Johnson City Comet readers eagerly opened their newspapers on Sunday morning, April 10, 1910 to these attention-grabbing headlines: “Carnegie Hotel Burned Down This Morning – Alarm Sounded at One O’clock – Hotel Totally Destroyed.”
Civil War General J.T. Wilder built and furnished the palatial Carnegie Hotel in 1891 at the southwest corner of Broad Way (Broadway) and Second Avenue (Fairview) for $125,000. R.N. Farr, a man experienced in hotel management, leased it and opened the complex to customers on Sept. 27 of that same year.
The three-story edifice contained 125 rooms with six additional storage rooms along the sloping south end at First Avenue (Millard Street, between hotel and railroad tracks). The best materials were used throughout the structure, the interior finish being antique oak. Immense plate glass windows in all rooms provided abundant daytime lighting, with more shining down through a large opening into the centralized lobby. The interior was endowed with an electric passenger elevator, numerous accessible stairways, spacious hallways and a ventilation system.”
Dining rooms were large and beautifully furnished; parlors and reception rooms were unequaled in finish and furnishings. The Comet further stated: “Its billiard, library, bath and other rooms have the polish of perfection.” The roof, overlaid with pitch and gravel, provided guests with an impressive observatory where “one can see quite a distance up and down the valley and across the mountains miles away.”
On the south side, there were two 100-foot verandas with wrought iron balustrades extending out from the first and second floors of the hotel proper. A large entrance veranda faced Second Avenue. Along its sides were several additional smaller verandas, each extending from the terminus of a hallway. The hotel offered first class water and electric systems including lighting by gas. Rooms were heated by radiation from a furnace below. The floors were laid with very fine carpet. Every room was elegantly furnished.
The Comet offered this précis of the Carnegie: “The auspicious beginning of this magnificent enterprise marks a new and important epoch in our history. It is a proud and enduing moment in far-seeing business genius and for the energy, the hopefulness, and the confidence and courage of capital which have transformed in a few brief years, a struggling unsightly village to a gem city.”
For 17 years, the hotel was a showcase for visitors traveling through the city. The trolley made scheduled visits to the Carnegie. By 1908, the hotel was used almost exclusively by the CC&O Railroad. After that, a number of people rented it for a while and pro rated the maintenance costs. The now declining Carnegie was in the process of being converted to an apartment complex when the massive early morning fire cut short its 19-year reign.
The April 3, 1910 Comet article concluded with these epitaphic words: “As the Comet goes to press at 3 o’clock, the ruddy glare of the flames can be read in the sky for miles. It is impossible to save the building and no effort is being made to do so, but the office building across the street occupied by the CC&O officials will be unharmed.“
With that, one of the finest hotels in East Tennessee history went up in smoke and became a fleeing memory.