Opinion: What’s in a name? Could ‘Silverdale’ be out of the jail business?

Staff File Photo / Silverdale Detention Center, soon to be the Hamilton County Jail and Detention Center, is seen on Dec. 29, 2020, in Chattanooga.

It happens frequently in the retail world.

Companies change the name of brands so they'll seem more relevant, healthy or hip.

Think of Dunkin, which hopes you won't think only of doughnuts — donuts in its case — if you drop by. Or Sugar Frosted Flakes, which dropped the word "Sugar" in 1983 to sound healthier. Or Sugar Smacks, which became Honey Smacks in 2004.

Sometimes, name changes don't work.

The most famous case was New Coke, a 1985 marketing disaster in which the soft drink company changed its iconic formula to complete with fast-charging Pepsi, which was touting its Pepsi Challenge. Or Radio Shack, whose name change to RadioShack and then The Shack in 2009 wasn't able to keep it in business. Or Pizza Hut, which pondered changing its name to The Hut in 2009 to seem more hip in light of several other growing pizza chains but ultimately decided not so.

Of course, there's also Prince Rogers Nelson, the late Minnesota singer who rose to fame on only his first name, then in 1993 announced he was changing his name to a symbol for love and was often referred to as "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince." Ultimately, he went back to Prince before dying in 2016.

Next Wednesday, the Hamilton County Commission will consider a resolution that changes the name of the Silverdale Detention Center to the Hamilton County Jail and Detention Center.

Commissioner Lee Helton, R-East Brainerd, whose district border is close to the facility, addressed the resolution in Wednesday's commission meeting.

"What's in a name? Sometimes quite a bit," he said. "For too long the name Silverdale in our community has been associated with a poorly run, corporate jail facility. ... The times are changing."

The changes, he said, are thanks to former Sheriff Jim Hammond, current Sheriff Austin Garrett, former Mayor Jim Coppinger and current Mayor Weston Wamp.

"The county invested millions," Helton said. Now the center "will be safer for employees, safer for people we detain and far more cost effective [than] what we've had in the past. ... Allow the name Silverdale to be associated with a church or a school or a community with a rich history ... going forward."

We agree with his sentiment but know how difficult it is to disassociate a name from something for which it has become known.

Ask Chattanooga Councilwoman Carol Berz, who tried for several years to get Brainerd renamed Midtown. Or grocery customers who still say they're going to pick up a few things at Red Food, oblivious to the fact the hometown chain was sold to a French firm (that kept the name) in 1980, then to a Dutch firm which rebranded the stores as Bi-LO, in 1995 and finally to a Virginia firm which changed to name to Food City in 2015.

The resolution to which Helton spoke captured the difficulty of the name change. It noted that the "Hamilton County workhouse, also known as Silverdale, or Hamilton County penal farm" was to become the Hamilton County Jail and Detention Center.

The first mention of "Silverdale workhouse" in Times Free Press archives was March 28, 1925, when a Henry Hixson, who had escaped from the facility, was captured. But mentions of a workhouse at Silverdale date to 1921, when it was planned that a new outfit would replace one in Orchard Knob.

Foreseen was a "stockade sufficient to house sixty convicts, and of other buildings necessary to the management and maintenance of a prison of that capacity. ... The decision to make this division of workhouse forces has been reached in consequence of the rapid growth of the convict force and the demands of the people for more widespread highway repairs and construction in the large farming section to the east of Chattanooga."

Once it was completed in November 1921, it was noted that convicts working on roads in Soddy were likely to be brought over to work on roads in the eastern part of the county.

Plans for an addition to the space were approved in 1927.

In 1929, an article told of an "aged crippled drunkard [who] was given a good home by Hamilton County" in the nearby "Silverdale poorhouse" (where the Health Center at Standifer Place is today) but who, after running away and being recaptured, would "find life not so easy" in the Silverdale workhouse, where he "won't run off every weekend and saturate his gills."

In 1931, the Hamilton County grand jury on an inspection tour found the workhouse an "outstanding" type of public institution, but declared the food there to be of poor quality and improperly cooked.

The penal farm name, in newspaper archives, dates to 1972, but, after Corrections Corporation of America began operating the establishment in October 1984, then-Hamilton County Executive Dalton Roberts said he would refer to it as "the state penitentiary at Silverdale."

Clearly, what is now the county's only jail has had its share of names. But the new one may take residents a little time to leave "Silverdale" out of it.