Research by Ed Hoback:
Description: Article taken from The Chattanoogan.com Frawley Field and the Legendary Central High Purple Pounders by Harmon Jolley posted May 21, 2008
article_128352 Frawley Field and the Legendary Central High Purple Pounders by Harmon Jolley posted May 21, 2008
The new Frawley Field was one of several photographs in “Report of Hamilton County Schools, 1937/1938.” Click to enlarge. A reader recently asked me a question about the origin of the name of Frawley Field, which was the old Central High School football/baseball field. What a quest this turned out to be!
Let’s first review the historical setting of Central High School itself. In “A History of Hamilton County, Tennessee, “ Dr. James Livingood noted that the county education program began to move from the days of one-room, all-grades schools to the high school concept following Tennessee government’s funding of secondary education. Around 1902, Hixson, Sale Creek, Soddy, and Ridgedale (soon renamed Central High) acquired new high schools.
On January 3, 1908, Central High School was dedicated. At a cost of $72,000, Hamilton County had constructed the school on Dodds Avenue near McCallie Avenue. The location was at the time outside the city limits of Chattanooga, which operated a separate school system. However, Chattanooga residents were allowed to attend Central High as long as they provided their own transportation.
Class sizes of Central were initially relatively small in the early years. The graduating class in 1911 numbered only 65 students. However, by 1934, there were 1,730 students being taught by 38 teachers. Central High’s curriculum included a variety of the arts and sciences.
Even in its early years, the school chose purple as its primary school color. The Central High Digest was even printed in purple. The school fielded athletic teams before other high schools began to offer sports. The players who would be called the Purple Pounders needed an athletic field.
The book “Report of Hamilton County Schools 1937/1938” reported that funding of $30,008 for Frawley Field was included in a system-wide building program. Work started December 23, 1937 and the field was accepted on April 30, 1938.
But who was Frawley?
* I consulted the library’s inventory of Hamilton County Schools personnel booklets, and did not find a principal or teacher by that name. I did see that S. Dean Peterson was the team’s football coach in the late 1930’s. Mr. Petersen was later a Chattanooga City Commissioner of Education.
* I reviewed newspapers on microfilm from 1938, including the date in April when Frawley Field was completed as well as the September editions that covered the start of the football season. No Frawley was mentioned. However, I did note that September, 1938 had more coverage of baseball clubs in pennant races and University of Chattanooga Moccasin football than any other team. High school football received very little coverage. Central High had far-away teams on their schedule, since there were few local opponents other than Notre Dame.
* I perused the library’s newspaper clipping file on Central High School. There was lots of other interesting information, but no Frawley.
* I browsed the Chattanooga city directories of the era, and saw that there was a C.E. Frawley Furniture Company on Dodds Avenue. That lead also turned up empty, as I could not connect the business owner with the nearby school.
* I remembered that William Frawley, later a star on “I Love Lucy” and “My Three Sons,” was a vaudeville performer. Chattanooga had some vaudeville houses, so maybe William Frawley was in town and donated funds for a school athletic field. It was plausible because he loved sports – I read that he had it written into his “I Love Lucy” contract that he would be given time off if the New York Yankees were in the World Series. I kept the thought of this being William Frawley Field to myself, until now.
I put the research aside for a few days. Then, undaunted, I returned to the library to have one more look at the “Report on Hamilton County Schools, 1937/1938” which had mentioned Frawley Field. Just inside the cover of the book was a group photo of the Hamilton County Court, which had oversight responsibility for the school system. There was a new lead shown in the lower right corner – Fred Frawley, County Chief Clerk.
My next stop was a check of the library’s Local Obituaries link on its Web site. The passing of Fred Frawley was first reported in the December 3, 1940 Chattanooga Times. I read through the obituary, but still could not find mention of a connection to Frawley Field. I had to check one more possibility, that a subsequent printing of his obituary contained more information.
Eureka! In the announcement of Mr. Frawley’s funeral service, it was reported, “Members of the Cnetral High school band will form an honorary escort for the funeral. Mr. Frawley’s friendship to Central High school resulted in the naming of Frawley field in his honor.” Judge Will Cummings announced that the courthouse would be closed out of respect for Fred Frawley, who was a prominent local businessman and political leader. He had been purchasing agent since 1926, and likely was instrumental in the acquisition of land and building of Frawley Field.
THE LEGENDARY CENTRAL HIGH PURPLE POUNDERS
No article on Frawley Field would be complete without also mentioning the rich history of Central High School athletics. For that information, I called my uncle, Jack Jolley, a 1948 graduate of Central and authority on the Purple Pounders as well as the Tennessee Volunteers.
My uncle recalled Frawley Field, and said that it was reported at the time that it had been named for a coach. That is possibly correct, for Mr. Frawley may have served as a part-time coach or was at least on the sidelines encouraging his team.
By the time that my uncle attended Central, the school was playing many of its football games at Chamberlain Field on the University of Chattanooga campus. Many were sell-outs, such as game against its storied local rival, Chattanooga (City) High School. Uncle Jack still remembers the 81-6 victory over the City High Dynamos in 1945.
He recalled that teams from Memphis, Knoxville, and Birmingham often requested games on Central’s schedule. Central won several state championships. The Purple Pounders, led by many years by Coach E.B. “Red” Etter, included players who went on to outstanding college football careers. Ed Nobles (University of Chattanooga) and Bob McCoy (Georgia Tech) were known as the “Touchdown Twins.” Even players on the second squad were often given college scholarships.
Frawley Field also served as the baseball field of the Purple Pounders.
THE OLD CENTRAL HIGH AND FRAWLEY FIELD SITES TODAY
As early as 1955, studies were being made concerning relocating Central High School, which was still a Hamilton County school but physically located inside Chattanooga’s city limits after annexation. In 1957, some Central High alumni favored switching the school to the Chattanooga system, and having its name be attached to the new high school in Brainerd. Others favored a plan to move Central to the Glenwood community.
In the fall of 1969, Central High School opened at its present location on Highway 58. Considerable discussion and controversy took place over disposition of both the old school building and Frawley Field. Proposed uses for the school included relocating the library to it, as well as re-opening it as a part of the Chattanooga school system.
Many alumni waxed nostalgic as the former Central High building was eventually demolished, and the property became part of the McCallie School campus. Yellow bricks from old Central were offered to interested individuals, with my uncle being one such person. I remember that he called us from his relatively new out-of-town address, and asked us to be sure to get a few bricks for him.
As for Frawley Field, it is today the site of Parkridge Hospital.
While much is remembered and written about the old Central High School, let us not forget that the Central High students and teachers of today are also creating many positive memories to be shared in the future.
If you have memories of Central High or Frawley Field, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, anyone who would like to correspond with my uncle, Jack Jolley, about Central High or Tennessee Volunteers history may contact him at email@example.com.