John Shearer: McCoy Farm And Gardens - A Handsome And Evolving Legacy Of Bachman Family

Saturday, January 13, 2018 - by John Shearer

The McCoy Farm and Gardens near the southeast corner of Anderson Pike and Taft Highway on Signal Mountain could almost be described as a dream piece of acreage.

Whether one likes well-manicured and landscaped open space, some old farm buildings that add a pastoral touch, or even a stately early 20th century home that has more of an urban look, the estate offers plenty of pleasures.

Its 38 acres of apparent tranquility are a far contrast from the busyness on the nearby W Road or the constant development pressures found throughout much of the rest of the mountain.

About all the unusually flat layout doesn’t have in terms of what many on Signal Mountain like is a view off the mountain. But that is because the land and buildings themselves are the subjects of the eye-catching views.

“I enjoy being over here because it’s a march back in time,” said nearby resident Charles Adams as he glanced around the estate recently. “As you get older, you appreciate these things more.”

Margha Davis, who also does not live far away, had almost a dreamy description of the place. “This must have been a really cool place to grow up,” she said.

While these descriptions of the estate could be used in a real estate ad either marketing the grounds as is for a hefty price or pushing the land as a possible site for new residences, it is not for sale.

Due to the help of the previous owner and others on the mountain, it is only intended for enjoyment for perpetuity for local residents.

The only riches anyone will get from it are the intrinsic ones from enjoying the place’s diverse natural and man-made offerings.

Before her death in 2004 when she was nearly 100 years old, owner Martha Bachman McCoy had made plans to will part of the estate to the Town of Walden, and the governmental body purchased an additional part.

Despite this altruistic idea, the project was not without its initial problems, however. In fact, although this property that was formerly owned by Ms. McCoy’s father, former U.S. Senator Nathan Bachman, had been planned and laid out nicely when it was built, the initial redevelopment plans by the town were not.

"The town began to look at it and they had a great plan, but they didn’t have a good business plan,” said Mr. Adams.

But eventually, a non-profit board was formed and began leasing the site from the Town of Walden. And through money they have raised, they have been able to make improvements.

“A lot of it is infrastructure like plumbing,” said Mr. Adams, a retired engineer and board member. “The place just wasn’t maintained.”

They also had to clear off a lot of the area that had become overgrown.

But this land that opened as a public park in 2015 seems to keep getting better. Some work was done on the main house, and the blacksmith shop was recently rebuilt with materials paid for by the board, and labor provided by the Signal Mountain Lions Club. The latter work included installing the wood siding from the original building as paneling on the inside, and putting in a ceiling fan that came out of an old hotel.

The carriage house, which is still waiting the conversion to possibly some guest rooms upstairs, recently had some downstairs restrooms added to help with special events on the grounds. A historic indoor pavilion that has been updated is also on the grounds, as is a handsome old barn.

While many event venues are often closed to the general public, the McCoy Farm and Gardens is not. It is uniquely accessible on foot via a 1.1-mile path that goes around the outskirts of the land.

Along the trail one can also view the numerous trees planted by the family or growing naturally, including one of the largest silver maples found in Chattanooga near the front porch of the home.

The home – which features such amenities as hardwood floors, an attractive staircase and a sleeping porch -- had been built as a summer home not long after local lawyer Nathan Bachman purchased the land in 1912.

The son of First Presbyterian pastor Dr. Jonathan Bachman and a Baylor School graduate, the younger Mr. Bachman became U.S. senator in 1933 after being appointed to the seat when Senator Cordell Hull was named secretary of state.

This man known for his colorful personality and skill at speaking and storytelling died on April 23, 1937, at his Washington, D.C., hotel of a heart attack at the age of 58. Articles at the time of his death said he had not been doing well in terms of his health, but his sudden death at his relatively young age apparently came as a shock.

His funeral was at First Presbyterian Church with Dr. James L. Fowle officiating, while burial was at Forest Hills Cemetery. Among those in town for his funeral and burial were fellow U.S. senators Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania, Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee, William Bulow of South Dakota, Fred Brown of New Hampshire, Edward R. Burke of Nebraska, Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri and one whose name might still be pretty familiar -- Harry S. Truman of Missouri.

Mr. Truman was about eight years from becoming president.

Mr. Truman apparently did not go with them, but several of the senators were also given a tour of Lookout Mountain and visited some of the Civil War sites, including Point Park. Uniquely for that time, they were given a tour by an unidentified black guide, who was said to be quite knowledgeable about the mountain and war. It is not known if he was connected to the U.S. Park Service.

Senator Brown had been a former baseball player for the Boston Red Sox and was familiar with such Chattanooga-related baseball players as Johnny Dobbs, Strang Nicklin and Kid Elberfeld.

Senator Bachman had played some sports as well. Years before Baylor School had formal sports teams and McCallie was even in existence, he and several Baylor School students had in 1894 been a member of the Crescents football team. Composed as well of college students who had learned the game up East, it was one of the first local football teams along with the Chattanooga Athletic Club.

Future Senator Bachman, whose Baylor schoolmate was future McCallie School co-founder James Park McCallie, had played college football for several years at multiple schools before eligibility rules became stricter.

He had become involved in politics as a city attorney in 1906 while only in his late 20s. He later became a Circuit Court judge about the time he built the home and state Supreme Court justice before being appointed senator.

Among Senator Bachman’s good friends was Vice President John Nance Garner, a fellow natural storyteller with whom Senator Bachman and his wife, Pearl Duke Bachman, had visited in Texas in the summer of 1936.

Senator Bachman was also known to the more common Signal Mountain folk, who came to see him at the home, as did a number of prominent Chattanoogans and others. When he was first appointed U.S. senator in 1933, several of his good friends – including Patten Hotel manager John Lovell, Chattanooga Mayor Ed Bass, industrialist Jo Conn Guild and builder Mark Wilson -- helped take care of his garden and even dog on the Signal Mountain property.

His estate was then described as being 70 acres, larger than the current tract.

Senator Bachman – who was generally called Nate or Nath -- and his wife, who was a member of the well-known Durham, N.C., Duke tobacco family, had one daughter – Martha McCoy. Ms. McCoy began living at the McCoy Farm home full-time after her own husband, attorney Tom McCoy from Asheville, N.C., died as well of a heart attack at age 48. They had one child, Sally McCoy Garland, who now lives in the Charlottesville, Va., area.

Mickey Robbins, who is also active with preserving and maintaining the property, said he became acquainted with Martha McCoy while seeing her out at the Little Brown Church and through alumni events for the Chi Omega sorority of which she and his wife were members.

“She was a very stately lady,” he said. “She went to GPS. She was highly educated and very civic minded. She was very friendly and welcoming.”

And now the fixed-up McCoy Farm and Gardens property is trying to be welcoming as well.

“It’s really for all residents,” said Mrs. Davis, whose husband, Joe, serves on the board.

And Mr. Robbins hopes plenty of others will now have an opportunity to see the beauty that he did growing up near the home.

“I always admired the property with its unusual beauty. I always thought it was special,” he said.

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