Kentuckian Quite Satisfied with 1911 Stay at Soldiers’ Home
In 1911, J.C. (James) Singleton wrote a letter to an unidentified person that relates his positive experiences of living at Soldiers’ Home in Johnson City. Unlike previous letters from the Home that tended to be brief, this one was very descriptive and detailed:
“My Dear Sir: It has been my intention to write you for several weeks thinking that perhaps you and the people who know me are interested in my welfare and might want to know how I like Soldiers’ Home and Johnson City. While I am unable to write each and every one, I wish to take this means of letting the people hear from me.”
James had arrived at the Home just five weeks prior on a beautiful Sunday morning. He was greeted with hospitality, reminding him of his old Kentucky home. After a tour of the facility and grounds, he described it as “the most beautiful spot I ever saw and while I had my blues for awhile, they soon wore off after making new acquaintances and I can truthfully say that the more I see and the longer I stay, the better I like it. One must see it, for its beauty, its location and its scenery is almost unsurpassed.”
Singleton stated that the reservation comprised about 1,000 acres, with a part of the property devoted to the farm where all sorts of vegetables and produce were raised. A goodly portion was devoted to pasturage for 80 to 100 fine cows. It was quite a spectacle to see young men milking such fine breeds as Jerseys, Holsteins and others. The milk was attended to immediately, but cream was not separated from the milk because butter was purchased. Three cows supplied the daily milk needs of the veterans. Although James was used to drinking milk at home in a glass tumbler, the Home brought it to him in a soup bowl that was full to the brim, enough for a satisfying meal within itself.
The Mess Hall was defined as a large stone structure standing about the middle of the grounds with architecture consistent with the other buildings. Here about 1,200 aging soldiers received three quality meals a day. The food was very tasty and plentiful. Singleton said it was a spectacle seeing everyone heading toward the dining tables at the sound of a bugle. He described the residents as a mixture of older soldiers and younger ones from the Spanish-American War. Many were in reasonably good health while others were not.
“Each has his own place at his particular table,” said James, “and is waited on by young girls, who are especially kind to the old and feeble. There is a number of fine barracks where these veterans sleep and which are exceedingly comfortable and have every convenience. The hospital is one of the best in the country, fully equipped and well managed by good men and Christian citizens.
“The officers’ quarters are in the extreme west end of the grounds and, like the rest of the reservation, command an excellent view (of the mountains). In the center and just in front of the mess hall is the flagstaff and bandstand. Every day the flag is raised in the morning and lowered at sunset, and while it is being lowered, the band plays ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and it is no common sight to see almost a hundred of the old time-worn veterans standing at attention, with bowed and uncovered heads.
“Every Sunday afternoon during winter months, there is a sacred concert at the theatre, but during the summer months, they are held in the open air in the bandstand provided for them. Twice a week there is a moving picture show of the highest type in the theatre for the amusement of the veterans. I might say here that the Government allows $10,000 per year for amusements for the Home, which is utilized in a number of ways.
“The baseball park belongs to the Home and it is here that the Appalachian League, of which Johnson City is a member, plays. There is also a Carnegie Library, which has nearly 14,000 volumes, and every day the leading papers from notable cities (arrive here). There are also on the post the regular hotel, church or chapel, power houses and appurtenances, a herd of 11 deer, the national cemetery, pond, green house, etc.
“I have said so much in regard to the Home; now I wish to say a word or so in regard to Johnson City. This thriving little city is situated within a mile of the Home, which has from 1,500 to 2,000 people, making a total of about 12,000 inhabitants. It has a good streetcar system of the electric type, one line running to the Home; fine churches; good hotels; four public school buildings; a $50,000 (Science Hill) High School building going up this spring and summer; a new depot; about eight miles of paved streets; the East Tennessee State Normal School; an iron furnace; a good many factories; and three railroads. It is a thriving little city and seems to me to have a great future.
“There are three banks in the city and it is my pleasure to see, most every day one of our town boys who has charge of one of the National banks in the person of Henry C. Black. Henry takes the Courier-Journal and saves the papers for me every day and it affords me a lot of pleasure to get this Kentucky newspaper and Kentucky news. There are a great many Kentuckians in Johnson City, and at the Home, so that there is really no reason why a person should get homesick except when they get together and begin to talk about old Kentucky. I certainly love to see some of the old soldiers back in old Knox come here to live, or rather, to spend the summer.
“The altitude is about 1,700 feet and I am told it is always cool during summer months. If some of them whom I am accustomed to seeing on the streets at home were here, I believe they would be so well satisfied that the only way you would see them again, is when they are on a visit home or you would have to visit them here. Every few days, I see Uncle Jeff King, and John T. Watts, both of Knox County (Kentucky), and who are well known to most every one there. They are getting along fine like myself.”
Singleton concluded his letter believing that he was becoming tedious. HHow wrong he was; his words were fascinating. Inside the letter, he included “some fine views of the Home.” He ended his correspondence with “Yours very respectable, J.C. Singleton.”