The Carlisle Hotel: Landmark Once Suffered from Superiority Complex
Most area residents would readily cite the three most remembered downtown hotels from Johnson City’s colorful past as the Windsor, the John Sevier, and the Colonial. Conspicuously absent from their list would likely be the Carlisle Hotel.
Many people can recall the large building that once occupied the southwest corner of East Main and Division streets as an aged apartment complex, eventually razed to provide for a new interstate highway.
However, few people have any knowledge of the impressive history of this edifice. Thanks to the research efforts of Eddie LeSueur and Mary Harden McCowan of years past and remembrances of a few local inhabitants, priceless historical information about this important hostelry has been preserved.
Built in the late 1800s, the three-story brick Carlisle Hotel was one of the most imposing and lavish hotels in the region, attracting a large clientele of prominent people. It quickly established a first by becoming the earliest city hotel to clothe its employees in uniforms. Facing Tannery Knob to the north, this stately lodge was enclosed on the ground floor by a wide brick multi-arched open-air patio along the front and sides. The first floor contained a lobby, large dining room, and lounge (sitting room) with a beautiful white staircase.
The establishment achieved another first in 1903 when Dr. William J. Matthews, a local physician, opened the city’s first hospital in the hotel, setting precedence for future businesses to locate there. By 1912, Dr. W.A. Wright was operating a private school in the building.
The Carlisle Hotel became the Franklin Hotel in 1913. Six years later, the owners made a business decision to transition it to a 36-unit apartment complex known as the Franklin Apartments. City resident, Fred Weaver of Johnson City, remembered doing construction work for the establishment in 1917 and being partially compensated for his services with hotel silverware embossed with the large letter “F” on each piece.
The enterprise underwent yet another identity change in 1921 to Hotel Franklin and Rooms, but within six years, it was renamed the Franklin Apartments, keeping this designation until its demise almost fifty years later. Optometrist Dr. Bowery moved his office there in 1929 and began fitting eyeglasses. Two daughters of Dr. Wright maintained a music studio there from 1938 to 1948. Over time, the building lost its distinguishing look when the wide multi-arched patio was removed and the building brick was covered with stucco.
The few known owners of the business over the years included a Mr. Latimer during the 1920s; a Mrs. Crowder in the 1930s; Herb Seaton and Ike Garland from about 1940 to1950; and S.R. Jennings, the last owner.
Notables who lived at the Franklin were Clyde Hodge (former editor of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle); two well-known school teachers, Louise Huddle and sister, Dora Huddle (feisty unforgettable seventh grade Tennessee History teacher at the old Junior High School); Henry C. Black (retired banker), his wife, and daughter; Dorothy Hamill (former staff writer for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle); Charlie Swatzell, general superintendent of J.E. Green Company; and E.D. LeSueur (who once owned and operated Cargille Studio).
The hotel/apartment complex existed about 100 years before succumbing to a wrecking ball in 1969, stubbornly hanging on for ten days as if to beg for its very life. After the dust settled and time elapsed, the remembrances of the once magnificent Carlisle/Franklin began to quickly fade.
Perhaps these fitting words from an unknown local resident of days gone by summarizes the old structure’s place in the sun: “It was so swank, going inside always gave me an inferiority complex.”