September 2009

Three individuals, Gary Phillips, Dan Ward and Chris White, former Music Mart employees, shared memories of working at the Frick’s store once located on S. Roan Street.

Gary Phillips wrote first: “Bob, you might remember me as the kid who took over your Johnson City Press-Chronicle paper route around 1961 that included Lakeview Drive and surrounding streets.

“The summer after I graduated from Science Hill, I got a job working with the Fricks, repairing, cleaning and overhauling band instruments. I didn’t play any of them and had never been in a band, but Mr. Frick taught me what I needed to know to do the job.

“I started out making $.90 an hour and over four years worked my way up to $2 an hour. Those were great years working for the Fricks and, like you, I could tell many an anecdote on them. They were great folks to work for. I was there when they moved into the store next to their original store and worked there for probably a year or more.

“My in-laws currently live in south Johnson City off Roan Street and occasionally I’ll drive thru downtown on my way to their house. I miss seeing The Music Mart when I pass by there. So many great memories took place there.”

Dan Ward added his comments: Bob, in the fall of 1964, Gary Phillips called me and he asked me if I would be interested in applying for a part-time job at The Music Mart. Gary had started working there as a janitor, but Mr. Frick had promoted him to instrument repairman.

“I told Gary that I was interested in the part-time job but that I did not think that I would be qualified for a job at a music store because I did not play an instrument or read music. Gary told me to go ahead and apply for the job. Mr. Frick hired me and gave me Gary’s former job. 

“Henry and Mary Lou Frick were wonderful people to work with. They were hard workers, but they were very caring and compassionate. I performed various tasks over the next four years at The Music Mart, doing whatever needed to be done.

“I worked at the store in the afternoons after my classes at ETSU, all day on Saturday and full time during the summer. My salary from working there paid for my college education. After graduation from ETSU in June 1968, I continued working there until September 1968 when I went on active duty in the United States Army. The Fricks gave me a tape recorder when I went into service.” 

Finally, Chris White offered his remembrances:“Bob, your (Music Mart) columns resonated with me so powerfully and emotionally; it was very surreal. I too am a prodigal son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bond Frick. I worked part-time for the Frick's the entirety of my junior and senior high school years as well as my college years.  

“Mr. Frick was one of the most witty individuals I've ever met. The dryness in which he delivered his wittiness made him even funnier. He and I used to laugh together until literally tears formed in our eyes. With my young ‘green behind the ears’ naivety, Henry used to have a lot of fun with me, all in good spirit and humor. Each year he would ask Mrs. Frick: ‘Mummy,’ what day is Easter on this year? It was on Sunday last year.’ The man was hysterical. 

“I too, dressed and undressed the show window countless times with each seasonal theme. I also put thousands of miles on a vacuum cleaner in that store, as well as swept tons of waste off the sidewalks.

“Then there is Mrs. Frick.  She was a saint, dedicated to Mr. Frick, to her work, to superior customer service and to everyone around her. 

“Bob, I can't even begin to scratch the surface of the many wonderful and joyful memories I experienced during my time at “a sweet music store.”   

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Paul Gill sent me some material from his Weaver family genealogy that offered an insight into early Johnson City. His great grandfather, James David Weaver, was an influential builder in Johnson City. David, as he was known, was born on May 23, 1854 in Kingsport, Tennessee and later became an important businessman in Johnson City.

David attended Princeton School on what is now Princeton Road in North Johnson City. During his life, he became a blacksmith, contractor, architect and restaurateur. A Millard family who owned a farm located at 611 Mountcastle Drive raised him.


Paul recalls seeing the house before it was demolished. He described it as a beautiful two-story mansion consisting of 13 rooms that featured such upscale items as green marble fireplaces, leather wainscoting, covered ceilings and carved cherry woodwork. The red brick edifice featured a colonnaded veranda that was kept cool by several hundred-year-old oaks that surrounded the main house, carriage house and slave quarters. Even when the house fell in disarray a century later, it’s neglected and ruined finery still conveyed the quintessence of ante-bellum prosperity.

