March 2009

Former city resident, Louis Feathers, sent me a copy of his beautifully written 193-page bound autobiography that chronicles his growing up in Johnson City from the 1920s to the early 1940s. One section contains a five-page handwritten letter written in 1995 by his 93-year old uncle, Omer Feathers, who grew up in the Cherokee section of town about six miles southwest of Johnson City.

Omer indicated that Cherokee Road originated at Johnson City and served the Cherokee section, South Westerly by Speedwell Church, Union Church of Christ, extending about 10 miles to Lamar School. This unpaved road became rough and muddy during rainy weather.

Feathers’ parents, John Wesley and Rachel Andes Feathers, built a logwood framed house about 1000 feet south of Cherokee Road across a meadow and creek on a small rise. Omer was born in this house on January 28, 1902, the ninth of eleven children. While growing up, the boys mostly helped outside on the farm and the girls handled the indoor chores.

“The house contained a large living room and fireplace about six feet wide,” said Omer. “We all met at this fireplace at night to pop corn, roast chestnuts or chinquapins and eat apples as a family-get-together. It was an enjoyable time. We did not have electricity, a telephone or running water, but we had a place filled with love and plenty of food to eat, which we raised on the farm. I cannot recall ever not having plenty to eat.

“Behind the living room was our kitchen and dining room. Mother and daddy slept in the living room. Most of the children slept in the attic. Adjoining the house was another addition called the parlor, used mostly when we had company, which was pretty often.

“Near the back of the house was our smokehouse with hams, sausage, kraut, canned fruit, lots of jams, jellies, apples, cabbage and turnips. During bad weather, it all came in handy. Our barn was about 200 yards back of the house with the garden between. West of the house and near the creek was our corn shed. We had a lot of fruit trees with a good variety of fruit. We also had plenty of berries. It all made for many delicious pies.

“We lived about three-quarters of a mile from Union Church of Christ and we were there often. My Mother’s father and mother passed away at our house. They willed us their farm of about 75 acres, which was about two miles south of our home and near the mountains.”

Omer recalled the abundance of chestnuts on their farm that lasted until about 1910 when blight killed all the trees. He fondly recalled going barefooted, wearing overalls, fishing in the creek in front of his house and hunting frogs, rabbits and squirrels, which he deemed “were all fit to eat.”

“The older children went to school near Union Church of Christ,” he said, “but about 1908, they built a new one-room school near us called New Era School. I went there for about five years. There was only one teacher for about 35 students.

 “One or more times a year, Daddy would take us boys to Nolichucky River for a day’s fishing. When huckleberries got ripe, Daddy and the boys would go berry picking in the mountains. It was a lot of fun and real good eating. Daddy tried to raise something he could sell and he went to Johnson City often. It was our way to raise money for clothes and other things he had to buy. Daddy also liked to go to the Nolichucky River where they raised lots of watermelons and cantaloupes and get a wagonload of melons, which he would take to Johnson City and sell.”

In March 1913, the Feathers family moved to 715 Magnolia Avenue in Johnson City. I plan to feature more of Louis’s writings in future columns. 

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 I have many fond memories of patronizing Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church’s now defunct swimming pool and adjacent snack bar in the 1950s. It was the only indoor public pool in town, which meant you could go there year round. The cost was a mere $.50 an hour. I learned to swim at this pool from an instructor who wore a bathing suit but never got in the water, opting instead to tutor us from poolside. 

Don Sluder sent me several notes addressing this once popular aquatic attraction. He indicated it had been closed for quite some time because of decaying equipment and high cost of bringing it back to standards. For years, the area was used as for storage, but now has been converted to five new classrooms from the pool area and one large one in the big room.

“The pool opened in about 1950 when I was in Junior High School,” said Don. “Mack Sutherland, a Munsey church member and Junior High School shop teacher was in charge of the newly created recreation area. He hired me to open the pool after school and to assist at evening sessions. One of the most popular features of the new facility was the inclusion of basketball goals on each side of the pool. Every night saw heated games. The pool area also featured a snack bar where we served soft drinks, soups, candy and other items. The gym room at the end of the hall had a single basketball goal and usually found most of the Science Hill basketball players battling it out in half-court games most nights. Also popular was the weight room where serious weight lifters, both body builders and those after lifting records, could be found every night.”

