Change is visible in Rossville. A good change, one that should make current and former residents proud.
The area around ponds near the John Ross House is being transformed into John Ross Commons, a landscaped urban green space within earshot of the heavily traveled intersection of Rossville Boulevard/U.S. Highway 27 and McFarland Avenue.
"We saw this as a site that attracted people even though it was in disrepair," Rossville Redevelopment Workshop cofounder Elizabeth Wells said. This is the first phase, an outdoor hub for the community, a way for the city and its residents to see themselves in a new light."
Founded in 1905, Rossville was a vibrant mill town until fire destroyed its major employer in 1967. And for many who worked and lived there, it was as if the city's life went up in smoke along with the former Peerless Woolen Mill.
Now, an half-century later, ReDev — how members refer to their redevelopment workshop — considers the time ripe for Rossville's resurrection.
"We are very hopeful that this city will turn around," Wells said. "We feel we have something to prove. It is important to have a visual symbol of our rebranding and this will be highly visible."
Efforts to rebuild the city — its community and economic redevelopment — include the group's commitment to improving the quality of life for all Rossville.
Ridgeland High School is involved in a mural project to brighten the cityscape and efforts are underway to implement a multi-year urban redevelopment plan. Among that plan's goals is bringing new life to vacant buildings in the once-thriving but now blighted downtown.
Once home to the Cherokee chieftain who was not only the town's namesake and the founder of Chattanooga, the John Ross House was among the things, along with the high school and mill, that were quintessential Rossville. Of the three, only the historic cabin remains. And part of its appeal for those working to reinvigorate the city, the "duck pond" remains popular as a place that generates fond memories.
Rossville Mayor Teddy Harris recalls that when he was 9 or 10, he would "go fish at the duck pond and eat my lunch on the steps of the John Ross House.
"A few years ago, when we had a fishing rodeo during the city's anniversary celebration. I took my son to fish from the same spot I used as a boy. He won the event by catching the biggest bass of the day."
Fishing is now prohibited while grass carp are given a chance to control the explosive growth of algae that turned the pristine ponds into opaque pools of slimy water.
Right now people are upset because they cannot fish, Harris said. But once the algae is under control "we will reconsider opening the park — possibly once a month at first — to fishing."
While work has slowed due to the wintry weather, wild ducks and some Canada Geese have returned to the site and a heron is often seen wading in the shallows.
The mayor stresses that no public funds have been spent to restore the pond and its surroundings. Other than a few hours of city employees digging up the road separating the upper and lower ponds, the project has been paid for with a Lyndhurst Foundation grant and private donations.
Susan Wells, who with her daughter Elizabeth and Sally Morrow co-founded the ReDev Workshop, said that not has the Lyndhurst money been untouched, local benefactors have to date contributed about $80,000 to the project.
To have such a park in the heart of the business district is a treasure, something that the city could not afford to acquire and equip today. Changes now underway should increase its appeal to all ages and offer something that Rossville residents can take pride in.
The John Ross Commons will be the linchpin in ReDev plans to rebrand and revitalize Rossville.
"We chose to do something visual," Susan said. "It shows something is going on."