According to Weaver family genealogy, David is credited with constructing the Arlington Hotel, Jennings Building, Pardue/Windsor Hotel and the rectory of Munsey Memorial Church.

Weaver’s sons eventually followed in their father’s footsteps. One son, Charlie, built St. Johns Episcopal Church, Mayne Williams Library and Unaka Avenue Baptist Church, which he also helped establish. Another son, Fred, served as Johnson City’s building inspector for many years.

David Weaver co-owned and operated the Windsor Restaurant located at the intersection of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad depot and Market Street. This site was likely situated where Idol Inn Café and later Byrd’s Restaurant stood. His business partner was James Wesley Scalf, an ancestor of Gladys Ledford Weaver.

David sold the eatery on Nov. 17, 1890. The deed read in part: “Know all men by these presents, that we, J.D. Weaver and Company of the town of Johnson City, Washington County, Tennessee, parties of the first part, of and in consideration of the sum of seven hundred two dollars and ninety eight cents, paid and to be paid as hereinafter stated, by L.O. Strain and W.H. Hallum, parties of the second part, of said sum, two hundred dollars in this day paid, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged and the remainder to be paid in eight equal monthly installments …

The deed contained a surprisingly detailed listing of all property included in the transfer: “four sauce pans, one colander, nine pudding pans, six fry pans, two cake turners, one fryer, two flesh forks, two 14 quart beating bowls, one bed, one spring, one mattress, one pair blankets, one pair pillows, four comforts, one mirror, two washstands, one round table, two shades, three 10-foot extension tables, 46 chairs, two tables, two shades, one galvanized iron flue, one gasoline stove and three burners, one coffee boiler, one sauce pan, one dipper, one frying pan, …

“one large spoon, one cake turner, one dishpan, one six-quart bucket, one tea pot, one half-gallon cup, one large flesh fork, one potato masher, one half-gallon oil can, one rolling pin, one biscuit cutter, one meal sifter, five large spoons, one tin bucket, one bread pan, four joints of stove pipe, one heating stove and eight joints of pipe, one zinc stove board, two six foot show cases, 112 yards of carpet, seven dozen seven-inch plates, six dozen seven-inch deep plates, seven dozen fine hotel cups and saucers, seven dozen three-inch flat dishes, four dozen cream dishes, …

“one dozen sugar dishes, six dozen butter dishes, seven dozen five-inch plates, one-third dozen ice pitchers, seven dozen band tumblers, six dozen 26-inch trays, one crumb brush and tray, half-dozen cracker bowls, one-fourth dozen of mustards, two dozen peppers, two dozen salts, five-sixths dozen vinegars, five-sixth dozen syrups, one dozen pickles, half dozen celery stands, one dozen preserve stands, half dozen fruit stands, one-third dozen cake stands, two dozen egg cups, one dozen pat meals, six dozen ice creams, two 18-inch sq.meats and one half-dozen tooth pick holders.   

The deed concluded with the words: “In witness whereof the said parties of the first part have hereunto set their hands this the 17thday of November 1890.” Weaver died on March 3, 1924 and was buried in Johnson City’s Monte Vista Memorial Gardens. Paul Gill is proud of his Weaver family and has reason to be so. 

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Louis Feathers grew up in North Johnson City in the 1920s and 30s, first on Lowell Street and then at four different addresses on nearby Baxter Street. During part of that time, the area was outside the city limits.

“I remember,” said Louis, “when our next door neighbors, the Meador family on Lowell Street had an Edison phonograph that played cylinder recordings. I even recall some of the selections I heard played: “Redwing,” “My Pretty Quadroon” and “Life’s Railway to Heaven.” Feathers experienced the rustic lifestyle of that era such as patronizing a hand dug wooden outhouse (a.k.a. “privy”) that sat out behind the house. He and his six siblings took Saturday night baths in a large laundry tub. In spite of such hardships, there were rewards of living in that era.

Louis further recalled, “Houses were built only on one side of Lowell Street. On the other side was a large cornfield. Just south of it was a large grassy hill that I heard was once part of a golf course before it was moved eastward to a new site at the Johnson City Country Club. Airplanes occasionally landed on the hill approximately 100 yards from our home. About a quarter mile from our home and beyond the field were Oakland Woods and Gump Woods. Those fields were great places for recreation.”

