July 2009

The Gump name stands tall in the annals of Johnson City history. A perusal of several old city directories yielded a myriad of Gump businesses over the years: A.S. Gump & Co. (Abraham S. Gump), Gumps (Martin I. Gump), Gump Brothers Clothing (Harry D. and Louis D. Gump), Gump’s Wholesale Grocery (Martin I. Gump), Gump Investment Company (Louis, Harry, Jay and Alan Gump), Bert Gump Insurance and Bert Gump Real Estate.

An area in north Johnson City, originally known as the H.D Gump Farm and later Hillrise Park subdivision, became what is today referred to as the Gump Addition. Mr. Harry Gump acquired the property consisting of 100 acres on Oct. 25, 1907 from Carnegie Realty Co. and Carnegie Development Co. The lengthy deed, written in typical land vernacular of that era stated:

“That boundary where the road, leading to and being near Holston Avenue and Baxter Street, crosses said branch; thence South 2 degrees 20’ West 494 feet to a set stone, … thence N 22 degrees 20’ W to a stake in the center of New Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues; thence with the center line of New Street in northerly direction to the center line of Sixth Avenue of said Addition; thence east with said center line of Sixth Avenue to the center line of High Street, …”  

 The Gump family is credited with another accomplishment – the naming of a number of streets in the Keystone community. The information came from the late Jay L. Gump, whose father and uncle bestowed the names to the streets.

In 1912, Harry D. and Louis D. Gump bought 132 acres in the designated area. They acquired the property from Mrs. Alice Earle who had obtained it from her father, A. Pardee Jr., builder of the narrow gauge railroad that brought iron ore from Cranberry, NC to the furnace in Johnson City.

A current map of Johnson City verifies some of the information found in my history archives. The land in question comprises 12 streets encompassed by East Main, Bert, Orleans and Broadway. Streets running parallel to E. Main are Pardee, Cranberry, Dyer, Colorado, Bettie and Orleans. Those running perpendicular to E. Main are Bert, Mary, Jay and Alan.  

Harry and Louis, deciding to subdivide the land, named it Keystone because both men were born in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State. Then, with city engineer, W.O. Dyer, they began systematically laying out streets and assigning names for them. They decided to start by using the first names of their children in the order of their birth.

The first two named were Bert and Mary streets, the children of Harry Gump followed by Jay and Alan streets, the sons of Louis Gump. Having quickly exhausted the names of their children, the Gump brothers then picked other appellations that they deemed fitting. Pardee Street came from the name of the original owner of the property, while Cranberry Street represented the Cranberry mines and furnace.

Dyer Street was named after the city engineer. Colorado Street was chosen because the brothers and their family had moved to the Centennial State from Pennsylvania and grew up there. Harry and Louis had their first jobs in Colorado working in a men’s clothing store. One more street in the Keystone grid needed a name; this time the oldest grandchild, Bettie, the daughter of Bert was picked.

After the naming process was complete, the brothers divided the land into lots and sold them to individuals.

Today, the Gump Addition and the nine Keystone streets serve as reminders of a family who has lived and worked in Johnson City for over 125 years. 

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Four Responders Reflect on Frick’s Downtown Music Mart

 My recent Music Mart article brought response from four people, Robert Bowman, James Edens and two people identified only as Mr. A and Mr. B. 

Mr. A stated, “Henry Frick was a perfectionist, an intelligent merchant and a skilled craftsman who demanded nothing less from his employees. Nevertheless, he was a compassionate gentleman whose place of business reflected his noble character.  Area piano teachers and bandleaders knew where to go for all their music-related needs: the Music Mart.”

Robert Bowman, who worked there from fall 1963 until spring 1966, remembered the close-knit couple “coming back from lunch, hand-in-hand, like high school sweethearts, usually bringing with them a new idea for the business.”

“Since it was the Music Mart on which band members from most local schools relied for upkeep of their instruments, Henry and Gary Phillips were kept steadily busy as repairmen six days per week.

