88 keys that I had ever heard! There was also a record player with a collection of 78 RPM records, highly personal in their selection, and one such record I liked was where a group of Union miners had all wound up in hell! John L. Lewis was the long-time head of the United Mine Workers' Union, and on this record the miners were heard to sing, 

 

What, oh what are we doing down here?

We gave our part to Charity, and we've gone without our beer...

 

I can't remember the next part, but at the end John L. Lewis comes in with a deep voice and sings, -

 

I can't get you out of here,

But I can get you Union scale!

 

Very funny, and pertinent, lyrics back in "the day", as John L. Lewis was constantly in the news with his bombastic style, trying to drive some brand new "deal" for his miners. It was a song I never heard anywhere else but at Hoges!  Maybe it had some sentimental tie-in with the old (now long-closed) Whitwell Mines not far away. I have often thought about that funny song!

 

This den area, or family room, was adjacent to a wonderfully modern and bright kitchen, beyond which was the family bathroom (IN-door plumbing - UN-like the farm houses I remembered from elsewhere. I thought the entire house was a delightful place to live - never too hot or too cold, and in an interesting part of Sequatchie Valley near Ketner's Mill.

 

Arrival at the Hoge House was always quite ceremonious, for, as the car turned off Ketner's Mill Road, a barrage of excited dogs and adoring cats came rushing out as greeters, delighted at the return of their master or mistress. The leader of this gang of animals was a dog, whose name I don't remember, and after a brief welcoming ceremony this dog always took off at a fast pace out into the tall grass of the uncultivated field adjacent to the driveway on a doggie hunting mission. Beware all animal life that stood in the way as that dog devoured anything that moved!  We would then go on into the house and to step over the Hoge threshold was always for me like stepping into another world.

 

Mr. Hoge was called "Ted" by Mrs. Hoge. Often, she simply called him "Hoge" (My friend Ted was known as "Teddy" to the rest of the family.) Mr Hoge was always very nice to me and taught me several useful things I have never forgotten. While still living on Brookfield Avenue in Chattanooga, Ted and I were working on some sort of project where we needed to nail some boards together. Mr. Hoge observed that my grip on the hammer was too near the head, and showed me how I could gain a lot more leverage by holding the handle further down the shaft. I never touch a hammer to this day that I don't think of Mr. Hoge's lesson. 

 

Another thing Mr. Hoge taught me was how to fire a rifle. It was Ted's rifle, and we (Mr. Hoge, Ted, my dad, and me) took it up on a treeless hill, across East Valley Road, a little way from their barn. I barely remember Mr. Hoge setting up a target of some sort and letting me shoot at it.I don't even have a clear memory of whether I actually hit the target or not. My only memory is how smoothly the gun fired, and how comparatively quiet this .22 rifle actually was. My dad's concern was that I might swing the piece wildly in my excitement and hit something I shouldn't - but his concern only baffled me because we weren't near anything but some distant trees above us on a totally unpopulated hill, Anyway, that first, feeble attempt at target practice served to bolster my courage in later life when I got into ROTC at the University of Chattanooga, and even later in the U.S. Air Force. (Ted, my friend, already knew how to shoot, so that was a private lesson to me from Mr. Hoge).

 

Mr. Hoge was known to sell supplies to funeral homes for a living. This profession never impressed me as gruesome in any way, and he had everyone's respect. He was frequently out of town on business trips, but when he was home his interests were always familial. He was very proud of Ted and worked to no end to push Ted ahead in life. One thing he did in about 1946 or '47 was to help Ted build a soap box racer for competition in an up-coming derby in Chattanooga. The "Soap Box Derbies" were really cool events of that era and attracted wide enough interest that businesses eagerly sought to sponsor the individual racers. Mr. Hoge, being well-connected both in Chattanooga and in "the Valley", knew the Ketner family who ran the famous Ketner's Mill on the Sequatchie River, about a mile from the Hoge house. The mill had a lot of power tools which ran off water power from the river. Mr. Hoge assisted Ted in building a racer and getting sponsorship for it. I knew nothing of this until suddenly one day we got a long-distance call at my house. Mr. Hoge explained what was up. Ted was supposed to participate in the upcoming race in Chattanooga. There would be a parade of all the entrants down Market Street on Friday night, followed by the race itself on Saturday. Ted was sick, and could I walk his racer in the Friday evening parade and then be his proxy in Saturday's race? Oooooh, that was a huge challenge for me! No time to hesitate, equivocate, or put off an answer, so I accepted - terrified, but I accepted. 