Louis’s father, Ezra, an avid coin and stamp collector, occasionally paid his paperboy with a rare coin that had a numismatic value approximately equivalent to the amount that he owed. “About 1927, my parents bought the home at 1021 N. Baxter Street,” said Louis. “This was to be our home for the next seven years. The Meadors were again our next-door neighbors during a part of this period.”

Louis indicated that when they resided on Lowell Street, their dad raised chickens, but after moving to Baxter Street, they had “rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits.” He estimated that they often had more than a hundred of the little critters at one time. An unpleasant task was for him and his brothers to clean out the rabbit hutch. The structure was designed to make cleaning easier, but it was still a chore. However, the droppings were in high demand by a neighbor who ran a truck farm.

Other rewards of living in that era were the wide-open fields in the area, which included many wild berry bushes and a large chestnut tree. Periodically, Ezra and his boys engaged in picking blackberries and dewberries (similar to blackberries except more spherical) after which Nannie would can them. With the depression and a large family to feed, preserving and storing food was a necessity. Ezra built his wife a rack of shelves for storage of hundreds of jars of canned goods in the basement space on their rear-sloping lot. The quantity of jars put up during the summer was a bragging issue among women at that time. In this competition, Mrs. Feathers was usually among the winners.

The house at 1021 Baxter was a small mansion compared to their previous home. Louis and his brothers playfully waxed and polished the hardwood floors by tying rags on their feet and skating all over the rooms. During the warm months, a large screened-in back porch just off the kitchen served as an extension of the living area and was the site of many of the activities associated with canning.

In subsequent years, the Feathers family lived in three additional Baxter Street houses: 1300, 1114 and 1116, the latter being the longest. I will feature more of Louis’s well-documented Johnson City memories in future columns. 

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Recent issues concerning Memorial (initially called Roosevelt) Stadium at 540 E. Main Street evoke cherished memories from many older residents who attended SHHS football games and other sporting events there.

I fondly recall Dick Ellis’s play-by-play broadcast over WJCW radio of the Topper’s Friday night football games, Steve Spurrier’s spectacular quarterbacking years and Kermit “Little Tip” Tipton’s memorable coaching era.

SHHS football began in 1914. Fifteen years later, legendary coach, Stewart “Plowboy” Farmer, became head of the Hilltopper football program and remained at the helm until 1948, excluding the four war years when he served in the Army. Tipton was a star player for “Plowboy.” In 1946, the popular trainer again took charge of the football program for two additional seasons before wrapping up his illustrious career.

The Big Five Conference consisted of Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett, Tennessee High, Elizabethton High and Unicoi County High. Coach Farmer won several league titles and is credited with putting Hilltopper athletics at the top of the heap.

In the mid 1930s, Farmer was honored for his coaching prowess with a parade in his honor that began at 2:30 p.m. on Lamont Street behind Hill-Summers Chevrolet Company and traveled up East Main Street into Roosevelt Stadium. That Friday was declared “Farmer Day” and the guest of honor was presented with an unspecified gift. Science Hill and Unicoi County high school bands participated in the festivities and squared off at 3:15 that afternoon on the gridiron.

Roosevelt Stadium was built between 1933 and 1935 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The facility was funded partially by WPA (Works Progress Administration) money, by city funding and from several people who offered $1000 loans to the project. Johnson Citians wanted a nice stadium and they got one. The sports complex was initially named after the 32ndpresident of the United States.

During the summer of 1947, the final year after “Plowboy’s” return, renovations were made to the football home of the fighting maroon and gold Hilltoppers. At that time, the school was located on top of the hill at Roan and Water streets diagonally facing the John Sevier Hotel.

Concrete stands were built north and south from goal to goal on both sides of the playing field, which provided for 8,000 seats. Also, the use of knockdown bleachers along each end zone further expanded seating capacity to 12,000. Other improvements were the installation of an electrically operated scoreboard and a new wide entrance along the north end. A field house was also planned for that year, but it was not ready in time for the opening game of the season.

