January 2007

The late Tom Hodge once wrote a highly informative column about the early Ford dealerships in Johnson City. Five local individuals shared their remembrances with him. Henry Row, the initial responder, said that he worked for H.R. Parrott Motors in 1916 and 1917, recalling that Parrott had also been a partner in Summers-Parrott Hardware, a forerunner to Summers Hardware.

The dealership was located on Ash Street along the southwest end of the block. Henry said the late Harry Range had once been a partner in the dealership and believed the firm was sold about 1920. Row was hired by the business to assemble T Model Fords that came to Johnson City packed six to a railcar, the frames being crisscrossed along one end and the bodies at the other. The autoworker’s task was to install the wheels, position the bodies on the frames, move them into the shop and bolt everything tightly together. One auto took approximately a day to fully assemble.

Henry laughingly commented that when he entered the Army in 1917, he ended up in France … assembling Model T Fords. The Army found much use for this unique vehicle. Row said the Model T sold for roughly $350, becoming a much sought after and profitable seller for the company.

Lee Wallace next contacted Tom to say that James A. Summers and H.R. Parrott were jointly involved in the hardware and car dealership businesses in 1911. In 1914, each entrepreneur swapped his half interest, giving Summers sole ownership of the hardware and Parrott the auto business. Lee remembered when Summers Hardware was involved in construction work at the site and uncovered parts of old Fords buried in the former driveover pit.

Gardner Range, whose father once worked for Parrott Motor Company, supplied Tom with additional facts. Gardner once had a list of prices for the Model T. He recalled that the car had a base price and many items considered standard today were priced separately as extras. There were many Model T cars roaming the countryside without bumpers. Before someone could acquire a Ford dealership, he had to agree to also carry the Ford tractor, known as a Fordson. Range recalled that his father purchased an outdoorsman outfit and wore it while demonstrating tractors to prospective buyers.

Another individual, Jim Stewart, contacted Hodge to say that when he was a little boy in western Pennsylvania, the Fordson tractors were fairly new and very popular with area farmers. Jim related that the tractors had tanks containing two different fuels. Gasoline was used to start the engine and run it until the engine became hot. The driver then switched to kerosene as its primary fuel.

Finally, Lewis Holley shared with Hodge the fact that the Grove Inn was located just down the road from the dealership near the old Clinchfield Railroad Depot.  The facility, operated by a Potter family, was a boarding house that catered to railroad passengers. It had a swinging bridge across the creek.

Around 1925, Universal Motor Corporation opened along the southeast side of the intersection of King and Boone streets, selling the Ford, Lincoln and Fordson. In my next column, I will continue the Ford theme by sharing some interesting memories of Geneva Feathers who worked at Tennessee Motors in the 1940s. 

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A 36-page booklet titled, “Monday Club, Johnson City, Tenn., 1914-1915,” contains a wealth of information about this longstanding impressive organization.  

The society’s roots can be traced to 1892, when 11 area women formed “The Ladies Reading Circle,” a club devoted to the reading and discussion of books. The members initially met in each other's homes. Within a year, this group became known as “The Monday Reading Club.” In 1895, the same year the Johnson City Public Library was established, they shortened their name to “The Monday Club.” The federation’s stated goal was “the upbuilding and support of the Mayne Williams Library.” Striving for “Unity of Purpose,” they adopted the motto: “In good things, unity; In small things, liberty; In all things, charity.”

Feb. 6, 1913 proved to be a pivotal day for Johnson City when the society received a letter from local attorney, Samuel Cole Williams, donating property adjacent to Munsey Memorial Church and a $10,000 contribution to help build a new public library. Fulfillment of the club’s dream for a permanent home occurred on Jan. 1, 1923 when Mayne Williams Library opened its doors to the public. Prior to this, the library had occupied ten separate locations. 

The club’s avowed pledge was to work toward better homes, schools, surroundings, scholarship and lives; to work together for civic health and civic righteousness; to preserve forests, and natural beauties of the land; To procure for children an education which fits them for life; to train the hand and heart as well as the head; to protect children who are deprived of the birthright of natural childhood; and to obtain right conditions and proper safeguards for women who toil.”

The officers for 1914-1915 were Mrs. Ferdinand Powell, President; Mrs. G.L. Smith, Vice-President; Mrs. O.E. Kizer, Second Vice-President; Mrs. R.W. Martin, Recording Secretary; Mrs. S.N. Hawes, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. W.J. Barton, Treasurer; and Mrs. E.A. Long, Federation Secretary.