 

The parade went fine, except that it was hard to steer the racer while walking beside it. A protruding part of the racer kept hitting my leg which got a bit raw, and I was glad when the parade was over. Race day presented new challenges: problem number one was the butterflies in my stomach! I was downright scared. The actual race was held on East Ninth Street (now MLK Boulevard), on a gentle slope east of the railroad overpass. A sloping wooden ramp was set up on the street where three racers at a time could be positioned with their front wheels against a raised board which was lowered to assure that all three vehicles got an even start. I watched several "heats" of the race before it came my turn to claim the driver's seat. I bent my knees and squirmed in every direction imaginable to get into that car, but to no avail! All I remember is how much my knees got scratched up while trying to slide under the dash. Wow, but it hurt!  I was at my wit's end, when suddenly out of nowhere there appeared my friend, Ted Hoge! What a relief!  I have never been happier in my life to see someone. Ted was well, and immediately took command of his ship. For whatever reason, he easily slid his body into the racer and was able to participate in the race. To this day I seriously wonder how he got into his car so easily while I had made an unsuccessful struggle of it - especially as we were so nearly the same size and bulk. Ted persevered through several heats before losing out, but I admired his determination -  and coming to my rescue!

 

Mr. Hoge also furthered Ted's interest in astronomy. We (Ted and I) had lived near the Clarence T. Jones Observatory in Brainerd while he was still in Chattanooga. For all the Sequatchie Valley had to offer in richness of life, it did not have facilities like our observatory. I had developed an interest in astronomy and attended the public evenings fairly regularly. My parents had also bought me an inexpensive telescope kit from an advertisement in Sky and Telescope magazine. It was amazingly well constructed (the "barrel", made of strong cardboard, sits as a relic in my garage, replete with 3 1/2 inch mirror, to this day). Mr. Hoge was much taken with my telescope, and, meantime, Ted had turned up some ads for lenses which could easily be fitted into carpet tubes to produce a telescope. Although I don't remember Ted's actual telescope, Mr. Hoge wanted me to bring my "Skyscope" over to their house on my next visit so Ted and I could count the number of stars in our fields of vision. Although there was no way we could access the precise same field, and come up with anything like an accurate star-count, we got "satisfactory" results, and Mr. Hoge seemed pleased. I use this incident to illustrate how intimately Mr. Hoge was involved in Ted's well-being.

 

Quite sadly, Mr. Hoge became ill while I was in high school, and died in 1951, while I was a senior. Mrs. Hoge asked if Ted could stay with us on that fateful night. We got a call around midnight that Ted should come to Erlanger - and Mr. Hoge passed way before dawn. Only 43 years of age!

 

But back to happier times! Hoges knew how to throw parties for their children: I remember one such party while they were living on Brookfield Avenue, but the defining prototype of all their parties was the huge one they had one Easter at their new home in the Valley. Life of the party was an Englishman (married to one of the Hoge's kin - a Mr. Atwood, as I recall), who was a salesman for Curtis Candy Company. He came and brought tons of samples of his products which he bestowed liberally, and everybody ate Baby Ruth candy bars and many other assorted candies all afternoon long.  Weeks, or even months later on another visit, Hoges still had remnants of that great candy! This was one of the most colorful and memorable events of my early years! Ted and I were all over the place together at that party, but with so many other people in attendance on that sparkling-clear Spring day it was a really delightful  hodge podge of happenings, people and events.

 

Mrs. Hoge, who deserves MUCH more mention than I have given her, was a truly good-hearted soul, capable of running a household, a farm, and the later family business: Ann Hoge Florist. This means she was a busy lady, and adept at keeping a spotless house, feeding pigs and chickens, milking cows, then running a flower shop which involved buying the product in Chattanooga and carrying them to Jasper, Tn., where their shop was located. Weddings and funerals were their stock-in-trade, both of which required a lot of "hands-on" labor-intensive effort. Looking back, I don't see how she did everything, even with considerable help from Ann and Ted. When I went to visit Ted, Mrs. Hoge would come to pick me up and always have time to visit with my mother a while before we left. Sometimes she would stop off to visit with a relative or another friend, then drive on to the floral supply company on Georgia Avenue, across from the courthouse, to pack her station-wagon up with flowers for the shop. When Jasper was to be the next stop she always took U.S. 41, the main highway of that day (no Interstates in those days). This road was frequently a problem, as some kind of underground earth shifts were always playing with it, opening up huge holes that had to be fixed, and, once fixed, giving the rider a very bumpy roller-coaster ride for a hundred feet or so down near the river. At any rate, once in Jasper, she would deposit Ted and me on the main square, where Ted knew everybody - and was well known and liked by everyone. We would amuse ourselves around the square while she unloaded her cargo of flowers at the shop, and then return to find us and drive us on home, north on East Valley Road.