Farmer’s returning lettermen in 1947 included Kenith Bryan (captain), William Haynes, Danny MaHaffey, Cad Shoun, Robert York and Ollin Clark. Those lost to graduation were Gene Arnold, Dick Booze, Jack Bible, Glenn Cox, Homer Bechtell, Bill Coleman, Johnny Carr, Robert Evans, Tom Hodges, Hartsell Lawson, Herman May, Eudy McKinney, Jim Speropulous, Tom Vance and Jim Whitmore.

The school’s 11-game schedule for 1947 included Mountain City (Sept. 12, home), Virginia High (Sept. 19, away), Knoxville City (Sept. 26, away), Morristown (Oct. 3, home), Tennessee High (Oct. 10, away), Knoxville Central (Oct. 17, home), Elizabethton (Oct. 24, home), Newport (Oct. 31, home), Erwin (Nov. 7, away), Kingsport (Nov. 14, home) and Landon High (Nov. 21, away, Jacksonville, Florida).

I plan to write additional articles on the teams that played under “Plowboy” Farmer.  

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The start of a new school year is a time of moaning for some students and one of rejoicing for others. It also allows those of us who have long left the hallowed halls and ivy-covered walls to reflect on our favorite nostalgic memories. Such was the case on Aug. 29, 1965 when Dorothy Hamill, the late Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, wrote an article about Cedar Creek Academy that once was located in the Gray community of Washington County.

Dorothy obtained her facts from A. Preston Gray, who resided in Kingsport and had attended the school. The original edifice consisted of a large room downstairs and a smaller one upstairs. The property was bordered on one side by a well-fenced farm and on the other by a dirt road. Preston quipped by saying that the road often provided the school with frequent student breaks, which occurred anytime a shiny horse-drawn buggy, log wagon pulled by panting oxen with bowed heads, or a threshing outfit went by. The latter caused the air to became permeated with the smell of wood smoke and hot cylinder oil.

Preston recalled two teachers. One brought his bicycle to school. It was the first bike that many of the children had ever seen before. During recess, the teacher rode the two-wheeler around the playground with youngsters following him like guards protecting a presidential car. Gray envied another professor because he could afford celluloid cuffs that rattled when he erased the blackboard.

Those were the days when zinc water buckets and dippers were standard equipment in schools. Brass-toed boots became badges of distinction for boys. Many youngsters carried an assortment of comic valentines for their sweethearts and sticks of white Long Tom Chewing Gum in their pockets.

Pranks were a regular occurrence such as throwing a musket cap in the pot bellied stove and watching it explode, inserting a pin in the folding seat, which gave out a mysterious ting when pulled out and filling a squirt gun from the water bucket and producing a sudden shower onto the blackboard.

The school maintained a tradition of planting trees on school property twice a year, once on Arbor Day and again at Christmas. In addition, the building became a platform for orators, such as the Tennyson Literary Society that met there on Friday nights.

Other sources of entertainment included listening to 78-rpm phonograph records of such recording stars as Ada Jones and Billy Murray, lectures by humorists Josh Billings and Eli Perkins and a performance from actor Bill Nye. Another popular event was attending “Magic Lantern” presentations. The device was capable of projecting slide images from plates onto a screen or wall. The subjects were generally travel logs.

“There was good music too,” Gray remembered, “with banjo, fiddle, harmonica and autoharp. One entertainment was held to raise money to supply a bell for the belfry; nickels, dimes, quarters and silver dollars came rolling in.”

In those days, teachers worked for very low wages. A principal once told Gray of asking for a raise from $19 to $20 a month and being rejected. Teachers routinely furnished erasers, crayons and wood for the stove at their expense. A school tradition was for teachers to treat students at Christmas; failure to do so meant a ducking in the frigid waters of nearby Cedar Creek.

Gray concluded his interview with Hamill with these words: “The only day I remember missing was when my teacher advised me to miss school and attend a circus at Johnson City. It was worth far more than a day in school.” 

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