May 2006

S&H Green Stamps were once known as “America’s Most Valuable Stamps,” at one time printing three times as many as the U.S. Post Office. Printed by the Sperry and Hutchinson Company, they had been around since 1896 but did not reach their zenith until the 1950s.

The concept was quite simple. When you purchased food by cash from a participating store, the business would dole out one small green stamp for each ten cents spent. Patrons meticulously licked the stamps and placed them into small books, each containing spaces for 1200 serial numbered stamps.

The 30 empty pages contained advertisements promoting the lucrative benefits of the program. After accumulating several full books, consumers traveled to local “redemption centers” and exchanged them for predetermined merchandise. The business’s catalog, known as an Ideabook, offered customers a wide variety of choices and corresponding book requirements: Pair of bookends (1), Baldwin piano (380), Singer sewing machine (35), week’s vacation in Hawaii (190), pair of Speed King roller skates (1), Kodak Hawkeye camera (5½) and a Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder (43).

I recall a humorous event from the mid 1950s when a neighborhood acquaintance named Lucy invited my mom and me to ride with her to the S&H Redemption Store at 208 N. Roan Street near the old Power Board. Lucy placed a box of previously counted loose stamps on the counter in front of the attendant, informing him exactly how many books the stamps represented and the desired merchandise. The perplexed clerk informed her that stamps had to be in books in order to be redeemed. He proceeded to give her a handful of empty ones, assuming she would take them home and return with the stamps affixed to them. Not so. Lucy’s less than cordial response was “If you want my stamps in your books, then you lick ‘em and stick ‘em there yourself.”

Had Lucy read the fine print on the backside of the front cover of a book, she would have understood the rules: “The stamps when received from you must be pasted in the book, as that is the method we have adopted for the purpose of preventing their further use.” The clerk’s congenial reply angered Lucy, prompting her to begin licking whole sheets and sticking them on the pages with many stamps protruded outside the book. Mom wisely suggested we depart the premises. She hastily picked up Lucy’s box of stamps and empty books and the three of us abruptly exited the establishment. 

As demonstrated by our neighbor’s little temper tantrum, putting the stamps into books was a bit laborious, not to discount the foul taste of the glue. Nevertheless, most people overlooked this slight annoyance in order to select a prize from the attractive catalog.

The success of the S&H rewards program spawned competition from other companies: Gold Bond, Gift House, Triple-S, Plaid Stamps, King Korn, World, Blue Chip, Top Value and others. By about 1980, the “lick ‘em and stick ‘em” world of redeemable stamps ran out of glue and went dry. Sperry and Hutchinson Company is still in business but with a new marketing strategy.

Today, the only remnants of this unique rewards program are musty smelling books, stamps and catalogs found at flea markets, auctions and antique stores.  

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Merrill Moore, former anchorman at WCYB TV, attempted for years to learn the truth about a purported military plane crash in East Tennessee during World War II. 

Eugene “Jeep” Jones, former chief engineer at WETB Radio and a friend of Moore, recalled hearing about a P-51 Mustang going down on Coffee Ridge in Unicoi County. The newsman’s first big break occurred in 1987 while working on a television story regarding the apple orchards on Coffee Ridge.

Merrill remarked, “The ridge was the location of many orchards in the early part of the 20thcentury, but over the years, hard times and high costs had forced most growers out of business. The theme of the story I was working on centered on the fact that only seven orchards remained. Brothers Harley and Merley Willis owned one of the few remaining ones. During the interview, I mentioned about the tale of the downed plane. Merley said, ‘You see that tree up there on the hill and that sunken area next to it? Well, that’s where the plane hit.’”

The two young boys were sitting on their front porch one afternoon during a severe rainstorm and heard what they believed to be a truck out of control. Suddenly, an airplane descended through the fog, crashed and exploded within 200 feet of their house, sending a ball of flames across the field and setting their barn on fire. As the boys ran to put out the blaze, they unexpectedly spotted the slightly injured pilot, a Lt. McKinsey, floating earthward in a parachute.

A thorough investigation by Army personnel ensued over the next three days. The aircraft was determined to be P-39 Bell Airacobra plane. Additional facts about the event occurred in August 2002 while Merrill was working at the Appalachian Fair. Ms. Helen Edwards, who grew up in Coffee Ridge, recognized the popular TV newscaster and began talking with him.

Merrill questioned her knowledge of the crash: “She said her mother kept a journal on everything that happened and felt she surely would have written something about it. She promised to go home and try to find it.”

