1936 Obituary Notice Reveals Life of Industrialist, George Carter

Obituary notices can be an excellent source of information, especially if your name was George L. Carter. A December 31, 1936 newspaper clipping offered a depiction of the man who was responsible for the early growth of Johnson City and, for half a century, was a leader in the industrial expansion of Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. 

The pioneer succumbed at the age of 79 in a Washington, DC hospital of a heart attack, after enduring pneumonia for a month; funeral services were held at Hillsville, VA, the town of his birth. Mr. Carter was son of Walter Carter, an officer in the Confederate Army, and Lucy Ann Jennings. She was the only sister of Charles L. Jennings, father of S.R. Jennings, a well-known Johnson City businessman.

George L. Carter Was Prime Mover of Industrial Development in the Area

The future industrialist began his career by working in a Hillsville general store and advanced from one position to another until his holdings extended over parts of several states, causing him to be widely known.

After being associated with lead mine operations at Austinville, VA, he became interested in the development and sale of iron ore properties and was associated with George T. Mills, a prominent railroad contractor. The two built the Dora Furnace at Pulaski, VA in the early 1890s.

During the “boom” days in this section, Mr. Carter founded the South Atlantic and Ohio Railroad, which ran from Bristol to Intermont near Appalachia, VA. He also organized the Bristol and Elizabethton rail systems, which extended between the two cities, mentioned in its name, and the Virginia and Southwestern railroads, running from Appalachia into Johnson County, Tennessee. This eventually became a part of the Southern Railway route.

For several years, during which Johnson City was in its most important formative stage, Mr. Carter resided here. He continued to maintain an interest in its welfare during the years after he made his headquarters elsewhere but always kept his attractive mansion near State Teachers College ready for immediate occupancy.

At the time of his death, Mr. Carter was said to own more Johnson City real estate than any other individual. The industrialist was intimately connected with the Teachers College, whose president, Dr. C.C. Sherrod, expressed deep regret at his passing.

According to Dr. Sherrod, if it hadn’t been for Mr. Carter, the college might not have been established in Johnson City. When construction of the institution was first broached in 1910, Mr. Carter offered to give the land near his home for the school site. Since he didn’t own all the land needed, in his characteristic fashion, he went out and purchased the remainder from Joe P. Lyle. In all, he donated 120 acres.

The George L. Carte House That Was Built in 1908 on the Campus of the Normal School

The industrialist's association with Kingsport was equally intimate. Those familiar with his career said he virtually “made” the city single-handed, and at one time owned practically all the property in the vicinity. He and his brother-in-law, J. Fred Johnson, were regarded as the two leading developers of the Sullivan County City. At the height of his personal wealth, Mr. Carter held 9,000 acres of land on the site of what is now Kingsport, as well as a quarter of a million acres in Russell and Dickenson counties, VA.

George's residence in Johnson City dated from 1907 to 1920. At the time of his death, he was living in the Hay-Adams house at 800 Sixteenth Street, Washington, DC but also had houses at Coalwood, WV., Hillsville, VA and Fort Chiswell, VA. At one time, Carter owned the Bristol Herald newspaper and was also active in banking circles in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

Survivors included his wife, Mrs. May Etta Wilkinson Carter, a native of Hillsville, president of the Carter Coal company, of which Mr. Carter was vice-president; and two sisters Mrs. M.W. Doggett of Kingsport and Mrs. R.G. Wilkinson of Hillsville. A brother, James died many years prior and a sister, Miss Ruth Carter, who married J. Fred Johnson of Kingsport, died two years earlier.