The club was divided into 11 departments with a director over each: Art (Mrs. W.P. Harris), Civics (Mrs. E.M. Slack), Civil Service Reform (Mrs. E.W. Kennedy), Conservation (Mrs. W.J. Barton), “Education (Mrs. C.E. Rogers), Mountain Settlement Work (Mrs. O.E. Kizer), Industrial and Social Conditions (Mrs. F.B. St. John, Literature and Library Extension (Mrs. G.L. Smith), Legislation (Mrs. L.A. Pouder, Public Health (Mrs. E.T. West) and Home Economics (Mrs. P.M. Ward). Club membership in 1914-1915 was 69 (48 active, 5 associate and 16 honorary). Annual dues for active members were $3.00.

After the much-anticipated new learning facility became operational, it opened on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 1-4 pm between November 1 and March 31 and 1-5 pm from April 1 through October 31. The club met every Monday afternoon at 2:00 from the first Monday in October to the first Monday in April, the last one being their annual meeting. The following abridged departmental agendas for the meetings between Oct. 5, 1914 and Apr. 5, 1915 show an extraordinary diversity of scholarly subjects:

Oct. 5, 1914, Inauguration Day: Outgoing address by retiring president, Mrs. F.B. St. John; Talk – “Our Plan of Study.”  

Oct. 12, 1914, Conservation: The New Forest Reserves and Irrigation in the United States.

Oct. 19, Public Health: A Free Clinic in our Public Schools, The Value of an Open Air School and Free Lunches.

Oct. 26, Legislation: The Relationship Between National and State Legislation and Tennessee Laws Relating to Marriage and Divorce.

Nov. 2, Industrial and Social Conditions: Public Address by Ernestine Noa of Chattanooga. A tea social followed.

Nov. 9, Modern Literature: Reminiscent Stories of American Humorists; American Wit and Humor; Readings from James Whitcomb Riley and Eugene Field; and Readings from ‘Mark Twain.”

Nov. 16, Modern Literature: The Development of Drama; Brief Sketches of the Life and Works of Hendrick Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Maurice Maeterlinck and Edmond Rostand; and The Story of Chantecler.

Nov. 23, Modern Literature: The Social Message of the Modern Drama; The Children’s Theatre; Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Bjornstjerne Bjornson and James Matthew Barrie.

Nov. 30, Special Lecture: Edwin W. Kennedy, Professor of History, East Tennessee State Normal School.

Dec. 7, Home Economics: Modern Problems in the Home; Conservers and Destroyers of the Home; and A Balanced Dietary.

Dec. 14, Better Babies Day, Home Economic, Public Health and Conservation: The Community’s Responsibility Toward the Child as Regards to Birth, Environment and Instruction.

Dec. 20-28, No meetings due to the Holidays. (“Heap on more wood: the wind is chill; But let it whistle as it will, We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.” – Scott).

Jan. 11, Evening Reception with “The Play.” (“Tis the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial fire of charity in the heart.” – Irving).

 Jan. 25, Woman’s Day: The Contribution of Women to Science and Art; Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton and Jane Adams; and “What is the Ideal Life for Women?

Jan. 4, 1915, Art: No stated agenda. (“Art is the child of nature, yes, her darling child, in whom we trace the features of the mother's face.” – Longfellow).

Jan. 18, Civil Service Reform: Five-Minute Reports on Local Conditions in Public Schools (The Appointment of Teachers, To Whom Responsibility and How Removed and The Condition of School Buildings).

Jan. 25, Woman’s Day, Agenda: The Contribution of Women to Science and Art; Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton and Jane Addams;

Feb. 1, The Mayne Williams Library: Program by Library Directors.

Feb. 8, Mountain Settlement Work: Our Mountaineers.

Feb. 15, Modern Literature: The Development of the Short Story; The Place of the Short Story in Modern Literature; and Selected Readings from Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Nelson Page.

Feb. 22, Travel – Mexico: Historic Mexico and Mexico Today.

Mar. 1, Modern Literature: Modern Poets and Poetry; America’s Contribution to Poetry in the Last Half Century; and Readings from Representative Modern Poets – John Masefield and Alice Meynell.

Mar. 8, Modern Literature: Special Characteristics of Southern Poetry and Selected Readings from Poe, Lanier, Ryan, Hayne, Dunbar and Keller.

