Onion Bottom

Onion Bottom

Photo shared by Gary Beene

There was once a great fruit & vegetable market that operated almost 80-years - known by generations as the 11th Street Farmers’ Market, the Curb Market, and Onion Bottom.

The backstory…

Efforts by S. J. McCallie and the Kiwanis Club in 1923 led to the development of a municipal wholesale farmers' market on 11th Street where produce sellers could be assured a steady market with stable prices.

Intentions were also to address an increasingly overcrowded Market House on Georgia Ave. described as antiquated, lacking parking, and an overall ‘unsatisfactory experience.’

The venue began operation in the summer of 1928; opening at 4am, and intended to close by late morning. Some farmers chose to continue to stay opened and cater to retail customers as well. This created tension among retail produce sellers at the Market House and grocers who found customers comparing prices to what they could by at the Curb Market.

In 1937, W. D. Pettway leased the land from the city, made improvements, and continued operations as the Farmers' Market. For another half-century it would continue to thrive as a home to well known names in the produce business.

The featured photo was shared with me by Gary Beene, a former neighbor and Signal Mountain resident whose family sold produce there.

The Farmers' Market was a vibrant marketplace during the middle of the 20th century and one of the most racially integrated places in the city in terms of workers and shoppers, Beene said. "It was a great time. It was a diverse time," Gary Beene said in a telephone interview. "It was also a very happy time." Beene said he spent much of his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s helping out in the family business. He worked there during college summers and even into young adulthood, helping his father, Melvin, keep the books. SOURCE: Mark Kennedy, Times Free Press, August 5, 2022

The city of Chattanooga purchased the property in 2006 for $775,000 under a plan by then-Mayor Ron Littlefield to build a campus that would serve the homeless. Today, it’s home to the Gene Roberts Public Service Complex in honor of former Chattanooga Mayor Gene Roberts. Roberts, who grew up in the area, died in 2013. When Roberts was a boy, the area was known as Onion Bottom. It was so-named, according to press reports, because it was the site of a city dump that frequently caught fire and smelled like onions. SOURCE: Mark Kennedy, Times Free Press, March 4, 2022

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