“As a courier, I spent many hours out of the store, getting defective instruments to the post office for safe shipment to the appropriate factory, chauffeuring the youngest Frick daughter on designated Saturdays, getting Frick's car washed and picking up the family's dry cleaning.”

In my first article, I noted Henry’s unique dry humor. Robert supplied another example: “I was also responsible for dusting instruments and displays. One day, Mr. Frick approached me and said ‘Are you saving this dust for any reason?’

“Gene Young traveled throughout northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia to elementary, junior high and senior high schools, collecting defective instruments and delivering restored ones. 

Bowman's successor and former neighbor, James Edens, made this comment: “You could set your watch by Gene's arrival. When that van pulled in, it was about time to lock up and go home.”

“Toward closing time each day,” recalled Robert, “every staffer was assigned to put vinyl records back into their proper sleeves after listeners usually left the discs in disarray. The store had private audition booths equipped with headsets that were liberally used by many junior high, senior high and college students.

An anonymous former hired hand, Mr. B, recalls the entire staff taking inventory annually on January 1: “The unpleasantness of this unwelcome ritual quickly subsided when Mr. Frick treated us mentally tired laborers to a delectable meal at the Dixie Drive-In Restaurant. The only negative element of these dining experiences was our boss man's insistence on celebrating the new year by every one eating black-eyed peas. I nearly choked.”

“Perhaps Mr. Frick's tolerance toward all youth,” said Bowman, “including those happy-go-lucky ones who often ‘parked’ in the sound booths for extended time spans, can be attributed to his hope that some of the hearers would become players, transforming mayhem to melody. From the wise man's perspective, negative behavior of these non-buyers, whose loud conversations distracted customers, might be eventually channeled into desirable activity, such as mastering a horn or a keyboard.”

Robert concluded with picturesque words: “A stroll down South Roan Street today yields no vestige of the little Music Mart. Yet, in the mind's eye, one can imagine the enterprising Henry puffing on his pipe, each smoke ring signaling an innovation for his beloved store while his soul-mate flashes a sweet smile of concurrence.” 

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Summers Hardware and Supply Company has had a long convoluted metamorphosis as it migrated through several decades, store locations and individuals into the business that is today located at 400 Buffalo Street.

The origin appears to go back to 1870 when G.C. Seaver came to Johnson City and opened a dry goods store. He later sold it and established a hardware store, which became the second oldest business in Johnson City. In 1888, Joseph P. Summers, who worked for the C.M. McClung Company, bought half interest in Seaver’s business and the store became Seavers & Summers.

After January 1893, a third person, James A. Summers, who had been working at the store as a clerk, formed a partnership with his uncle, Ben D. Lyle and acquired the business, bringing about another name – Lyle & Summers. Prior to April 1896, J.A. Summers and Harry H. Lyle, Ben Lyle’s son, owned the store reversing the company designation to Summers & Lyle.

After April 1896, Lyle sold his interest to their uncle William J. Barton. Soon, the company was relocated when Barton & St. John Hardware combined to form Summers and Barton. After March 1897, another transformation came into play when John F. Lyle, another uncle, united with the company to become Summers, Barton & Lyle. 

To further add to the myriad of business titles, after February 1900, H.R. Parrott, who had been traveling with a nearby Bristol firm, arrived in town and bought John Lyle’s interest in the operation. Also, Joseph P. Summers who had left the city in 1892 returned and joined the company. The new name was Summers, Barton & Parrott.

After 1910, William Barton decided to organize a retail store and feed business so he sold his portion to James A. Summers. The new partnership became identified as Summers-Parrott Hardware Company and boasted of $50,000 in capitalization. Summers became president of the new firm and sold the retail department to other individuals in the city. The business was now fully wholesale and would remain as such until the present.

When the Buffalo Street operation opened its doors to the pubic in 1911, its business flourished. The company began selling Ford and Buick automobiles in addition to hardware.

A 1915 Chamber of Commerce publication had glowing comments about the firm: “One of the most striking features of the big business interests of Johnson City is stability, as exhibited in the fact that among its representative houses are some that have gained success and prominence by steady development through many years of active and honorable business history, a notable example being Summers-Parrott Hardware Company.

