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A New School for the Mountain
Fairmount Academy, the first state-authorized public school in Hamilton County was founded in 1858. Fairmount Grammar School, which was located at the site of the present Mountain Opry building, replaced Fairmount Academy. In 1933, the Hamilton County Board of Education approved construction of a new building for Fairmount to include eight rooms and an auditorium at a cost of $35,000. The noted local architect Reuben Harrison Hunt designed the school. The building was completed in the summer of 1937, and was named Nathan L. Bachman Elementary School in honor of the late U.S. Senator “who was a consistent champion of public education and whose residence was in the community”.
Changes to the original building structure included the addition of indoor restroom facilities in the early 1950’s, the building of two additional classrooms for the kindergarten, and the cafeteria addition in 1954. Facilities were modernized in 1975 and again in 1984.
Bachman always had excellent teachers with a strong basic academic program. Subjects taught included arithmetic, reading, spelling, English, history, geography, and Bible. The first principal, Virginia Dotson, also served as a teacher, and other teachers taught extra classes in music and chorus, and kept the library open. Recess was filled with softball, football, basketball and traditional games such as jacks and jump rope. The first students rode a horse-drawn wagon to school, and utilized outhouses.
Over the years, the school varied in the grades offered but basically consisted of grades 1-8, with the later addition of kindergarten. When the mountain schools were paired in 1975, Bachman was changed to grades K-3 (later K-2). Bachman Elementary was known in the community for the feeling of warmth in the school and the caring attitude that typified the faculty and staff. In 1998-99, its final year as a school, Bachman was the home of the Hamilton County Dawn School program.
Carnivals, Royalty and Graduations
The Bachman Carnival was initiated in the late 1940’s. It began as an indoor event held on a night near Halloween. Each grade had a booth or project to raise money that provided playground equipment, first aid supplies, a piano, and auditorium curtains, among other items. Activities included cakewalks, square dancing and a “spook house.” The Carnival soon became known for the yearly auction.
Revived in the 1970’s, the carnivals became outdoor events that attracted large crowds to buy crafts, purchase items from mountains of used toys, participate in cakewalks and pony rides, and eat copious amounts of delicious homemade food. One of the most successful yearly carnival events was the auction of a handmade quilt, usually a Dresden Plate design in the Bachman colors of kelly green and white. The Carnivals were extremely successful community events. Funds raised over the years provided an art teacher, instructional supplies, computers, televisions, and air conditioners, as well as playground and sports equipment.
An annual May Day program held in the 1940’s and 1950’s featured a May Pole dance and the crowning of the May Queen and King. The stage for the event was set up on the front lawn, sometimes with a backdrop of large American flags, and the entire community attended.
The Eighth Grade Graduation program presented the new graduates dressed in white dresses for girls and suits for boys. It was held in the auditorium.
Modern school events included choosing a King and Queen of Hearts for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving pageants, visits from Santa Claus, school plays and PTA fundraising dinners. Field Day, held during the last week of classes, featured a huge family picnic and many kinds of traditional outdoor games and sports, including a long jump, biggest smile contest, obstacle course, tug-of-war, hula hoop championship, and sack races. Ribbons and prizes were awarded to the many winners.
A Community Center for All
In 2000, the Bachman Center Council, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, leased the building to create a community center in the Town of Walden. Named Bachman Community Center, the Center’s mission was “to provide educational, social and wellness programs to benefit all residents of Walden’s Ridge”. The building was placed on the National Historic Register. With the aid of Signal Mountain Bible Church and two Eagle Scouts, building repairs began. In 2002, they received a matching grant from the Community Foundation of Chattanooga, as well as contributions from civic organizations and private donors, to replace the badly leaking roof. In 2007, new gutters replaced the old leaky ones. Work continues on the restoration of the historic building, supported by donations and fundraising. Fundraisers conducted in the past five years included the Jambalaya Dinner, the Garden & Art Expo, sales at the Hwy. 127 Yard Sale, additional yard sales, the Southern Belle Cruise and Dinner, advertising booklets, and the Bachman Bargain Barn Resale Shop.