The establishment of the Alexian Brothers at Signal Mountain, Tennessee, was founded primarily to provide a tranquil setting for the training of postulants and novices. The retirement and nursing home for elderly men was seen as a means of service; an apostolate for the neophyte brothers; a source of income; but all incidental to the primary purpose of the novitiate.
Such a training facility had been approved by the General Chapter of the Congregation in 1932. Property had been purchased in the Waukegan, Illinois area and plans for a novitiate-nursing home there had been drawn. Before construction began, however, Brother Gerard Kuhn, Provincial, learned of the availability of the Signal Mountain Hotel, located in the town of Signal Mountain near Chattanooga, and favored this site as a less expensive alternative. The hotel had operated as a vacation resort since before World War I. In the Depression 30's, however, business dwindled, and the building was being used only intermittently when the Brothers began to negotiate its purchase in 1936.
Newspaper clippings tell of the local people's resistance to the Brothers' purchase of the property. Objections were variously disguised, but were based ultimately on anti-Catholic sentiment. Despite bitter opposition Brother Gerard persisted in his intention to acquire the site. On September 27, 1936, title passed to the Brothers from the mortgage holder, First National Bank of Chattanooga. The Alexian Brothers of Signal Mountain, Tennessee became a corporation in that State on November 14, 1936.
Plans were immediately drawn for the addition of a monastery (housing about 50), chapel, refectory, kitchen addition, laundry and a boiler/maintenance building. Construction began sometime in June of 1937.
On July 17, 1938, Brother Vincent Geist was appointed first rector of the Signal Mountain house, though he did not arrive until July 25. Brother Alphonsus Hunnewinkel was named vice-rector and Brother Rembert Piontkowski, second councilor. These and the other Brothers sent to join them lived in the hotel portion of the building until August 27, when they moved into the unfinished monastery wing. The first postulant arrived on August 8, 1938. Given the disorganized situation, it is not surprising that he left about a month later. Omer Revak (Brother Jerome) and Matthew Blong (Brother Wendelin) were the first postulants who remained; they entered on August 31.
Because there were a number of Catholics in and around Signal Mountain, the Most Reverend William L. Adrian, Bishop of Nashville, designated the newly built chapel as the church for a new St. Augustine's Parish, September 7, 1938. Prior to that, Catholics living "on the Mountain" were members of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in downtown Chattanooga. In later years the parish developed greatly and no longer used the chapel for parochial functions.
The first guest-patient was admitted on November 8, 1938. The circumstance of his coming to the Rest Resort was related in Brother Vincent's chronicle of those early years along with many other colorful details not included here.
The first of several retreats for the clergy of the Nashville diocese (then comprising the whole of Tennessee) was held in June 1940. Before that there was no institution in the state large enough to accommodate all the diocesan clergy for their annual retreat.
From 1939 to 1941 the number of novices and postulants grew rapidly and virtually all work was done by the Brothers, novices and postulants. For several years, in fact, the Rest Resort employed fewer than a half dozen seculars. The strictures of World War II gradually decimated the Novitiate and at its end there were only about twelve young men in preparation. A new Provincial Council appointed in 1945 by the Reverend James Mertz, S.J., Apostolic Visitor, decided that the Novitiate and Postulate should be physically separated. To effect this plan they purchased an estate in Clayton, Missouri for the Novitiate. All novices were transferred to Clayton in 1946, while the Postulate was left at Signal Mountain with Brother Kevin Gruss as the first Director. (The Postulate remained here until February 13, 1956 when it was moved to Peters Hall, Gresham, Wisconsin.)
The Generalate of the Congregation of Alexian Brothers, at Lake Villa, Illinois since 1947, moved to Signal Mountain on a "temporary" basis in 1950. It is still located there in 2008. Also in 1950 a Woman's Auxiliary was formed to assist in fund-raising and service projects. Its activity has continued without interruption since.
Permission was obtained to admit women guests beginning September 1, 1964. This action demanded some renovation which was done under the direction of Brother Peter Mannion, a member of the General Council and the Superior-Administrator of the Home. Physical transformation of the building began in earnest, however, after the appointment of Brother Emmet Roche to that office in 1965. The number of usable rooms had been gradually increased and the Home had become increasingly attractive in décor. Services to guests and infirmary patients had at the same time been significantly upgraded.