Don recalls when Paul Anderson, Olympic weightlifter and holder of the world dead weight record, and other area lifters could be found working out at Munsey. He said they often did not have enough weights in the small area for the horde of musclemen who crowded into it. He remembered when Paul was a regular in the 1950s at Science Hill basketball games next door, always wearing a T-shirt that looked like he had been poured into it. His neck was enormous. There was another person of that era that inspired me,” said Don. “His name was Bob Peoples. My Dad told me about Bob and drove me by his house in the Central Community of Elizabethton. He and my Dad were about the same age and went to elementary school together.”

Don researched Bob Peoples and found that the stories his Dad told him were factual. Bob was also known as the “world's strongest man,” holding the record for deadweight lifting for many years. He became the mentor of Paul Anderson. Bob is recognized as the person who designed and built many of the apparatus used in today's modern gymnasiums. He did it in his basement that Paul referred to as the “dungeon” or outside on his farm. Bob was lesser known than Paul but equally impressive. Remarkably, the weightlifter weighed just over 180 pounds but could lift in excess of 700 pounds.

In 1949, Bob gave a weightlifting performance sponsored by the Red Shield Boys Club in the old City Hall auditorium. He became involved in civic affairs and served in several capacities. He received many professional awards for his lifting ability. Peoples was very scientific about his sport and wrote numerous articles and even a book. He called on his old lifting buddy, Paul Anderson, to write the introduction to the work.

Thanks Don for prodding our memories of Munsey pool, Paul Anderson and Bob Peeples. 

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I occasionally receive correspondence from Dr. Herb Howard who was the subject of a feature story I did in August 2006 titled, “Early WJHL-TV Pioneer Recalls 1953 Debut of Station.” It was Howard, a former program director at the station, who uttered the first words heard over the new television venture.

Herb Howard as He appeared in 1952

“Several friends,” said Herb, “continue to send me clippings of your “Yesteryear” columns. These are special people who like to remember the good things that have happened there. Now that Elizabethton and Bristol radio and TV station themes have been included in your column, that has prompted me to offer a few additional subjects that I don't think you have done.”

Dr. Howard noted that the most famous of all former announcers in the Tri-Cities area was “the old pea picker” Tennessee Ernie Ford (Ernest J. Ford) who started his career at WOPI, Bristol in the 1930s. He also worked at WROL, Knoxville, and was at that station the morning of December 7, 1941, where he read the attack on Pearl Harbor bulletin over the airways.

 “Of the stations still in existence,” said Howard, “the third Tri-Cities station was WKPT in Kingsport (1940). Its slogan was ‘the nation's model station.’ I think the most remarkable thing about WKPT was its organized plan of developing young announcers, usually high school guys who would be given weekend air shifts as they developed skills.”

This unique training program was run by the station's program director, Martin Karant who became identified by his signoff line, “”It's time for me to go for today. But, good Lord willin' and the creeks don't rise, I'll be back with you in the morning after the seven o'clock news.”

According to Herb… “There are several well-known WKPT “alums” who got their careers started in this organized training program: George Sells, who has anchored in several large markets; John Palmer, who became a newsman at NBC; and George DeVault, who stayed with WKPT and for many years now has been the company president and general manager. 

“Of course, local guys broke into radio at practically every local radio station. I did it at WJHL as Merrill Moore did at WETB, but WKPT had a well-organized training program.” 

Howard mentioned Kathryn Setzer Willis of Johnson City, a woman who broke into pre-war radio at WKPT. She worked as a mailroom messenger at NBC during World War II and was later given her own show playing records over the air for overseas military personnel. Her pleasant voice coupled with her selections of jazz and swing music made her a favorite with servicemen. Later, she did women's programs for WJHL-TV and near the end of her life did some radio programming again for WKPT and its Jonesborough-Johnson City station, WKTP.

