June 2007

In 1986, area resident Dana Love shared with Dorothy Hamill his memories of working in the banking industry in downtown Johnson City. The 88-year-old Erwin native earned his degree from Draughton Business College in Knoxville. After serving in the Army Signal Corp. during World War I, he became interested in the banking business.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Love said, “I’d had my financial training and wanted to use more of it, so I went to work in 1921 with Jim Pouder, president of the Tennessee Trust Company. George Keys, who owned the Majestic Theater, was vice president. The bank was located next door to the Arcade Building on Main Street.”

Love’s job was that of bookkeeper and teller. He recalled that there were only three employees besides Pouder. When the Unaka National and City National banks merged in 1924, Love soon joined the new conglomerate, which was aptly named the Unaka and City National Bank. The business occupied the large building at the southeast corner of Spring and Main streets. Older residents will recall that site being the Hamilton National Bank.

Officers were L.H. Shumate, president; Henry C. Black and William B. Miller, vice presidents; C.H. Hunter, cashier; Tom Roland, note section; and Frances Bewley and Bess Tatum, secretaries. The bookkeepers were located upstairs. Love became head paying teller with the new firm; the others were Dave Hunter, Sid Corpening and Arthur Earnest. Tellers made $75 to $100 a month, a decent sum of money at that time. The bank operated Monday through Saturday noon.

Dana was present on Sept. 30, 1932 when the Unaka and City National Bank was taken over by the Hamilton National Bank. The majority of the employees continued their employment with the new firm, except Henry Black who was hired by People’s Bank located at Spring and Tipton streets. Love recalls when a popular luxury hotel in Linville, NC did business with Hamilton Bank and always wanted new money when they opened for the season each year.

The bank had accounts with most local businesses that included Miller Brothers Furniture, Empire Chair Co. and Harris Manufacturing Co. The Tennessee National Bank was another downtown bank located at the southwest corner of Main and Spring streets. This institute was relatively short lived; it folded after the 1929 stock market crash and onset of the depression.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt closed all banks in early 1933, Hamilton Bank officials made a strategic move. They contracted the Muse-Whitlock Printing Co. to print scrip that would be used when currency was frozen. Scrip was issued in 1, 5, 10 and 20-dollar denominations. The newly printed bills became valid when the president, vice-president or cashier signed it. A 10-dollar one dated Mar. 10, 1933 shows: “Ten dollars of a deposit in the Hamilton National Bank, Johnson City, Tennessee has been assigned by the depositor hereof to the bearer hereof.”

Local stores accepted this paper in lieu of money during the time the banks were closed. When they were allowed to reopen, Hamilton promptly redeemed the script. Dana left the bank in 1933 and returned to the Army. In 1948, he worked at the VA Medical Center at Mountain Home until his retirement in 1960.

Love’s preserved banking memories offer yet another glimpse into Johnson City’s rich past.  

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I love to receive correspondence from folks who have experienced firsthand the history of yesteryear. Such was the case when Martha Culp, widow of Dr. D.P. Culp, former president of ETSU sent me this letter:

“I love to read the history articles on Monday’s Heritage page in the newspaper,” said Mrs. Culp. Although I was born 91 years ago on a mountain farm in Alabama, I consider Tennessee to be my true home. I moved here on Feb. 8, 1968 at 3:30 in the morning. In my first year in a two-room school, it had eight grades. The custom for students was to finish or fail out of the seventh or eighth grade and fool around a year or two. Many girls got married at 15 or 16. My father was not going to allow the future of his 12-year-old first-born daughter be determined in that fashion.”

Ms. Culp’s grandmother and an aunt lived two blocks from a high school and invited her to live with them until she graduated. Her parents accepted their offer: My father picked me up after school every Friday. I spent the weekend with my family, cooking, churning, washing dishes, making up beds, sweeping and mopping, as country girls were supposed to do. We went to church on Sunday, had company for dinner and in the late afternoon, Dad drove me to my grandmother’s in our 1925 Model T Ford. It was an advanced model with a self-starter.”

Mrs. Culp alleged that many people were still driving buggies and two-horse wagons then. They considered her father to be a wild driver, attaining automobile speeds of up to 40 mph. The late university president’s wife related a humorous story: “When I was in the seventh grade, there was a heavy rainy season and all the creeks rose. A small nearby one was so shallow that it was not bridged. All cars and wagons forded it and foot travelers crossed on a large flattened log. The creek was wider and deeper than usual on that Friday when Dad came to take me home. He drove through it with no problem on the way to school, but rain had fallen heavily on the mountain with rainwater heading for that little creek. It was deeper and swifter on the way back, spreading over more than 70 feet of the road. The rain had slowed to a sprinkle.

“Dad had no choice. He drove slowly into the shallow spread of water. There was no problem until we reached the creek bed, where the water was swift and deep, rising to the floor of the car. The engine sputtered and died.  Dad tried to start it with no luck. There was no time to spare, for the creek was rising. Dad quickly removed his shoes and socks, tossed them into the back seat and rolled the legs of his overalls above his knees. He took a dry handkerchief from his pocket and stepped out in rushing water up to his knees. He unlatched the side cover of the hood that sheltered the engine, lifted the cover and dried the spark plugs and magneto with his handkerchief. “He closed the cover and climbed dripping wet into his seat under the steering wheel, pressed the starter and the engine responded. He drove out with bare feet and we went home with no further problems.”

Mrs. Culp recalled their previous car was a 1921 Ford that had to be cranked by hand. She said if they had been driving that car, they would have been stranded until a team of mules could be located to pull the vehicle out of the creek, probably the next day.

She concluded the letter with these wistful words: “Though we have owned many cars, that 1925 Model T Ford has always been my favorite.” 

