June 2008

My recent column concerning Miss Dora Huddle, former Tennessee History teacher at Junior High School, prompted a note from Betty Durman, saying the article brought back many memories of her first years in Johnson City.

“As a student at the University of Tennessee,” said Betty, “I had Dr. Folmsbee (co-author of The Story of Tennessee) as my professor for Tennessee History and American Diplomatic History. The professor was inaudible if you did not get a front row seat in his class at Ayers Hall on the ‘Hill.’ He was dry as a bone, but like Miss Dora, he had a heart of gold lurking below that gruff surface.”

Once when Ms. Durman inadvertently underestimated the number of pages of required reading she had accumulated for his course, the professor kindly permitted her to return to the library to re-total the pages. She subsequently received an “A” for the subject. When her instructor asked her what she planned to do after graduation, she responded that she wanted to teach in Johnson City. She recalled that his eyes lit up and he praised Miss Huddle as a teacher. She was instructing at Junior High School.

Betty further noted: “I got a last minute call from school superintendent Mr. (Howard) McCorkle, offering me a job teaching science at North Junior High School. My fiancé was already in Johnson City, so I jumped at the opportunity. When I walked into the school in 1964 as a 21-year-old, I quickly realized that Dora Huddle was a force to be reckoned with among the downstairs teachers. The school staff was pretty much divided between the upstairs and downstairs groups and the line was evident even to a newcomer. My room was upstairs, but I felt close to the two groups and they both let me circulate between them.”

Betty remarked that nearly everyone on the staff was much older than she, with the exception of a teacher named Sandy Smith. The Huddle sisters were especially kind to her, recalling that Dora habitually wore red and Louise frequently adorned violet or purple. She commented that Dora would have found modern educational psychology difficult to deal with because she complimented students only when they performed well, not when they just achieved minimum requirements.

Ms. Durman humorously recalled an expression Dora uttered in the privacy of the teacher’s lounge. She would say that someone needed to be ‘bored for the simples,’ a century-old slang term meaning ‘to have one’s skull drilled to cure lunacy.” This was an occasional axiom heard on the weekday old-time radio program, Lum and Abner. When the chorus became too loud in the room directly above Dora’s, her eruptions were a regular occurrence,” said Betty, “especially when they sang ‘Little Drummer Boy’ one time too many just before Christmas every year.

“I came to be her friend and her kindness extended to my son when he was born,” said Betty. “I spent many pleasant visits at the home she shared with her sister Louise and got to know her sister Anne Hoilman when she substituted at the school.”

Betty’s note ended with these expressive words: “Miss Dora and Dr. Folmsbee are fine examples of teachers who had no visual aids and did not endeavor to entertain their charges. They simply knew their subject extremely well, told things like they were, assigned you to find out for yourself and thereby left an indelible imprint on their students. I can say of both teachers that beneath that gruff exterior laid a heart full of caring and kindness. Both helped me in ways I will always remember fondly. Thank you for remembering her.”  

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The Jan. 30, 1908 Comet proclaimed in bold letters: “New Railroad Will Be Great.” A subtitle further stated “South And Western To Be The Best Built, Means Much In The Development of East Tennessee.” This early railroad would later be labeled the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad (CC&O), eventually becoming known simply as the Clinchfield.

In early 1905, a small group of capitalists purchased 800,000 acres of coal land in Wise, Dickinson and Buchanan counties, Virginia and formed the Clinchfield Coal Corporation. These investors also acquired control of the property of the defunct Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago (3Cs) Railroad. Backers included some of the richest men in the country, including George L. Carter, president, and M.J. Caples, general manager.

Rapid development in the Central South section of the country caused these entrepreneurs to soon recognize that their nearby coal reserves could help satisfy a growing demand for the fuel. These investors were determined to take advantage of the opportunities it afforded. To accomplish this, they realized that a new railroad line would be needed and they were determined to be the ones to build it.

The rail system, to be named the South and Western Railroad, was to operate from Elkhart City, KY to Spartanburg, SC, a distance of 284 miles. At Elkhorn City, it was to connect with the Big Sandy branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, providing an outlet for the mines to the northwest. Allegedly, Carter did not want Southern Railway management to know the precise route of the new venture across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Consequently, he chose the generic name “South & Western” rather than listing city or regional names, as was the customary way to identify them.

The managers further realized that, to put their operation on equal footing with other major industrial sections of the country, steep grades had to be reduced, requiring an enormous outlay of capital. However, when completed, the new rail route would be able to haul as much coal from the mines to market in one train as could have been hauled in three trains over existing lines using locomotives of equal capacity. To accomplish this result, an amount of money was needed such as had not been expended for the initial construction of any other railroad in the country.

The connections, which it acquired with the Southern, Seaboard Air Line, Atlantic Coast Line and other railroads radiating through the Central South, enabled the Clinchfield coal to become a potent factor in the market throughout the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. Cotton mills, furniture factories and a large number of industrial plants began to spring up everywhere and the number was expected to increase even more so.