 “If you want to do something on women in broadcasting in the area,” said Herb, “the expert is Patty Smithdeal Fulton.” In Patty’s superb book titled, I Wouldn’t Live Nowhere I Couldn’t Grow Corn (The Overmountain Press, 1998), she recalled when Hal Youngblood once produced a Saturday night stage show at the Majestic Theatre on E. Main Street. She tap-danced on stage and recalls seeing Kathryn Willis there dressed in a white and silver top hat and tailcoat, carrying a sparkling silver cane and dancing on the stairs.

Thanks to ongoing contributions from people like Dr. Howard, the cherished memories of local radio and television continue to be captured and preserved for future generations.  

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Science Hill High School’s 1916 annual, titled “Green and Gold,” measured approximately 6 by 8.5 inches. The cover was appropriated adorned in green with gold letters.

The original owner, Edith Opal Clark, wrote her name on the inside cover and dated it May 19, 1916. H.W. Lyle Printing Company of Johnson City published it. A photograph of the new school revealed that the building was complete but the grounds had not yet been landscaped.

The Editorial Staff consisted of F.L. Wallace (Editor-in Chief), H.L. Faw (Business Manager), E. Vance Jones (Assistant Business Manager), Ethel Deane Riddell (Class Editor), Ruth McCorkle (Editor of Wit and Humor), Ernest T. Hodge (Athletic Editor) and Helen L. Johnson (Art Editor).

The dedication page contained a picture to whom the annual was dedicated with these words: “We, the members of the senior class, do hereby humbly dedicate this issue of the ‘Green and Gold’ to our esteemed superintendent, Mr. Charles E. Anderson and loyal members of the faculty in recognition of the faithful service rendered by them.” The group also expressed their appreciation to W.I. Williams, Faculty Advisor. 


Faculty members (and classes they taught) were M. A Crary (Principal, Manual Training), Miss Lucy Hatcher (Mathematics, later principal), Miss Floy Harris (Latin), James L. Gilbert (Commercial), Joseph D. Clark (English), Miss Cherry Mae Preston (Music), Miss Una V. Jones (Modern Languages), Mr. A. F. Roller (Science), Miss Edith Barton (Departmental Teacher), Miss Clara Fulton (Assistant, Domestic Science) Miss Ruth Baxter (Departmental Teacher), Miss Willie Blance Hook (Departmental Teacher) and Miss Ella Burrow (Departmental Teacher).

The senior class consisted of 21 students. Superlatives included “Most Popular,” Ethel Riddell; “Most Obliging,” William Mitchell; “Biggest Grouch,” James Emmert; “Ladies’ Man,” Freddie Lockett; “Sleepiest,” F. Lee Wallace; “Noisiest,” H. Bear Miller, “Biggest Rube,” Reeves Haves and “Boss,” Ikie Williams.

A senior class poem titled “Home Coming to Johnson City” is a clever imaginary revisit to the city: “Why ‘tis August, nineteen and thirty; And today in my aeroplane; I came back to Johnson City; To see my classmates again. Just fourteen years ago in May; The diplomas from the JCHS; Were handed us. We parted then; To Where, I dared not guess.” The 104-line poem went on to envision where the students migrated after high school and how well they performed in their respective careers.

Hannah Elizabethton Doak penned a class song to the tune of “Then You’ll Remember Me.” The first of four stanzas read “Thru four long years we’ve studied hard; But we’ve enjoyed it too; Old Science Hill, our joy and pride; We bid farewell to you. Tho’ time may change, we’ll ne’er forget; The watchtower on the hill, Tho’ o’er the land and sea we go; Your voice will be calling still; Won’t you remember, O remember me.” 

One page was an essay on “The Three Degrees of Mathematics.” The first paragraph made crystal clear one student’s disdain for the dreaded subject: “Mathematics is that form of the most heinous torture ever invented by the ingenuity of man. Centuries ago it was used exclusively for the punishment of the most hardened criminals and was more dreaded than the rack or the guillotine. Since its invention, however, it has been introduced into schools, where it is used for the utter bewilderment and torture of defenseless and miserable students.”

In 1916, five student societies were available to the students: Young Men’s Christian Society (male), Francis E. Willard Literary Society (female), Jefferson Literary Society (male), Adelphian Literary Society (male) and Ossolian Literary Society (female).