“This is one of the largest concerns of its kind in this section and operates an immense business in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky. The comparatively new building now occupied is an immense four-story structure and basement, 107 by 150 feet in dimensions and erected in the year 1911.”

After 1915, industry conditions necessitated the separating of the business. Parrott chose to stay with the automobile portion so he sold his interest to James A. Summers, built a garage next door to his former company and opened his store. Summers-Parrott Hardware was reorganized as Summers Hardware Company and, over the next several years, edged forward in spite of numerous economic downturns.

However, the company went bankrupt in 1936 and was reorganized as Summers Hardware and Supply Company, Inc. by creditors from banks and manufacturers. Fitzhugh Wallace, a local banker, became president of the struggling company. Wallace was a savvy businessman and vigilantly brought the besieged firm out of insolvency. He remained in that capacity until he became Chairman of the Board. His son Fitzhugh Wallace Jr. became President and his daughter, Gwen Wallace, part owner.

In a 1992 interview with Press writer, Phyllis Johnson, the two Wallace owners stated that their father restructured the company in difficult times, shifting toward industrial supplies, maintenance and construction goods. By then, consumers began migrating toward one-stop mega variety stores where they could shop for hardware items and sundry other merchandise under the convenience of one roof. It was during this time that Summers Hardware Company began selling automobile parts, a decision that proved to be highly lucrative.

In 1991 sensing it was time to move on, the Wallace family located their replacements in the business’s front office, selling it to employees John R. Lawson and R. Glenn Shaw. Eight years later, Shaw became sole owner. Today, the company is a thriving MRO wholesale supplier serving a wide-ranging customer base that includes manufacturers, schools, nursing homes, hospitals and commercial contractors.

It has been said that the wooden floors of the massive Summers Hardware building creak under the feet of those who walk over it as a testament to the strength of both the building and the work carried on there. Unlike its many former competitors of years past who have long passed from the scene, the business has pressed forward. The large letters on the side of the century-old building are a constant reminder to the populace of its lengthy and intricate history. And the beat goes on.

Thanks to Alex Summers, Gwen Wallace and Glenn Shaw for their valuable input to this article. 

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It was a bird that only a mother could love, with its blue top hat; red felt face and beak; big white eyes; clear glass tube neck; white shapely hips and legs; bright red feet; and a light green feather attached to its large bulb shaped see-thru posterior containing red or blue colored liquid.

The “drinking (also dubbed ‘dunking’ or ‘dipping’) bird” was constantly rocking back and forth and periodically dipping its beak into a glass of water, seemingly by magic.

The distinctive little creature was a permanent fixture at my Grandmother Cox’s house on East Fairview Avenue in the late 1940s and 1950s. She kept it at different locations in her house. It was usually positioned in front of a full glass of water, rendering it a perpetual drinker. It added new meaning to the derogatory expression, “Go soak your head.” Anytime I came to grandma’s house, I usually found the cute little imbibing bird busy at work performing its usual repetitive chore.

Occasionally, I found it motionless without its water glass. Grandma, at my insistence, would correct that situation by placing a full glass of water in front of it, bringing its head forward until its beak was submerged in water and allowing the felt portion of it to become saturated with water. She then released it, permitting the bird to immediately spring into action.

The critter would rock back and forth until it almost came to a standstill, after which it would gradually start leaning toward the glass of water. It would then “take a swig” and begin rocking again. The cycle would repeat itself about every 20-25 seconds. The bird ran nonstop as long as it could obtain a drink of water. Take away the glass or let the water level drop too low and the little bird would soon become motionless. I sat mystified for long periods of time watching it perform its ritual.

Some people became so enamored with the product that they “doubled their pleasure, doubled their fun” by purchasing a pair, letting them drink out of the same glass.  Not satisfied with one or two of them, a few enthusiasts acquired several and placed them in a line or in a circle for added amusement and watched them perform out of sync. America had a love affair with the “drinking bird.”  