In addition to the great amount of coal that it hauled, this rail system also carried loads of lumber for a number of years. A large quantity of virgin forest lay upon the line. An even larger acreage of timber was present with hundreds of millions of feet of merchantable timber standing awaiting a better route to market other than floating logs on the swollen waters of mountain streams. Expectations were high that the next few years would bring a large influx of people migrating into a region that was largely sparse back then. 

The article’s optimism showed through in its visionary concluding note: “The future for even so expensive a railroad as the South and Western seems assured and the judgments of its backers and builders will no doubt be amply vindicated.” The statement would prove to be prophetic. 

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Three Huddle ladies taught in Johnson City’s public school system during the 1950s – Dora (Junior High), Louise (Science Hill) and Pansy (Columbus Powell).

Louise became my homeroom teacher in the 10thgrade. Dora was my “Tennessee History” teacher in grade 7B (fall/winter). She was a small thin lady with a strained voice and a somewhat cranky disposition. Her classroom was located on the first floor at the far northwest end of the building.

Miss Huddle’s life appeared to evolve heavily around Tennessee history. She employed both conventional and outlandish methods while instructing her pupils on the origin of the Volunteer State. Our textbook was The Story of Tennessee by Joseph H. Parks and Stanley Folmsbee. The name “Parks” is forever etched in my memory from hearing her mention him so often in class.

In 1990, I was browsing though some books at a tent sale in the parking lot opposite Greg's Pizza in North Johnson City, I spotted a 1973 sixth edition reprint of the textbook used by Miss Huddle.  In the Preface, the authors acknowledged 10 individuals who offered helpful suggestions with the preparation of the work.

Included were three locals – Miss Dora Lee Huddle, Mrs. L.W. McCown and Mr. George Finchum. The latter was a professor at Training School (University High), ETSU and Milligan College. Miss Huddle permitted the authors to use her Master’s thesis as a resource for their book.

My most memorable incident concerning my teacher was when she assigned our class to build a model log cabin similar to those used by the Tennessee pioneers. This project was shown in the textbook at the end of Chapter 3. Miss Huddle forewarned us that in order to get a decent grade the log cabin had to look authentic similar to the one shown in the textbook. We were permitted to use nails provided they did not show.

This venture turned out to be quite enjoyable and very special to me because my dad became heavily involved. He drove us to Erwin and turned onto highway 81 toward Jonesborough to a picturesque spot at the base of a hill overlooking the Nolichucky River.

While climbing the steep terrain, we placed carefully selected small tree limbs into a cardboard box. Dad and I brought the pieces home and took them into the basement. We cut the limbs into “logs,” notched each one, glued and nailed them together to form our cabin, which we mounted on a small plywood base. We utilized small pieces of rock for the chimney.

The day came for us to bring our cabins to class for grading. Miss. Huddle collected them on a large table near the door. She returned them to us in about two weeks. Not finding my cabin on the table with the others, I nervously approached my teacher as to its whereabouts. She informed me that I (and Dad) had received an “A” and that she was keeping it for permanent display in her room.

I was flattered that Miss Huddle selected my cabin for exhibit in her classroom, but felt cheated that I was not going to keep the little homemade relic that my father and I labored over for several weeks. Dad’s wise counsel was for me to graciously accept my grade and forget about the cabin. I took his advice largely because I had no aspiration to confront my teacher.

Although I did not realize it in 1956, this highly knowledgeable and dedicated instructor made a giant educational mark on my life by spurring my interest in local history. I only wish she were alive today to read this column. Dora Huddle will forever reside in my memory … along of course with Mr. Parks. 

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My two previous Dutch Maid columns evoked additional responses from readers. The first came from Mike Burgner, nephew of the late Otto (nicknamed Ott): “Your article brought back many memories for me as I used to work for Uncle Ott. I wish that he could have read your article. I miss him and the Dutch Maid.”

Rex Burgner next responded with his own reminiscences: “Your article circled through our family, those of us who are left. It brought back fond memories of a good time in Johnson City when we were not trying to compete with every other city in Tennessee. If anyone can remember the kids that ran around the restaurant, well, that was us.

“As I read the article, I can still see (my great) Uncle Ott in the back of the restaurant cooking chicken and potato wedges in the pressure cooker. Yep, that was the secret; cook potatoes and chicken together in a pressure cooker and make sure to serve them with a biscuit and a pack of honey to put on the potato wedge.

“’Frog,” the cook, had a secret technique that he used for cooking the best liver in Johnson City. He always covered the meat with a plate when he cooked it on the griddle because he couldn’t stand the sight or smell of liver, ha ha.”

Rex went on to say that his grandfather, Rev. Roy G. Burgner, preached at several Baptist churches in East Tennessee: “When my grandfather died some years ago in Walhalla, SC, I was shocked to see all the people who came to his funeral from Johnson City. The talk that day centered about “The Preacher,” as he was known, and the Dutch-Maid Drive-In.”

I mentioned Jerry Honeycutt’s impressive painting of the restaurant in my previous column. He sent me the attached photo that epitomizes the frenzied activity level surrounding the popular business at night with hordes of people arriving by car, truck and motorcycle. Some cruised the restaurant repeatedly; others stood outside talking with one another; and a number of patrons enjoyed curb service dining in their now antique vehicles.