This institution was originally named "Alexian Brothers Rest Resort." Later this was changed to "Alexian Brothers Mountain Resort" in an attempt to counteract the old-folks-home image. After only a few years the name "Alexian Brothers Rest Home" was adopted.
The 1970s and 1980s
On August 16, 1979, a press conference was called to tell of the newest project to be called Alexian Village of Tennessee. The Chattanooga News-Free Press carried the headline "$17 Million Center For The Aged" when they reported the story. The new concept was best described as "secure independence" as far as health care for the elderly was concerned. Construction began on the cluster units about 1981.
Groundbreaking for Alexian Village of Tennessee took place on May 15, 1982 with the Most Reverend James D. Niedergeses, Bishop of Nashville in attendance. Studio, one, and two bedroom apartments in two congregate buildings connected to a health center were constructed, and deluxe units were also available in six freestanding cluster units. The first residents moved into their cluster units on July 11, 1983.
On February 29, 1984 city streets were immobilized as traffic clogged the major arteries and bridges due to an early morning snowstorm in Signal Mountain. During these exact moments the community of Alexian Village on Signal Mountain was coming to life as never before, with staff members and volunteers moving more than 130 resident from the old nursing home facility to the new Health Center approximately 250 feet down the mountain.
On June 28, 1984 the structures which were built in 1918 and 1937 (the patient wing and the monastery) were demolished leaving only the front part of the original Signal Mountain Hotel. Here the Superior General and the Brothers had offices and living quarters. The new Health Center and the new chapel were blessed on August 15, 1984 by The Most Reverend James D. Niedergeses.
Alexian Village of Tennessee held its official grand opening on June 22, 1985, with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Participating in the ceremony were Brother Ronald Ruberg, C.F.A., assistant Provincial and director of the Alexian Brothers Community in Signal Mountain; Brother Warren Longo, C.F.A., Assistant Superior General of the Congregation of Alexian Brothers; Robert R. Rigel, President and C.E.O. of Alexian Village of Tennessee; Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd, U.S. Representative from the Third Congressional District; Anne Nolan, Signal Mountain Mayor; Arch Smith, M.D., Medical Director of Alexian Village; and State Representative Bill McAfee.
During the fall 1985, site work began on Phase II of Alexian Village of Tennessee. The three million dollar project added 65 apartments to the complex. The retirement community previously included 126 apartments and a 124-bed health care center. Early in 1986, Phase II of the construction was completed and residents began to move into their apartments. Phase III of the construction, another 30-unit wing was completed in October 1987.
A beautiful stained glass window, made in the early 1900s depicting the Epiphany, was installed in the chapel in the spring of 1988. The bell tower, originally part of the first St. Augustine Chapel, was also installed as part of the new chapel. When the first building was demolished in June of 1984, the tower had been preserved. The bell in the tower originally came from Wilmette, Illinois. The old bell tower stands as a symbol of the Alexian Brothers' call to services.
July 29 and 30, 1988 marked the observance of 50 years of Alexian Brothers' ministry on Signal Mountain and the dedication of the new chapel at the Alexian Village of Tennessee. The remodeled lobby of the original Signal Mountain Inn, which was turned into the Brothers' residence, was the setting for a formal dinner on July 29, 1988. Bishop James Niedergeses, local clergy, members of other religious communities, friends of the Alexian Brothers, members of the retirement community's Residents' Council and administrative personnel from Alexian Village were among the guests.
On July 30, 1988 a crowd of nearly 300 people attended the dedication of the new chapel. Brother Dominic Walsh, C.F.A., Superior General of the Congregation of Alexian Brothers; Bishop James Niedergeses, and Brother Felix Bettendorf, C.F.A., Provincial and President of Alexian Brothers Health System were in attendance. Bishop Niedergeses blessed the chapel. Father Hoffstetter, Pastor of St. Augustine's Church on Signal Mountain gave the Homily. At the conclusion of the liturgy, a civic celebration was held in the Evergreen Room. Bishop Niedergeses thanked the Brothers for their work on Signal Mountain.