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My two articles concerning Dr. Artie Isenberg, an early horse-riding physician in East Tennessee, prompted a letter from Dr. Samuel Taylor Bickley, a former resident of the area. He grew up on a farm not far from the Isenberg home.

Dr. Bickley recalled: “My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Sam Gray, better known as “Mide,” had a large farm on Gray Station Road. Artie would occasionally drop by for dinner if he were in the area. I remember him very well. He was a rather large man and had clacking false teeth that could be quite frightening to small children. His horse had saddlebags full of little containers of pills, instruments and other assorted items necessary to his trade. I remember how his stethoscope had to be assembled by screwing the earpiece to the sounding chamber before it was applied to the chest.”

Bickley recalled when Dr. Isenberg came to their home after he and his sister, Carolyn, had eaten too many mulberries: “He dosed us both with calomel and told our grandmother to make us drink lots of buttermilk. I have not liked buttermilk since.”

Samuel said that the principles of aseptic technique are much different today than they were in those days. He offered an example: “Once my father, Jonathan Bickley, cut his leg with a knife during haying season. He bled a lot and Artie was sent for. Carolyn had just learned to drive and I remember her flying down the driveway and around the corner on two wheels in our 1934 Chevrolet coupe. Artie found my father lying on the granite walk. He just squatted down, pulled a kit from his pocket, took a needle and string from it and sewed up my father’s wound. “Fortunately, John Bickley did not get tetanus or infection. However, he was abed for several days due to blood loss.”

Bickley deemed Dr. Isenberg a versatile physician, saying that he could “prise” a tooth one minute, set a patient’s bone the next and then promptly perform a hernia operation on someone’s pig. Bickley further recalled: “Dr. Isenberg mentioned the difficulties of travel in the early years of the 1900s. Doctors went on horseback, as there were no cars or paved road, often having to ford creeks and rivers on horseback.”

Samuel questioned one statement made in Artie’s diary that Dr. Leab drowned fording a river on horseback: “My grandmother, all her sisters and her cousin Lulu Leab Barnes were all descendants of Dr. Leab and I never heard that story discussed. Dr. Leab may have been the first trained physician in what is now the state of Tennessee, having come from Wurtzburg, Germany and settled in East Tennessee before the Revolutionary War. The doctor lived in a community called Clara, which is near the old Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church burying ground (off Hales Chapel Road). The Leab store at Clara was probably the second post office in Tennessee, the first being at Spurgeon, at the mouth of Cedar Creek on the Holston River. Many of Dr. Leab’s descendents are well-known and useful citizens of the area, including Miss Grace Leab, who taught English at Teacher’s College in Johnson City. She taught me and Carolyn both.”

Samuel commented that Ellen Gresham did a remarkable job of detailing the history of the Leab family in her history of Hale’s Chapel Christian Church. The former resident concluded his letter by saying: “I hope this smattering of local history may be of some interest to your readers.” Let me assure you, Dr. Bickley, that it is. 

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I received a beautifully written and moving narrative of a beloved horse named Kumpthing that etched out its place in the hearts of one area family.

Bill and Ginny Adams, former city residents and graduates of Science Hill High School, own the family farm in Jonesborough where they soon plan to retire. Bill related this touching story that began on April 17, 1965: “The first time we saw the big chestnut colt with the partially white tail, we knew right away that he was going to become ours and something told us that he knew even before we did that we were going to become his.”

While living in Illinois, the family purchased Kumpthing for their young daughters – Dawn, Dian, and Denice. The steed, officially registered as “Something Chief,” was foaled on a farm that gave common names to their horses that began with a “K.”

In the spring of 1974, the family took Kumpthing on a visit to the family’s East Tennessee farm. According to Bill: “It had lush green pastures, groves of trees all around and water flowing from natural springs. The view is southward toward the Smoky Mountains, near the Nolichucky River, and not far from the Appalachian Trail.”

The gentle horse was allowed to run free with numerous other pasturing inhabitants that included a 1200-pound Charlois bull named “Buck.” The new guest immediately began to fit in with the other grazers. Each evening, he would lead the herd to the barn, where he had his own private stall and would be fed grain by Grandpa “Major” Adams, referring to Ward Bond’s portrayal of Major Seth Adams on TV’s “Wagon Train.”

Bill and family soon returned to their Illinois home without their horse. In 1976, they relocated to Chesterfield, MO.To appease his girls, Bill traveled to his farm and brought the horse back to a nice well-equipped stable near their new residence.  The family returned to their East Tennessee residence in early summer of the following year and again brought Kumpthing with them.

“Upon arrival and his release from the trailer,” said Bill, “he took off at full gallop, kicking up his heels, as he raced up the lane and across the meadow toward a grove where the cattle were laying.” When the time came for the family to return to Missouri, the horse balked and resisted efforts to put him in the trailer. They reluctantly decided to let him stay at the farm.

Prior to the death of “Major” Adams in later years, the family leased the farm’s pasture to a good friend and neighbor known as “Preacher,” who allowed Kumpthing to continue his relaxed and carefree lifestyle. While in East Tennessee, the steed developed a lot of “Cow,” meaning a horse with the ability to work calves that are being cut from herds in competition. He eventually became known as the “King of the Cows.”

Sad news arrived at the Adams household in the spring of 2000, about the time of the animal’s 35thbirthday. Bill recalls that awful day: “We received a call from ‘Preacher’ telling us that he had found Kumpthing dead that morning, lying peacefully under one of the white pine trees that he loved, with the cattle standing close around. After regaining our composure and drying our eyes, we asked him to select a spot at the top of the highest point on the hill overlooking the Smoky Mountains to the south and to lay him to rest there.”

The family came back to their farm with a specially prepared marker for their favorite pet’s grave and to say goodbyes to an extraordinary friend that preferred living and dying in the foothills of East Tennessee.  

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