French, who headed the Phoenix Foundry Company, was born near McMinnville in 1854. He was the only son of John Hopkins and Lucy Virginia Smith French. The father was a horse breeder and farmer, while the mother was a well-known Southern writer. Mrs. French, a native of Virginia, began her literary career in Memphis. The father was also from Virginia native.
Walter S. French grew up on the family farm in Warren County. In October 1872, he entered the Eastern Tennessee University, though he later had to withdraw due to illness. Afterward, he studied at a business school in Nashville.
French was the bookkeeper for a McMinnville firm “at a nominal salary” for some time, then he lit out for Chattanooga on Dec. 17, 1877 “where without means and among strangers he began life again.” He was finally hired on Jan. 8 by the glass dealer P.C. Wilson over many applicants. The salary was $20 per month. His employer allowed him to represent the firm in Cincinnati at the great banquet on March 18, 1888, to celebrate the completion of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad.
French was called to the bedside of his dying mother the next spring. While there he was induced to rejoin his former McMinnville employer, T.F. Burroughs, and he took a half interest in the business. After 18 months of “patient and unceasing labor and seeing that he was falling behind in his payments,” he at once decided to sell his interest and return to Chattanooga. French was back in Chattanooga “with a light heart” by March of 1883.
On Sept. 7, 1881, he had married Ella M. Carpenter, a native of Indiana and former resident of Cleveland, Ohio. Her family had settled in Chattanooga in 1874. French, after his return to Chattanooga, joined with his wife’s father and brother to organize the Phoenix Foundry Company. French was made secretary and treasurer. This company was able to make it through the depression of 1884-1885. French’s $500 investment in the firm paid dividends, and, “by the frugal habits of his wife,” he was finally able to set some money aside.
David T. Carpenter was born in 1827 in Grafton County, N.H., the son of Asa and Anna Turner Carpenter. When he was 26 years old, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio. After a year there, he returned to New Hampshire and married Miranda Parkhurst. They moved to Chicago, where D.T. Carpenter worked three years moulding in a foundry. In 1856, he moved to Cleveland, where he was foreman in a foundry for the next 16 years.
During the Civil War D.T. Carpenter in 1864 joined the Ohio Home Guards. He went on a 100-day tour as a sergeant, but had to be brought home sick.
Carpenter lived at Columbus, Ohio, then in 1873 he went to Chattanooga “to find a suitable place to live.” The family moved to Chattanooga the next year. There he started the Phoenix Foundry with his son, Clarence A. Carpenter, and his son-in-law French. The plant “enjoyed excellent success, continuing to run during the entire time of the stagnation in business.”
The Carpenters had nine children, including Ella, the wife of Walter S. French. Others were Clarence A., Clara E., Flora B., George E. (who died young), Grace L., Jettie A. and another George E.
David T. Carpenter was on Prospect Street by 1876, and Walter French joined the household by 1884. It was said that D.T. Carpenter “began life in very limited circumstances, but by economy and judicious management is now in a very comfortable condition.” He had a 100-acre farm on Missionary Ridge near the East Lake Station of the Belt Railroad.
One of the daughters of D.T. Carpenter, Clara E. Carpenter, was the last of the family to live in the 206 Prospect house. She moved out about 1907 to live on Missionary Ridge. The Frenches had moved to Missionary Ridge as well.
Clara Carpenter graduated from Chattanooga High School in 1879. She then taught and was in administration for 51 years in the Chattanooga public schools. The Clara Carpenter Elementary School on E. Fifth Street near Douglas was named in her honor. She was the principal of the First District School for many years.
Later owners of the Carpenter/French home near the top of Cameron Hill were Hymen Steinman, Buford Combs and J.H. Cloud.