Miles V. Sullivan is credited with being the creator of the product, patenting it in 1946. It became an instant sensation with a war-weary public and almost overnight became a common fixture in many homes.

The bird even appeared in the 1951 Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies cartoon titled, “Putty Tat Trouble.” While fleeing the advances of Sylvester the cat, Tweety Bird, a talking canary famous for uttering “I tawt I taw a puddy tat,” encounters a “drinking bird,” mistakenly thinking it is the real thing. Tweety begins emulating the bogus bird by methodically bobbing up and down in front of a glass of water.

At the risk of boring you with the scientific reason for the patented creature’s curious behavior, let me briefly explain that the educational device is actually a heat engine, containing methylene chloride liquid and vapor that operates through a thermodynamic cycle that incorporates latent heat of evaporation, temperature drop, pressure drop, vapor condensation and a shifting center of gravity.

The inexpensive drinking bird is available for sale today, but one word of caution to those inclined to purchase one. It is not a toy to be placed in the hands of young children. It is breakable and the liquid will stain anything it touches. Also, methylene chloride has some health issues.

About 1960, the always thirsty entertaining and educational “drinking bird” took flight into my yesteryear.  

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In 1928, Johnson City’s government was housed inside City Hall at W. Main and Boone streets. Officials were W.J. Barton, Mayor and City Judge; T.H. McNeil, Recorder and Treasurer; Guy S. Chase, Attorney; Dr. J. T. McFadden, Physician; H.F. Anderson, Commissioner of Finance; S.O. Dyer, Commissioner of Streets; and C.E. Rogers, Superintendent of Schools.

Several items were on the City Commission’s agenda for June 22 that year. First, they signed a contract with the Appalachian District Fair Association for a five-year lease of Keystone Field on E. Main. Second, they signed a contract with Coile and Cardwell, local architects  (office located at 8 King Building, 255 E. Main, future Liggett’s Drug Store building) concerning a substantial public school building program. Third, they authorized the Commissioner of Finance to issue short-term notes amounting to about $65,000.

The approval of the contract with the Appalachian District Fair Association leasing Keystone Field for a period of five years completed all plans and negotiations for the fair location. The signing was not a superficial action; it was investigated thoroughly by all members of the Commission and City Attorney Guy S. Chase prior to the meeting.

The reaction to the signing by the town’s citizens was exceedingly favorable. Many people openly expressed their pleasure at the city’s efforts to provide an appropriate venue for the much-anticipated annual fair. The event was expected to attract thousands of people to Johnson City during its scheduled Oct. 16, 17, 18 and 19 run. The contract was perceived as producing a significant economic bonus for the city.

My Jan. 19, 2009 feature article offered some particulars about the school building program that included additions to several Johnson City schools and the building of three new ones: Columbus Powell, New Martha Wilder (renamed Stratton) and New West Side (renamed Henry Johnson).

Concerning the third matter, the Commissioner of Finance, Anderson, explained that the issuance of notes for $65,000 were for the purpose of paying interest of several notes which were due as well as providing funds for the regular monthly school payroll.

Another business matter concerned the placing of a streetlight at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Wall Street near the Carnegie section of town. Property owners in that sector of the city submitted the request because they desired better traffic control in their neighborhood.

The next item on the agenda presented a thorny issue to the commissioners. Representatives of the Johnson City fruit and vegetable concerns complained that the city was overrun with people peddling vegetables and other commodities on the downtown streets without a license. The established vendors argued that they were required to have a permit to sell their wares and this group should be also. They further stated that peddlers were causing unfair completion to downtown merchants and that this oversight robbed the city of needed revenue.

The matter was discussed at length with members of the commission. They vowed they would cooperate with the delegation in finding relief for the local storeowners. Their lively discussion prompted the formation of a committee of four commissioners, appointed by Mayor Barton, to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter and report their findings at the next meeting of the board.

After H.F. Anderson presented regular weekly bills and other routine matters of the commission, the meeting was summarily adjourned. 

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