True to her word, the lady returned to the fair a couple of days later and handed Merrill a piece of paper. She had located the journal containing this handwritten entry: “An airplane crashed in Jasper Willis’ field on June 17, 1943. It was a P-39 pursuit plane with a pilot. He bailed out in his parachute. As he left the plane, he hit his arm and broke it twice. He was taken to the hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. Horace Higgins took him to Erwin, and an ambulance took him to Johnson City. The pilot had started from Charlotte, NC, headed for Knoxville, Tennessee. The plane had four machine guns and one cannon. The plane was blown up and the propeller and cannon were driven seven to nine feet into the ground.

“Government officials arrived on June 18 to guard it until the truck and wrecker came from Charlotte. On June 20th, they picked up what they wanted to get and pulled the propeller and cannon out with a winch. The first plane to crash on Coffee Ridge Creek, 14 miles south of Erwin. Written June 20th, 1943.”

Mystery solved. 

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Today’s modern I-26 highway between Johnson City and Asheville is a far cry from the narrow winding old highway 19/23 of yesteryear.

John Hughes, a retired Johnson City bus and truck driver drove a Queen City Trailways bus across this treacherous mountainous terrain daily between 1946 and 1948: “I began my route in Bristol each morning around 8:00, traveling through Bluff City, Dead Man Curve, Bullet Hollow, Elizabethton, Johnson City, Unicoi, Erwin, Ernestville (traveling across a single lane bridge), Flag Pond and Mars Hill (stopping for a 15-minute break), before arriving in Asheville some five hours later. My pay was a little over $73 a week for a six-day work week. No one every tipped me; that just wasn’t done then. I wore an impressive looking dark beige gabardine uniform with maroon stripes, tie with pin and a cap with a bill.”

John said that it was commonplace for people to get motion sickness during the long curvy jaunt: Initially, I had to detour up a gravel road to Spivey Mountain and back across Tilson Mountain. Meeting another vehicle on this narrow road meant stopping to allow one to squeeze past the other. Passengers wanting to depart the bus signaled me by pulling a buzzer cord located along each side. My job responsibilities included carrying a rate book, figuring people’s fares, cutting tickets, taking money and dispensing change. Best I remember, it cost about $1.75 to ride from Johnson City to Asheville.” 

John chuckled when he recalled stopping near Flag Pond to pick up a young boy and girl sitting on the side of the road. The youngsters, dressed in Easter outfits and carrying a basket, handed him a dollar and asked him to take them down the road to Aunt Louise’s house for an Easter egg hunt. 

Hughes said that he failed to return home only once in his three years of service: “The bus got through ice and snow pretty well because it was heavy and the engine was in the rear. There was a small hand ax mounted next to me on the side of the bus for the purpose of beating out windows and freeing passengers should the bus turn over on the door side.”

John stated that his vehicle occasionally became so full of passengers that the company had to run a second bus, a Fitzjohn, following behind as a double: In the early days if the bus had a flat tire or developed engine trouble, I had to flag down someone on the road and ask them if they would locate a phone and call the company to request a service crew. After dropping off my passengers at Asheville’s large busy terminal, I had about four hours of unpaid time before starting my return route. Trailways rented rooms for us at the nearby Earle Hotel. I left Asheville shortly after 5:00 and got back to Bristol usually around 10:20, making for a long day.”

In September 1984, John retired and was recognized for working 54 years without having a single accident. Asked how he accomplished this amazing feat, the seasoned driver answered without hesitation: “The good Lord above looking down on me and the drivers down here dodging me. The Lord had it all planned that way.” 

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Five rustlers rode into downtown Johnson City on a late 1959 afternoon, firing their weapons carelessly into the air. The rein of terror ended abruptly when the alert local “sheriff” apprehended the gang, averting a potential tragic incident.

This event was not as ominous as it appeared. The bandits were not on horseback or in a car; they were traveling by “shank’s mare” (on foot). The guns they were toting contained water, not bullets. In reality, it was a harmless prank that went awry. The five outlaws were sophomores at Science Hill High School.

I must confess that I was one of those desperados; I will not disclose the identity of the others so as to protect their “innocence.” School dismissed at 3:15 each afternoon, the same time our bus left the city depot, making it impossible for us to get to the Boone Street bus stop on time. With idle time on our hands, we sought ways to entertain ourselves before catching the 4:15 bus.  Sometimes we snacked at one of the local downtown cafes or bowled at the Johnson City Bowling Alley on Spring Street.

