November 2008

While examining a May 24, 1940 student newspaper, “Junior High News – Graduation Edition,” I spotted a name in the “Guest Editorial” section that I recognized – Stan Barlow, an occasional contributor to my column. The youngster, who had graduated the previous year, penned the piece, “On to High School” in 1939 that tells of his thoughts of attending Science Hill High School:

“Before beginning our activities at the Science Hill, we should realize that we are taking our place in an institution which has a very colorful history and a prominent standing among secondary high schools of the south and that it will be our duty to keep the ball rolling. Since 1866, our high school has emerged gradually from a crude little log school to the fine structure, which now stands on the terraced hill overlooking our business district.

“We are provided with a school with about fourteen well-equipped, well-instructed departments, which touch vocations, art, fundamental subjects, sciences and gymnastics. How much more fortunate are we than the young men and women of many other nations. Indeed, we should be thankful and take every opportunity for increasing our knowledge and skill. 

Stan Bartow at age 15

“Our high school offers four main courses – Commercial, State, College Preparatory and Special. These will be explained to us when we register. We all know the value of thinking thoroughly before choosing our course. Now what we should deal with are the elective subjects. These included such activities as band, orchestra, glee club, public speaking, expression, R.O.T.C. and physical education. Each student is allowed to select one of those subjects and if his scholastic average is 90 or above, he is allowed to select two minor subjects.

“It is very valuable for us to develop good strong bodies as well as healthy minds and the school needs a number of athletes and beginners in this field to keep our competitive sports at the head of the line. For this purpose, a splendid round of sports has been provided for those interested. One will find tennis, basketball, football, track and baseball to choose from.

“In order to make the most of our high school education, let us think carefully through these courses and activities and chose those which will help us to take our place as a contributing member of society.”

I sent Stan a copy of the editorial. He replied that while he was in the ninth grade, he performed a role in a play that required him to dress like a girl. Knowing that his principal, A.E. Sherrod, a father figure to him, enjoyed his performance, it boosted his sagging adolescent ego. He credited two high school teachers, Margaret Dugger and Robert Hickey and principal, N. E. Hodges, for helping him realize that he needed to take life more seriously and obtain a quality education. 

With an impending war looming, Stan impressively expedited his high school experience by taking extra courses. He graduated from SHHS in 1942 in absentia because he was already away in college.

Stan commented on the four curricula classifications mentioned in the paper, explaining that Commercial was for students who planned to work as stenographers or secretaries in business and other offices. He surmised that State was a curriculum that complied with the minimum requirements set by the State Board of Education. College Preparatory was self-explanatory; it set additional requisites, such as 2-3 years of a foreign language.

Reflecting on his school experiences, he said: “Just thinking about those years gives me chills of nostalgia. With all their turmoil, they come close to being the best, don't they?”  

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A 1915 Chamber of Commerce publication offers a concise analysis of The Bee Hive Department Store that was once located at Fountain Square in downtown Johnson City:

“No better description of the growth of Johnson City could be given than a review of the representative establishments which began business in the early days and have marked every stepping stone of the city’s progress; and in fact, the city today is composed largely of the progress of these concerns. It may be said that the Bee Hive, owned and operated by P.M. Ward and C.D. Friberg, has been established for 25 years and has always been a conspicuous feature of the commercial interests of the city and the growth of the enterprise has been in harmony with the growth of the city.”

The expansive store opened in 1890 at 207-209 E. Main Street and extended north to 104-106 E. Market Street. At the time, it was the town’s largest department store, employing 20 people. Many people today remember this location as the former Parks-Belk Department Store. The new store was said to be “an immense establishment, made up of many departments, including dry-goods, millinery, ladies’ ready-to-wear, shoes, gents’ furnishings, groceries, hardware, stationary, wallpaper, mattings, drugs, sundries and prescriptions.” 

The Chamber reported that the store was under highly capable management, declaring that there was no venture in the city that had gone forward with such sureness and steady progress as The Bee Hive. An advertisement from the Jan. 28, 1904 Comet reads similar to those of today except for the prices:

“Now Comes the Time for Clearing Out Everything in Winter Goods. We Don’t Intend to Carry a Dollar’s Worth Over if Prices Cut Deep Will Turn Them Lose. (We) have a few furs at one-third off; some jackets at one-fourth to one-half off; several dress skirts at one-fourth off; a few cases of underwear at one-fourth off; 125 lbs. of all wool stocking yarn at $.44/lb.; some blankets to close out; all wool dress goods and trimmings at $.10 to $.25 off.