Mar. 15, Education: The New Education, What Shall We Keep?; Woman as an Educator; and Discussion – What May We Do As Mothers to Aid the Teaching of Our Children?

Mar. 22, Civics: Some Modern Methods of Making Living Conditions More Wholesome; The Origin and Benefits of the Organization of Housewives League; and Churches and Schools as Social Centers.

Mar. 29, Travel – Panama, Agenda: The Story of Panama and How It Came into the Possession of the U.S.; The Panama Canal and Its Economic Value to the World.

April 5, Final meeting of the term. (“Farewell! A word that must be, and hath been – A sound which makes us linger; – yet-farewell” – Byron).

According to Mrs. Mattie Mullins, former club president, the organization orchestrated numerous improvements throughout the years: “The beginning of garbage pickup in Johnson City, paying for boys and girls to go to the clinic at ETSU to have their tonsils removed, serving hot lunches in the public schools beginning at the old Columbus Powell Elementary School and planting flowers and bulbs in the city early each spring in such places as Fountain Square and churchyards and library.”

Some 115 years later, the Monday Club, Monday Club Auxiliary and Junior Monday Club continue their long established support of the beautifully designed and functional Johnson City Public Library. Today, the Monday Club, with approximately 240 members, meets the first and third Mondays of each month (excluding the summer months) at the library.    

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I plan to occasionally focus my Yesteryear spotlight on some individual and indicate why he or she deserves such an accolade. My first offering is Miss Gordon Grubbs, one of my two sixth grade teachers at Henry Johnson School during 1954-55. Miss Grubbs taught geography, one of my least favorite subjects.

This stately lady devised an ingenious scheme for getting her students to better appreciate the class. She announced the formation of the Super Sticker Stamp Club, a weekly voluntary gathering that met after school in her classroom. This teacher astutely coupled our need to learn about the diverse physical, biological, and cultural features of the earth's surface with our enjoyment of a hobby that included the swapping of postage stamps from all over the world. Those students who did not have stamp albums quickly acquired one so they could partake in the exciting world of philately. 

Our first order of business was to choose club officers. I became president, probably because of my reasonably large stamp collection, obtained primarily from Pat’s Trading Post on Spring Street. Miss Grubbs asked me if I understood Robert’s Rules of Order. For some strange reason, I responded in the affirmative, although I knew nothing of Robert or his orderly rules. After I attempted to convene my first club get-together, the first order of business quickly became for me to learn the proper way to conduct a meeting.

Our club’s setting became spontaneous and laid-back, nothing like our geography class. Everything was relaxed and informal – talking softly without permission, wandering around the room at will and making short impromptu presentations.

Miss Grubbs wisely and discreetly maintained a list of discussion questions to keep the meeting moving at a reasonable pace: What is your largest (or smallest) stamp? What is your prettiest (or ugliest) stamp? “What country represents a place you would like to visit? Show us a stamp from a country that you have visited. What country do you know the least about? This process evoked numerous responses from students as we hovered around each other in somewhat of a “show and tell” format. This was absolutely more enjoyable than sitting through a stiff geography class.

The Super Sticker Stamp Club afforded us time at the end for trading stamps. Our teacher basically turned the meeting over to us at this point. On one special occasion, Miss Grubbs had each of us give her a self-addressed envelope with our name and the school’s Market Street address on it. Shortly, the envelopes returned to us via U.S. mail, containing a new twenty-cent “special delivery” stamp, postmarked as a “First Day of Issue.”

A Young Miss Gordon Grubbs, A First Day of Issue She Acquired for Her Students

A regular three-cent Jefferson stamp was also affixed to it postmarked “9 am; October 13, 1954; Boston, Mass.” Our selfless teacher spent her own money on her students. Inside my envelope was a letter that read: “Dear Robert: This ‘First Day Cover’ of the new Special Delivery stamp is a little gift from me to each member of the ‘Super Sticker Stamp Club’ … Very sincerely … Miss Grubbs.” It was dated October 4, 1954.

Today, I cannot drive by that old W. Market Street  building without thinking about a gifted teacher with a creative imagination that transformed a potentially jaded subject into a pleasurable interactive learning experience.  