Another phase of expansion began in 1991 with the construction of a new apartment building, a new residence for the Brothers, and the conversion of the 1912 hotel building into assisted living apartments. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Brow View Apartments took place on May 7, 1991. The Brow View apartments were a six-story building with 37 apartments and a two-story cluster building with eight apartments. The apartments were perpendicular to the side of Signal Mountain providing a spectacular view of the Tennessee River Valley Gorge from either side.
The project increased the total number of apartments at the continuing-care retirement community to 277. The Most Reverend Anthony O'Connell, D.D., of the Diocese of Knoxville blessed the site and participated in the groundbreaking. Brother Warren Longo, Assistant Superior General and Brother Felix Bettendorf, Provincial were speakers. On November 5, 1991, the Brothers moved into their new residence.
The 33-unit assisted living center at the old Signal Mountain Hotel was opened in July of 1992. The four-story Alexian Inn provided comfortable living quarters for village residents and other elderly people who occasionally required assistance with personal needs such as grooming, dressing, and housekeeping. The lower floor (formerly the rathskeller) was turned into the residents' dining room, a Brothers' dining room, and a spacious and newly equipped kitchen.
The construction of the Brow View apartments was completed in 1993. The dedication ceremony and blessing of the Brow View Apartments and Alexian Inn took place on February 20, 1993 in the Village chapel.
The Lone Oak free medical clinic opened on February 22, 1994. Together with other community groups, the Alexian Brothers and Alexian Village of Tennessee provided services to the elderly poor who lived in the Lone Oak area of Signal Mountain. Lone Oak was an unincorporated, poor community that was located near to Alexian Village of Tennessee. Partial funding for this program came through the Alexian Brothers Ministry Fund. On March 4, 1993, Brother Ronald Ruberg and Brother Lawrence Krueger met with representatives of the Lone Oak Project and presented to them a check for $5,000.00 from the Brothers' gift account. Reflecting its commitment to serving the health-care needs of the underserved, Alexian Brothers Health System, Inc. provided funds for the Lone Oak Medical Clinic The seniors were provided with a free medical clinic and home health services, free medicine when needed, emergency call devices, delivered meals, and emergency transportation.
The Alexian Brothers celebrated 60 years of their presence on Signal Mountain, Tennessee on June 23, 1996 with an outdoor party attended by 250 people. Brother Gerard Kuhn had purchased the property on September 27, 1936.
On December 8, 1998, the Alexian Brothers celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Alexian Brothers ministry at Signal Mountain. The first guest-patient had been admitted to the Rest Resort on November 8, 1938. In attendance were Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, Brother Edward Walsh, C.F.A., Superior General, Brother Lawrence Krueger, C.F.A., Provincial and Brother Eugene Gizzi, C.F.A., Community Director.
On November 19, 2002, Alexian Village of Tennessee announced plans for a $15.8 million remodeling and expansion project. The project enhanced the existing facilities and added 62 new retirement units. The new building was named "Canyon View," because the apartment building was built on the west end of the campus overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge, next to the Brow View apartment complex.
The Canyon View project began in June 2003, with the remodeling of The Lodge, the Village's main building which housed a community dining room, kitchen, Town Hall assembly room, administrative offices and four apartment wings. The common areas of the Lodge, such as the Town Hall, were extensively remodeled to provide improved lighting and acoustics. The Lodge was renovated to accommodate a fitness and wellness center, expanded dining and parking, a new indoor pool and a new library.
On September 23, 2004, the official ground breaking for the new Canyon View apartments was held. Viston Taylor, Vice President of Alexian Brothers of the Southeast was the Master of Ceremonies. The speakers included The Honorable James Althaus, Mayor of Signal Mountain; Brother Lawrence Krueger, C.F.A., Provincial and Brother Thomas Keusenkothen, C.F.A., President and C.E.O. of Alexian Brothers Health System. A reception followed in the Town Hall after the ground breaking.
On October 31, 2006, The Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz D. D., Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville blessed the Canyon View apartments. Brother Thomas Keusenkothen, C.F.A., President and C.E.O. of Alexian Brothers Health System was in attendance. The Mass and Blessing were attended by nearly 100 people from Alexian Village of Tennessee, the Signal Moutain community, and greater Chattanooga. A buffet luncheon was held afterward in the Village dining room. With the addition of the Canyon View, Alexian Village of Tennessee provided services for nearly 600 older adults.