“In the Clothing Department, we are closing out all heavy suits for men at greatly reduced prices: All $22, $20, $18 and $17.50 suits at $15; all $15 and $14 at $12; all $12 at $10; all $10 at $8.50; and all $7 at $5. In Boys’ Clothing, we sell you any $8 suit at $6; any $6 at $5, any $5 at $4 and plenty of suits at from $4 down as low as $1. A few overcoats to close – $15 coats at $12, $12 at $10, $10 at $8, $8 at $4.35 and on down.

“In the Shoe Department, we are taking out all heavy goods and cutting the price to clear them out. Some $3.50 shoes at $2.65; $2.50 at $2; $2 at $1.65; $1.50 at $1.30. We have a nice lot of lady’s shoes at cut prices. In the Carpet Department, we are selling $1.20 velvets at $.90, $1 at $.80, $.75 Brussels at $.65, $.50 at $.44 and ingrains at $.44.”

The ad ends with an amusing comment: “Now, don’t you think for a minute that there is any mistake about these prices; for if you do you will find out later that someone else has been here and got what you wanted. Come and see what we are doing this cold weather. Very truly, Ward & Friberg.”

Another ad from that same year shows: “For Good Things To Eat and for The Best Coffee and Teas. Fine Candies Are a Specialty. The Coffee Pot Assumes a New Place in Your Estimation When It Brews Delicious Chase & Sanborn’s High Grade Coffee.”

The Bee Hive closed it doors about 1920 after a highly successful 30-year run. The location was then divided into two businesses – City Savings & Trust Company at 207 E. Main and C.E. Cate Department Store at 209 E. Main. In 1924, the City Savings and Trust Company gave way to The Savoy, a confectionery, but that is another story.

Within four years, Parks-Belk Company would proudly occupy the familiar downtown site and become a successful venture in its own right. The Bee Hive certainly made its mark on downtown Johnson City.  

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Several months ago, I wrote a column about a delightful early Saturday morning children’s program over WJHL radio from about 1951 to 1953 titled, “The Adventures of Princess Pet.” The sponsor of the 111 episode series was Pet Dairy Products.

The company also published two 36-page color and black and white booklets with the same name. The main characters were the lovely young ruler, her Royal Highness Princess Pet, Pet Brown Mule and Pet Brown Bear. They lived in the yummy Land of the Ice Cream Star. I asked my readers to drop me a note if they remembered this long-ago juvenile series. I received four e-mails.

The first respondent was Carolyn Wilcox who wrote “I fondly remember Princess Pet, Pet Brown Mule, and Pet Brown Bear from the old radio show.  In fact, my mother ordered me one of the storybooks, which I think was called ‘Princess Pet and the Ice Cream Mountain.’ I can still visualize Princess Pet, Pet Brown Mule, and Pet Brown Bear looking at that ice cream mountain, and me wishing that I was there too. I believe Princess Pet lost a gold bracelet in this story.” 

Another reply came from Linda Morgan who indicated she still owned her Princess Pet storybook, saying it looked just like the one shown in the newspaper: “I don't remember listening to the show but I must have since I have the book.  I would have been four years old when it started in 1951. I called my cousin to see if she remembered it; her memory was of the Foremost Dairy show on WJHL-TV. If you saved labels from Foremost Milk products, you could get a secret code card and then receive secret messages through the show.”

“Sonny” Garland added his remembrances of the program: “Princess Pet brings back some of the fondest memories I had as a child. In 1950 when our family visited my sister who was 16 years my senior in Pennsylvania, my brother-in-law, “Uncle Charlie,” gave me a small portable AC/DC radio. It had a battery almost as big as the radio itself. To my horror I left the radio in the train station in Harrisburg. But to my good fortune the radio was found and mailed back to Tennessee.

“On Saturday mornings mom would let me stay in bed and listen to the kids’ shows that were on WJHL. If my memory is correct Princess Pet was on early; then my favorite “Big John and Sparky” came on. Seems like I could “see” every move they made in the radio. Years later I always watched for them to come on TV, but they never did.

“My Saturdays would be perfect if, later that day, I could go with a friend to the Capital Theater in Erwin to see an action packed adventure of cowboy star Allan “Rocky” Lane.” The icing on the cake would be if the Three Stooges were showing that same day, all for the admission price of nine cents. It never entered our minds that these would become the good old days. Take care and keep up the good work.”  