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Dr. B. Harrison Taylor, a grandson of the celebrated former Governor of Tennessee, Alf Taylor, sent me a letter: “Several months ago you had a historical article (“Old Limber”) in the paper about my grandfather. I thought you might enjoy this quote of Alf’s brother, Bob, from a little booklet entitled “Governor Taylor’s Love Letters to the Public,” especially in the light of present events.”

Harrison copied six pages for me and highlighted portions of it. In a letter written to Uncle Sam dated January 1, 1899, the former governor made the following statements: “I very much fear that you are going too far from home on your gunning expeditions. Why not be content to sit down to your own hog and hominy, and turnip greens, and canvasbacks, and beef and venison, and ‘possum, and pumpkin pie and political punch? I suppose that while you are contracting and expanding, you will take a notion after awhile to stretch yourself to your full length on the western hemisphere, until the mosquitoes shall roost on your big toe at Cape Horne, while icebergs form on your whiskers in Alaska. Remember me kindly to the American Eagle, give my love to the Goddess of Liberty and may we all live long and prosper.”  

I located and purchased the illustrated 95-page soft back booklet, published in 1899 by J.F. Draughon Company of Nashville. I paid more than the cover price of 25 cents. The 14 letters in the works were composed between Feb. 1 and Sept. 22, 1899; eight of them were written at “Robin’s Roost,” the governor’s residence in south Johnson City. Bob’s delightful humor comes through in his excerpts to various people:

To the Politicians (Feb 1): “Somehow or other we have never flocked together in the paradise of politics. You wanted me to blow your trumpet, but I preferred the mellower notes and softer tones of the old-time fiddle of the people.”

To the Boys (Feb. 6): “I have seen something of life in (cities and towns) and my observation has been that the country is the place to raise a boy, where the green hills and beautiful landscapes broaden his views. …”

To the Girls (Mar. 1): “If a woman has thoughts, let them fly; there is room enough in the intellectual air for every wing. If she can write, let her have the ink bottle; give her a pen and foolscap (paper) ‘‘a-plenty.’”

To the Fishermen (May 8): “What a glorious time to resurrect the fishing tackle from its dusty tomb in the lumber room and the red worm from his slimy sepulcher under the sod and to impale him on the hook and send him diving after suckers.”

To the Mothers-In-Law (no date): “(She) is the conservator of the peace and not its disturber, as many bad men would make it appear. She is the Goddess of Liberty, enlightening the little world within the four walls of home.”

To The School Teachers (July 24): “There is a glorious field of labor already ripe for our teachers; let them enter it and reap the golden harvest. The hills of the future are abloom with opportunities; let them climb to the heights and pluck the flowers.”

The remaining seven letters with the same articulate elocution were written to Bachelors, Drummers (salesmen who are paid to “drum” up business), Fiddlers, Candidates, Sweethearts, Sportsmen and The Blue and the Gray.

The last paragraph of the Introduction best summarizes the former governor’s inimitable flair: “Bob Taylor is something more than a humorist and a musician; he is also a great word painter, putting into the sublimest language the grandest and the most solemn thoughts conceivable by man.”   

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The 53 seniors in Junior High School’s 1934 Civics class provided the information used in today’s column. The source is an impressive 25-page typewritten student project, “Know Our City,” part of the Pat Watson Collection at ETSU’s Archives of Appalachia.

The information is organized into four main sections – Historical Background, Beginnings of our City, Johnson City Today, A Forward Look – and 23 subsections. Also included are four hand-sketched illustrations: Henry Johnson, Main Street, Mayne Williams Public Library and Junior High School – drawn by three students.

Student artist shows what Main Street looked like in 1934 (viewed west to east)

The section titled “Education in Johnson City” begins: “The Johnson City public school system originated in 1864 when a log school house was built on Rome Hill (renamed Roan Hill).” The report went on to say that in 1866 the school was moved down upon Brush Creek near the old Camp Ground (W. Watauga). This building originally consisted of hewn logs, but was later weather boarded.

Two years later, a school building was erected on a hill at the newest Munsey Memorial Methodist Church annex on Roan Street. It became known as Science Hill (Male and Female Institute). This facility partially paid for by private subscriptions contained two classrooms downstairs and a large hall upstairs. Two more rooms were added in 1902.

About 1890, the school system was organized into a graded system with Science Hill School, Lusk School (SE corner of Roan and Watauga) and Langston High School. That same year, General John T. Wilder donated land for Martha Wilder School (on E. Myrtle Street), named in honor of his wife. Also that year, a four-room brick building was erected on a lot donated by Mrs. J. Allen Smith of Knoxville and named Columbus Powell in honor of her father. Two rooms were added in 1904 and four more plus a two-room basement in 1913.