On this memorable afternoon, we stopped at Kress's and purchased water guns, mine being a bright yellow one. After filling our pistols at their water fountain, we exited the store onto Main Street. Our escapade began as harmless fun; we starting spraying each other with water. Our walking soon escalated into running, as we dodged each other’s water barrage.

We began bumping into and wetting a few locals who happened to get in our way. We were having a refreshingly good time. As we rounded Fountain Square toward the depot, we ran smack dab into Rodney Rowlett, a city police officer, who was on patrol. Officer Rowlett sat us down on the curb in front of the bus depot and confiscated our weapons. He told us to bring our parents with us to police headquarters on King Street if we wanted them back.

The sheriff then advised us to start behaving as adults, cautioning us that any future occurrences would have dire consequences. We humbly apologized to him for our actions and abruptly boarded our bus for home, vowing to one another not to tell our parents about the sordid incident. The Johnson City Press-Chronicle carried the occurrence the next day as a front-page news story, praising the heroic efforts of “Sheriff” Rodney Rowlett.

Let me turn the clock ahead thirty-two years to April 1991, while I was working for Tennessee Eastman Company. The company newspaper printed a story about a security guard, Rodney Rowlett, pursuing some intruders inside the plant fence. I couldn’t believe my eyes; could this possibly be our Sheriff Rowlett?”

When I contacted him, he laughingly acknowledged that he was indeed the infamous sheriff, remembering the episode because of the humorous newspaper clipping. After I inquired about my water gun, he purchased and mailed me a new yellow one. I still have our letters of correspondence. I planned to bring my new water pistol to his retirement party in 1993, but that never occurred. Sadly, the good-natured “sheriff” passed away in May 2003.


Rodney’s yellow gun is now a cherished reminder of yesteryear when five mischievous high school students “terrorized” downtown Johnson City.


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The Windsor Hotel still shines in the memories of many area folks. A 1909 advertisement spoke of the former establishment as the “handsomest furnished hotel between Richmond and Chattanooga.”

A 1913 photo engraved envelope reads, “Hotel Windsor, Up-To-Date Modern, Centrally Located, Harry L. Langel, Proprietor.” A billboard painted on an old barn in the 1920s proudly proclaimed, “Windsor Hotel, Streamline Suites, $1.15 – $2.25 per night, R.A. Preas, Manager.”

The three-story brick Windsor Hotel was all this and much more, catering to passengers traveling on one of three railroads lines operating in the city. The large 11,961 square foot edifice stood along the railroad tracks on Fountain Square opposite the future city bus station on the east and the Piedmont Hotel to the north. A city trolley whisked briskly by the enterprise several times daily, providing convenient transportation for guests.

In 1906, J.A. Dennis owned land along the railroad tracks just south of Main Street. He sold it to H.W. Pardue who built a hotel on it in 1909, bearing his name. The Pardue name was spelled out on the brick along the top north and east sides and remained there even up to the day it was demolished.

Dr. James Preas, a local physician, eventually acquired the facility and changed its designation to Hotel Windsor, eventually leasing it to a Mr. W.W. Westmoreland. The business in time became known as the Windsor Hotel. The popular hostelry became a favorite spot for traveling business personnel, special events, honeymooners, political and social conventions and other gatherings.

The Windsor had 50 rooms, 14-inch thick walls and was the only inn in town with an elevator. The internal (non-face) bricks were fabricated in a shop on Water Street. Standard items in each room included steam heat, hot and cold water, private baths and telephones. Amazingly, the original patterned ceramic tile lobby floor served patrons throughout its 62-year existence. The foyer once even sported a small zoo.

The decorative ballroom and dining room on the second floor became the hub of activities. The newly formed Rotary Club used the facility in 1915 with local furniture dealer, Bert Pouder, serving as its first president. Three years later, the Kiwanis Club came into existence with insurance and real estate businessman, Joe Summers, as its leader. Notables who stayed there included William Jennings Bryan, three time presidential candidate and secretary of state in President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet.

Those were the days of two-way traffic on Main Street. Anyone traveling west would notice the Windsor sign immediately after they passed the old post office (now WJHL building). The unique thing about it was how each letter in the hotel name was lighted one after the other: W – WI – WIN – WIND – WINDS – WINDSO – WINDSOR. After the word was fully lit, all seven lights went off, flashed back on, went off again and then repeated the sequence in like manner. A large white sign with black letters sat on the roof of the hotel facing east until the 1950s.

In the years before its demise, the Windsor offered patrons low budget accommodations. Sadly, the old hotel was razed in the summer of 1971 along with the Arlington Hotel, Fountain Square Hotel and several adjoining structures as part of the city’s urban renewal efforts. 

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