Finally, Dora Wheeler expressed her pleasure at finding the Princess Pet article on the Heritage/History page:What a nice surprise to read in the Monday morning paper about something I listened to when I was 10 and 11 years old. I remember the program very well. I also have both volumes of the books you mentioned in your column. By the looks of them now, you can tell I read them a lot back then. That’s been 56 years ago since I enjoyed every program. I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the article. It brought back many memories.”

Thanks to Carolyn, Linda, Sonny and Dora for sharing some cherished reflections of yesteryear.  

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An article from the September 1932 “School Board Journal” titled, “The Johnson City, Tennessee, Building Program,” spoke of an ambitious school enhancement project that began in the city on March 6, 1929.

The Johnson City Board of Education, comprised of C.E. Rogers (School Superintendent), W.B. Miller (President), H.M. Burleson (Secretary), Mrs. J.E. Crouch, H.C. Miller, J.H. Preas, Jr. and Mrs. J.A. Summers, inaugurated the enormous endeavor.

In the fall of 1928, Mr. Rogers presented a report to the Board outlining the status of Johnson City public schools with reference to the adequacy of buildings. It noted that the two oldest structures in the school system were Columbus Powell and Martha Wilder, both having been constructed more than 35 years prior.

A table in the report listed each school, the year it was built and the number of students above capacity (displayed as a minus if the building was under filled and a plus if overfilled). The white schools were Science Hill (1914, -13), Junior High (1922, -113), Columbus Powell (1890, +151), Keystone (1922, +134), Martha Wilder (1892, +107), North Side (1922, +133), Pine Grove (1922, 0), South Side (1917, +28) and West Side (1907, +191). The black schools were Langston (1895, -53), Douglas (1922, -69), Dunbar (1907, +64) and Roan Hill (no building, publicly owned).

Although Junior High had room for an additional 113 students, the article pointed out that beginning January 23, 1923, the enrollment was predicted to grow by more than 100 students bringing it to near capacity. Likewise, attendance at Science Hill was estimated to increase by 25 students. The school with the greatest excess of pupils was West Side at 191.

The legislature authorized a bond issue of $300,000 for Johnson City, which was subsequently approved by a substantial majority. The Board then requested the City Commission to authorize the expenditure of that amount for the following projects: addition to Science Hill – $31,250, addition to South Side – $31,350 and the building of new elementary schools for Columbus Powell – $74,000, Martha Wilder (later renamed Stratton) – $88,650 and West Side (later renamed Henry Johnson) – $74,750.

Three firms of local architects were selected to work with the consulting architect, William B. Ittner of St. Louis – D.R. Beeson, Messrs. Coile and Cardwell and C.G. Mitchell.

The Board of Education along with the Board of Mayor (W.J. Barton) and Commissioners (H.F. Anderson, W.O. Dyer, S.T. Moser and Frank Taylor) oversaw the building program with the latter board having legal authority in all matters of contract such as disbursement of funds.

The expansion at Science Hill High School on Roan Street consisted of three floors, the first being divided into a combination shop and drawing room, supply room and drying room. The second floor was divided into four classrooms. The third floor was devoted to the commercial department and consisted of rooms for instruction in shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, bank accounting and office practice.

The new addition at South Side was comprised of two floors, each having two classrooms. In addition, there was a room for a health clinic and a teachers’ restroom.

The new schools, Columbus Powell, Martha Wilder (Stratton) and West Side (Henry Johnson) buildings, were essentially identical as to interior plans. Each had eight classrooms: assembly room, library, clinic, office, teachers’ restroom, kitchen, projection room, janitor’s room and four student restrooms.

The new buildings were semi fireproof and were designed to allow for future expansion. The heating facilities were said to be the most modern available. Austral windows (upper sash opens outward like an awning and lower one opens inward like a hopper window for increased ventilation) were used in all three buildings as standard equipment.

The plans of West Side School (Henry Johnson) enabled expansion to a capacity of 840 students and provided facilities for an enriched elementary curriculum: kindergarten, 16 classrooms, library, auditorium and music room, nature-study room, handwork room and a combination auditorium and gymnasium equipped with a lunchroom kitchen. The administrative rooms included a principal’s office, health room and teachers’ and pupils’ restrooms.

The Board of Education and the public were overall pleased with the improvements made to Johnson City schools that provided modern and economic housing necessities ample for a period of several years. The school building program of 1929 served the city well for many years until student population demands again created a need for larger and more elaborate facilities. 

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