Jerry remarked that he had a creamer with the Dutch Maid stopper still in it. He also commented on the large sign above the famous eatery, indicating that he worked several years for the sign maker, the late James Hensley, who was one of the “Erwin Nine POWs.” Jerry eventually created the drawing for the prisoner of war monument at VA’s emergency room entrance.

The artist related that he possessed three books that once belonged to Burgner. John Alan Maxwell, who was one of his art instructors, provided the art for their jackets. They were valuable to him because of who had owned them and who had illustrated them.

According to Jerry: “My family had a lot of get-togethers when my aunts and uncles came to town for our annual family reunion. I guess that is how I got into the Dutch Maid reunion and the annual Racer's Reunion that I produced for 11 years. I knew a lot of people who went to the Dutch Maid.”

Let me close with some fitting words from Rex Burgner: “It would be nice to be able to have a place like the Dutch Maid again, wouldn't it? Nobody has time anymore to relax and enjoy life. I can still remember taking the food out to the cars and hoping for a tip. Does ‘curb-hopping’ even exist anymore? I hope so.”

I will feature a fourth Dutch-Maid column soon that captures Lynn Williams’ treasured and humorous remembrances of the time he worked for WBEJ in Elizabethton as one of the deejays who broadcast nightly and took record requests from atop the Dixie/Dutch-Maid Drive-In. 

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The May 24, 1940 student publication, “Junior High News,” offered a synopsis of 16 school sponsored clubs that included each one’s purpose, faculty sponsor (fs), president (p), vice-president (vp) and secretary (s).

Home Economics Club: Miss Lindsey (fs), Elizabeth McMackin (p), Mildred Morelock (vp) and Geraldine Greene (s). “Learn and discuss home duties and send representatives to meetings in Washington and Unicoi Counties to find out what other school clubs are doing.”

Bird Club: Miss Mathes (fs), Vergie Tester (p), Tibby McMackin (vp) and Clarice Dickson (s).  “Learn about habits, customs and ways of living for different species of birds.”

Dramatic Club: Mr. Belew (fs), Marilyn Gibson (p); Elizabeth Rowe (vp) and Anna Marie Irish (s). “Promote interest in dramatics, perform skits and pantomimes and learn how to apply make-up.”

Recreation Club: Miss Candler (fs), Marguerite Long (p) and Betty Cooley (s).  “Promote interest in athletics for girls.”

Junior Red Cross Club: Miss Barnes (fs), Betty Ruth Williams (p), Mary Frances Nave (vp); and Billy Highsmith (s). “Help others who are less fortunate than us.”

The Stage Frighters Club: Miss Grigsby (fs). “Give boys and girls a chance to appear before the public, present programs in chapel and before PTA gatherings and offer skits to each other during meetings.” Apparently no one was audacious enough to serve as an officer because no names were listed.

Science Club: Mr. Boyd (fs), James Bridges (p), Toy Johnson (vp) and Paul Swatsell (s). “Bestow more knowledge of science to boys and girls.” 

Civic Club: Mr. Hall (fs), Mae Saylor (p), Virginia Curtis (vp) and Queenie Mitchell (s). “Learn the happenings of our government and facts about famous people.”

Girls Craft Club: Miss Whitehead (fs), Beverly Smythe (p) and Betty Asquith (s). “Teach members to make beautiful and ornamental things with their hands.”

Glee Club: Miss Hart (fs), Sammy Rose (p) and Marilyn Gibson (s). Promote better singing for students. “Gain confidence by singing for PTA, radio and at the Music Festival.” 

Short Story Club: Mrs. Miller (fs), John Human (p), Eloise Wagner (vp) and Mary Ann Carmack (s). “Read and study the short story.”

Modern Authors Club: Miss Siler (fs), Marie Parrott (p), Harold Oliver (vp) and Martha Darden (s). “Learn more about the numerous authors of today and their works.”

Latin Club: Miss Taylor (s), Bill McNeese (consul) and Lone Sisk (scriba). “Acquire more knowledge about the old Roman way of life.”

The Cherokee Hiking Club: Comprised of Boys Division and Girls Division. Girls Division: Miss Bradshaw (fs), Miss Beard (fs),  Dorothy Newell (p), Nora Ellen White (vp) and Martha Carter (S). Boys Division: Mr. McCorkle (fs), Mr. Oaks (fs), Jack Greene (p), Eric Herrin (vp), Harold Barr (s) and Charlie McCoy (treasurer). The purpose of the club was not given.

The Travel Club: Miss Archer (fs), Lone Sisk (p), Eric Herrin (vp) and Ruth Ann Sells (s). “Study about the beauties and wonders of our own and other countries. Encourage the reading of travel books.”

The Patrol Club: Mr. McCorkle (fs), W. T. Willis (Major), Mac Trammell (Captain) and Gerald Goode (Captain). “Maintain safety on entering and leaving the building, effectively use Traffic Guides to maintain order and keep traffic moving in the halls and corridors.”

The 1940 newsletter concluded with the graduates commenting about how enjoyable and profitable the club experiences were to them at Junior High School.  

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