The Athletic Association officers were M.A. Crary (president and treasurer), Fred R. Lockett (v-president), Earnest Hodge (secretary and baseball manager), Hubert Brooks (football manager), Eugene Parsons (basketball manager) and Harry Lusk (baseball captain).

Johnson City High School’s 11-student football team was one of the best football teams in upper East Tennessee. According to the annual, they played on the home field with Bristol on Thanksgiving Day: “The game was fast, both teams playing well and going together like steam engines with but little gains for either.” Bristol scored a touchdown in the first half but failed on the field goal attempt. In the second half, Johnson City broke the line and carried the ball safely for a touchdown. The game ended in a six to six tie.

The basketball program was described in an amusing depiction: The majority of the participants were very small in stature, but as the old saying is ‘They were little but loud.’ We cannot boast of having the gymnasium that some schools have, but when it comes to defeating the heavy, fast Boston Girls in a cement garage, where great skill must be employed in dodging Cadillacs, Buicks and various other kinds of cars, including Fords, the Johnson City boys are there with the goods.” The specific location of the games was not identified.

Rain was a constant problem for the baseball team during the spring of 1916 causing cancellation of several games. The key victory was defeating Emory and Henry, described as being a fast team, by a score of 11 to 4.

Finally, Joseph D. Clark wrote a brief essay on “The Work of the YMCA.” In part it read: “The greatest moral agency in the high school during the last two years has been the YMCA. The young men have found that there is more in school than text books and athletics, good as they are; they have found in the YMCA a great democratic stimulus, a friend that has helped to make true friends.”  

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A few months ago, I penned a column from material supplied to me by Peggy Harvey Street. She and her late husband, A.J., were once acquainted with 304-pound weightlifter, Paul Anderson, 1956 Olympic gold medal winner. Recently, two readers added their recollections of this famous strongman.

One responder was Richard “Dick” Church who said, “Hello Bob, I always look forward to the Monday paper when I can see what you folks are writing about that will bring back some memories of good old Johnson City.

“The article about Paul Anderson of Elizabethton caught my eye.  I too met Paul back in the 1950’s. I started riding motorcycles while I was at Science Hill High School in about 1953. One of my motorcycle friends in those days was Jim Hardin who rode a BSA 500cc one-lunger (one-cylinder) motorcycle. I also ran with James Moss who rode a BSA 650cc twin identical to the one I rode and Van Wilson who rode an AJS 500cc one-lunger one.

“One day, we got together and decided to take a cycle ride up to Elizabethton to visit Paul Anderson. Jim Hardin had evidently met him before and I remember being told that he was ‘The World’s Strongest Man.’ When we got to Paul’s house, we were invited in to visit. All over his living room floor were improvised things Paul used to work out. 

“There was a large block of concrete that looked as if it had been cast into a large round bucket. A canvas strap came out of the top of it. Paul demonstrated how he would sit in his easy chair, lean over, put the strap around his huge neck and lift and swing the concrete block off the floor.  We were shown numerous photographs of Paul performing all kinds of unbelievable feats of strength.

“One photo, I remember, showed him harnessed to the front of a railroad steam engine, leaning forward as if he were pulling the train. For all I know he might have been pulling it.

“Before we left, we all went outside where Paul admired our motorcycles.  He was very interested in taking a ride on one, so Jim cranked up his BSA and had Paul sit on the buddy seat right over the rear wheel.  Well, Paul at over 300 pounds along with the normal rider who himself was probably about 200 pounds was just a bit more than the suspension of the bike had been designed for.

“I recall the whole rear of the cycle was squatted down so much the front wheel barely touched the ground. I am not sure the rear tire would even rotate as it was probably rubbing against the rear fender and probably flattened at that. It was decided that we probably couldn’t accommodate Paul’s wishes to take him on a motorcycle ride.”

Richard indicated that this was the only visit they made to Paul’s house and he completely lost touch with his career until he read my article in the paper. He said it was good to recall the memory of this superstar.