About 1915, the old Science Hill School house was razed and a big new one was built in its location. Additions were made in 1921 and again in 1930. West Side School became a reality in 1907 followed by South Side in 1918, Junior High and North Side in 1922 and Keystone and Pine Grove in 1923. In 1930, new buildings were erected at Columbus Powell, Martha Wilder and West Side schools. 

By 1934, the student report showed attendance at five black schools: Langston High (74), Langston Elementary (106), Dunbar (293), Douglas (86) and Roan Hill (35). Attendance at the 10 white ones were Science Hill (577), Junior High (1023), West Side (725), North Side (628), Columbus Powell (538), Martha Wilder (530), Keystone (415), South Side (381), Pine Grove (113) and Training School (272).

The handling of 5796 students required the services of 177 workers. That year 125 students graduated and the yearly per student cost was estimated to be $45. An organization known as the School Improvement Association held its first meeting in the downtown Christian Church by Miss Virginia Moore in 1910. This group soon became known as the Parent-Teachers Association with Mrs. L.D. Gump serving as president of the Martha Wilder PTA. Her counterpart at Columbus Power was Mrs. Harry W. Lyle.

Hats off to the 53 Junior High School Civic Class students for issuing this impressive document 72 years ago that helped preserve this area’s rich history. We are indebted to you. I will flaunt more of their extraordinary research in future columns.


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My recent Dr. Artie Isenberg article prompted Berchie Larkins to provide additional glimpses of her celebrated horseback riding grandfather. The proud granddaughter shared with me a short handwritten treatise authored by Artie on Dec. 12, 1947 titled  “Just Another Book – by an Old Horseback Country Doctor – One of the Last of a Vanishing Tribe That Never Can Increase.”

The noted physician related that during the 1890s, aspiring doctors, while still in high school, studied medical books under the direction of their school principals (known as preceptors) before attending medical school: Artie wrote: “Had I known the kind of life these old fellows had to live, I perhaps would not have taken that road in life. I liked to see the sick get well. That was more important than the money I received.”

The curative practitioner fondly recalled his equines: “There were good horses in those days and us old doctors could get them. Our very lives depended on them. If there is a horse heaven, I have some good ones over there – Thugie, Cinco, June and Minnie. They bring back pleasant memories.” 

Isenberg remarked on the difficulty of traversing the rough countryside on horseback: “I forded the Holston and Watauga Rivers from Lyns and Cherokee Ford at Kingsport to South Watuaga. There are a few fords between that I never negotiated, but I crossed swollen creeks many times. “I never did swim my horse across. I talked with a man who saw old Dr. Leab swim his horse across the river at Sarah’s Spring. He drowned in the Watauga River.”

Dr. Isenberg wrote that his profession brought in a modest income. He credited his wife, Lettie, for bringing in about two-thirds of the family earnings, recalling that she once raised turkeys to pay the debt on their five acres of land. My early practice was to cure those whom the other doctors could not or were too careless to cure. I stuck close to my textbooks and made my diagnosis. The diseases we had were typhoid fever, pneumonia, dysentery and diphtheria. They were largely filth bred and filth born. Antitoxins had just come in when I began practice (in 1907). Contaminated water was the rule. Hogs ran loose outside and even slept under schoolhouses and churches. This made the fleas awful.”

Artie remarked that since window screens were unknown to his family then, they had to position a family member by the dinner table to shoo flies while the others ate. “There was not a graded or rocked road in Sullivan or Washington County when I began practice,” wrote Artie. “Good roads make it possible to get sick people to hospitals easier than to get doctors to the sick. I sent many patients to Baltimore to have their appendix taken out. I never did major surgery, but I did know when the surgeon was needed.”

Artie offered some advice for a successful marriage: “My wife and I agreed when we were first married that if one of us got angry, the other was to say nothing. It takes two to make a quarrel. The doctor lamented: “No one ever sang the praises for their old heroes who often left their warm beds to face the cold and went out to save a life as an everyday occurrence.”

Artie concluded by commenting about the changes that occurred in the waning years of his practice: “Horseback doctors were going the way of the dodo bird and passenger pigeon, but we still found some work to do.”   

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