 

The Hoge farm was located in a very desirable location. It fronted on Ketner's Mill Road and extended 1/4 of a mile back to the barn on East Valley Road. There were four Valley landmarks nearby that everyone knew: Oak Grove Cumberland Presbyterian, which was in sight of the Hoge house, in easy walking distance. Next was Ketner's Mill, about a mile away on the Sequatchie River. It was the Valleys' Lake Winnepesaukah on Sunday afternoons in summer when everyone came for a free swim. The mill had a dam, of course, which was made out of wood. It slanted upward at a gentle slope from the river bottom, and had gotten quite slick with moss over the years. How fun it was to climb up that ramp feeling the pleasantly slimy moss squish up between your toes while splashing around in the water. It was only natural for someone to have hung a rope from a high tree-limb which would swing out over the water. Diving from such a rope always looked like fun, but since I could not swim I left the sport for others. During the week, one or the other of the two Ketner brothers might take the time to show anyone around. It was amazing to me how many separate machines could be run from one FREE power source. Main product of the mill was, of course corn meal. Pure water-ground corn meal. Freshly dried corn plus a fresh grinding equaled superb corn meal. The Ketner family was widely known and respected up and down the Valley.The two Ketner brothers who ran it in my day (Clyde and Paul?) had inherited it from their father and grandfather, who had to be original settlers of Sequatchie Valley. Mr. Roy McDonald, founder and publisher of the Chattanooga News-Free Press, loved to brag about how his mother had been a Ketner. Her family home was directly across from the mill, and is still standing - a true Valley landmark, along with the mill. And yet another Valley landmark near the Hoge farm was an intriguing mountain peak called Inman Point. Ted and I always wanted to climb it, but it was a bit far away, and a bit too high for us, plus we never had time to really take the challenge. I believe Ted was able to do it later on in his teen years. I envy him if he actually did it - however In very recent times I have been happily delighted to FLY - effortlessly - over it using Google Earth!

 

Sequatchie Valley came with an array of colorful characters, trades, and occupations. It also had a lot of "hidden" places that Ted had found out about. One such place was called the "seven springs", east of their place and at the foot of Suck Creek Mountain. We never got to locate these on our own, but the mental picture he painted of the area was similar to my mental image of the mountainous terrain of the Rip Van Winkle story - very old and unspoiled by the hand of man. An actual spring Ted took me to one time was in an idyllic wooded setting against the rocky foot of Suck Creek Mountain. There was an overhang of dark-colored rock - doubtless pure iron ore, into which a ten foot (or so) length of pipe had been inserted, and a constant flow of iron-flavored water gushed forth from its three-inch (or more) opening. Of course, someone had had to force that pipe back into the stony cliff, meaning that the area was not so pristine as one might think. Years before, someone, or some business enterprise had consciously made an effort to develop the area for reasons long forgotten, then they went away, and the area became wild again, leaving only that pipe to bear witness to an eventful past. At this point I should recommend that anyone interested in Sequatchie Valley's rich history should read Dr. James Livingood's fine book, "Sequatchie", in which they printed, unbeknownst to me, my first (and perhaps best) painting of Ketner's Mill. Dr. Livingood's book will give the broad, overall picture of Sequatchie Valley, while I am dealing only with the minutia. Sometimes the minutia is far more interesting than the big picture, as we are looking at the old codgers, still dressed in their work clothes or hunting boots, telling tales of wildcats and mountain lion encounters while in their youth and making the Valley "work". Ted had access to the stories these old-timers told, and he would pass the essential details on to me; it was a fascinating time in my life. Ted also knew such things as which "branches" (of creeks) were best to find minnows for fish-bait. There was an old woman in a half-hidden house set back from the road, who supplemented her meager income by selling these minnows. But for whatever reason, Ted and I never did any fishing. Then, there was church on Sunday morning, (at Oak Grove Cumberland Presbyterian Church) with the Sunday School rooms in the back of the church auditorium instead of in a separate part of a larger building, as I was accustomed to. The church toilets were outside, widely separated - a common thing in that day. And after the main service I remember an array of interesting country people waiting to shake the visitor's hand (mine), and how the ladies always had to hug and kiss me!

 

Ted and I roamed the hills and valleys near his house hunting arrowheads which had once been plentiful, and we also turned up some interesting fossils; there was always plenty to do. Even years later as grown men we were still looking at TVA maps to discuss what we MIGHT have done, or what we would still like to do.

 

When I later - many years later - set out to do paintings of interesting subjects, I had only to retrace the footsteps taught me so enthusiastically by Ted Hoge and his entire family. I really owe a lot to them for my overall development both as a person and as an artist. I am very grateful to them all.

 

Ann is still very much alive and well - she married Norwood Kelly, a Sequatchie Valley boy. He is deceased now - as is my dear childhood friend, Ted.  


---

Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter, sculptor and artisan as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net.


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