My cousin, Larry Reaves, said my column also brought back a memory for him: “Bob, when you lived on Johnson Avenue, you and I went to the corner of Knob Creek and Market Street where (West Side Esso Servicenter) was having a grand opening. They had Paul Anderson there as a guest. 

“There was a barbell lying there on the pavement that he was going to lift. I remember that you and I “tried” to lift it; we couldn't even roll it. We were only about eight or nine years old. It is funny how you remember thoughts like this.”

Larry and I fully agree that if we were at that Knob Creek service station almost 60 years later standing beside Paul Anderson’s barbell, we still couldn’t budge it.  

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A favorite book of mine is “Old Limber” or The Tale of the Taylors (Delong Rice, McQuiddy Printing Co., 1921). The small-sized 88-page volume speaks of a famed Walker hound once owned by Alf Taylor, former governor of Tennessee. The witty prose emulates that of Alf’s brother, Bob, also a Tennessee governor: 

“Alf could not take the thousands in his audiences to the mountains; so he must bring the mountains to them. By the magical power of description, he lifted upon their enchanted views the blue and lofty peaks, drew out the long a sloping ridges and laid the river-threaded valleys. And when he has veiled them all with the silver sheen of moonlight, he blew the horn of fancy and out from their kennels came a third of a hundred hounds, each individual, except one, bearing some noted name.

“There was Alexander and Bonaparte and Bismarck and Lincoln and Grant and Thomas Jefferson (for Ben is a Democrat and would have his representation). There was a Caruso and a Patti and a Jenny Lind, which latter names were, perhaps, the most appropriate, for these dogs were singers – all.

“But the greatest of the troupe was “Old Limber,” a direct descendant of that mysterious tramp dog of unknown lineage, which old man Walker had found in the woods of West Tennessee eighty years ago. And still the picture grew under the spell of the speaker. The neighbors gathered and with them was Uncle Ace, the proud valet of the dogs and dusky musician to the camps of the clan.

“And they hied to the crest of a ridge, which lies on a nocturnal circuit of the foxes and release the chafing pack. There was the soft rataplan of feet as the dogs were lost in the shadows, turning for a little while the keys of silence until the strings of expectancy were taut; then intermittently, they thrummed the hills, as when a fiddler tunes his fiddle.”

A reader sent me several pages from The International Fox Hunter’s Stud Book, Volume II, (S.L. Wooldridge, Keeper of Records, The Chase Publishing Company, 1923). The volume offers an interesting look into the world of dog breeding. The names vary from the mundane to the atypical; some dogs even have two names. Limber’s parents and offspring can be found in the list:

“Taylor’s “Ole Limber” 2180 – Nat G. Taylor, Johnson City, Tenn., owner and breeder. (Walker) BW&T dog. Whelped June 29, 1915. By Limber (Taylor) out of Sail (Taylor); Sail by Ginger our of Mary Jones; Ginger by Tomcat out of Queen; Mary Jones by Dug out of Trilby; Tomcat by Jaybird out of Fan; Queen by Rout out of Fury; Dug by Harbinger out of Alice; Trilby by Raider out of Vic; Jaybird by Red Sam out of Mag; Fan by Minch out of Old Fan; Rout by Clark out of Spring; Fury by Bohannon’s Ginger out of Kate; Harbinger by Imp. Harbinger out of Belle; …

“Alice by Ed Walker out of Lot; Raider by Don out of Blk. Fan; Vic by Raider out of Tuck; Limber by Duke out of Kate; Duke by Gordon out of April; Kate by Buster out of Frances; Gordon by Phil out of Phoebe; April by Scrape out of Meck; Buster by Arp out of Phoebe; Frances by Don out of Tex; Phil by Arp out of Lill; Phoebe by Joe White out of Nancy; Scrape by Troupe out of Linda; Meck by Bally out of Emma; Arp by Joe out of Charmer; Phoebe by Joe White out of Nancy; Don by Rock out of Lucy; and Tex by Scrape out of Bones.”

Alf Taylor’s beloved canine has long been silenced, but tales of his celebrated hunting exploits still permeate local history books. “Old Limber” will not be forgotten, at least as long as this writer is around. 

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