October 2010

The late Sue Eckstein once shared with me an undated newspaper clipping from a scrapbook that belonged to her father, Paul Carr. It documents several unrelated stories of early Johnson City, written by former Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, Fred Hoss.

During the economic boom of the early 1890s, everything was going “Carnegie.” Old cow pastures were subdivided into lots that sold for as high as $1,500 and $2,000 each. The Three-Cs railroad had commenced its line through this section. It was being built through Cash Hollow with a depot in Carnegie. The road was graded to about Unaka Springs when a depression hit causing the railroad to come to a screeching halt. It was abandoned before it got started.

Almost overnight, the Carnegie Hotel, store buildings, tennis court, new houses and other developments were abandoned, becoming burrows for rodents. Some of them burned while others decayed and collapsed. The large block of railroad bonds owed by the city were relieved of the debt by the courts.

Later, lots in Carnegie sold for prices ranging from 15 cents to 10 dollars. City records show that one fellow in the western part of the country, who owned a lot that had been assessed at $5.00, regularly mailed in his tax check each year that ranged from 10 to 12 cents.

On other subjects, the late Henry H. Carr was described as a “master of argument” in court. His delivery was what his opponents deemed dangerously convincing. He stood while speaking with his eyes closed and without making a gesture. His demeanor gave people lockjaw to the extent that they could not respond to him.

Charlie Cargille, whose father started a photograph gallery in town, brought in the first big-wheeled bicycles. Skillful riders pedaled them to work and on trips about town. They became the envy of youngsters until Charlie Estes introduced the first “safety” bicycle. Not to be outdone, Cargille purchased a high-wheeled rubber tread buggy and a horse to pull it.

Hoss mentioned a large house owned by local lawyer Robert Burrow that sat on the hill behind Science Hill High School at N. Roan. The judge was still in law practice at the age of 90. He became a partner of Isaac Harr. Burrow would write a beautiful “copper-plate” by hand (a style of calligraphic writing) because Mr. Harr couldn’t read his own handwriting. Together, they produced winning documents.

Dr. Eb S. Miller, a leading doctor in Johnson City for many years, maintained records of births and deaths that became invaluable for folks needing to prove their age for governmental purposes. One old-timer humorously remarked that records in the doctor’s account books revealed that many people were born on credit.

The Bee Hive, a leading downtown department store, used the first moving window display in the city. A turntable made of wood operated in a socket with a shaft leading to the basement. It was turned by a “flutter wheel” operated by a stream of water. Folks came from miles around to gaze into the window and watch it turn. The genius behind the invention was identified as P.M. Ward.

And finally, there was a news story about patrons attending Jobe’s Opera House who became overly alarmed when a loud clap of thunder occurred during a performance. Two young girls screamed and created a stampede toward the stairs. Fortunately, cooler heads intervened and quickly barricaded the door preventing what could have been an avalanche of humanity falling down the steep stairwell. 

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In 2009, the photography class of Kay Grogg, art and photography teacher at David Crockett High School, received a grant from the Harris Fund of the East Tennessee Foundation for a project titled, “Scanning Our Past to Preserve for the Future.”

The charge was to acquire old photos and information related to Washington County with special emphasis on the area surrounding the school. Using word-of-mouth search, the group acquired information regarding the history of the county, including Woodland Lake swimming pool that was located where their school now resides. It was a popular recreation facility fondly remembered by older residents (including this writer). Jim Rhein, David Whitaker and Ron Dykes contributed an assortment of vintage photos, old advertisements and related facts regarding the former establishment.


An August 11, 1926 Jonesboro (now Jonesborough) Herald and Tribune newspaper contained a much-anticipated announcement: “Woodland Lake is now open to the public as an up-to-date pleasure resort for the people of this and other sections. Messrs. Rhein and Jackson have spared no expense in preparing this place for the pleasure and entertainment of both young and old.”

A promotional ad that same year by the Mill Spring Ice and Ice Cream Company amusingly noted, “Woodland Lake is in full operation representing an investment of several thousands of dollars. There are more than 50 ice cream containers scattered over the neighborhood, loaned to you in good faith. Will you please return them or drop us a line so we can get them? We need them badly.”

The most humorous clipping proclaimed in bold letters, “Own More Cows Picnic, Saturday, Aug. 13 (1927) at Woodland Lake, Jonesboro, Tennessee.” The Jonesboro Kiwanis Club sponsored the free event to publicize the location in Greeneville, Tennessee of Pet Milk’s Condensery (condensed milk) Plant and to urge farmers to bring milk to them to be made into dairy products to spur the economy.

After receiving pictures of the lake as it appeared in 1927, Kay’s students snapped current ones at the same location for comparison. In doing so, they located the ruins of the two original pools along the front of the property. They submitted several “then and now” photographs for an exhibition at the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center during May, National Historic Preservation Month.

Woodland Lake history began unfolding for the students: Spring Street was the site of the former Ice Plant for Jonesborough and the surrounding areas. Rudy Rhein (Jim’s father) and Jake Jackson (David’s Grandfather) co-owned the business. An ice cream shop behind the ice plant was adjacent to one of the street’s natural springs, hence the name.

Jake owned a small farm along the “Bristol to Memphis Highway,” now known as Old State Route 34, where he and his family spent their summers. About 1926, he and Rhein, operated Mill Spring Supply Company. They decided to expand their business by opening a swimming pool at that location. Subsequently, they dug a well and constructed two approximately 35-foot long pools near the highway on about six acres of farmland.

Double pools allowed one to be in operation while the other was down for emptying, cleaning and refilling, a laborsome task that occurred about every other day. Since water purification methods were crude, lifeguards heaped in heavy doses of chlorine to sanitize the water. Chlorine crystals could often be seen on the pool bottom. 

Over time, the entrepreneurs added picnic tables in the nearby woods, an L-shaped wooden change house, a concession stand that sold Mill Spring brand ice cream, a barbeque grill and an entrance booth. Admission to the pool was a quarter; a season ticket was available for $5.00. Bathing suits rented for a quarter. At the end of the day, previously leased suits were taken home by one of the owners, washed, dried and returned the next day.

Woodland Lake was well managed from the start; patrons had to be properly dressed and on their best behavior or they were asked to leave. Ice cream suppers (fund raisers) and family picnics became popular at the park. Businesses, civic clubs and church groups routinely held outings there. Former visitors to the pool warmly recall the refreshing, sometimes frigid spring water. 

In 1927-28, the owners incorporated further developments. Electricity became available; a water filter system was added, eliminating the need to alternate pool cleaning; and a combination lodge and restaurant was built that offered a fireplace, grill, jukebox, piano and dance floor for year-round evening enjoyment.

In 1929, Rhein and Jackson ended their joint business venture. Jackson assumed ownership of Woodland Lake while Rhein acquired Mill Spring Supply Company. In 1934, Rhein purchased the park and ran it until 1936 when he sold it to Fritz Brandt, a former Tennessee football standout under Coach Robert Neyland. The new owner added a bandstand and brought in local and national bands to attract customers. According to a July 14, 1938 newspaper clipping, Earl “Fatha” Hinds, a renowned jazz pianist, and his group played there. In 1947, Brandt sold the park to the American Legion who operated the pool for several years chiefly as a place of recreation for children. Several people recalled it was operated by the VFW for a period of time.

During the summers of the late 1950s and early 60s, the Jonesboro Parks and Recreation Department bussed youngsters to and from Woodland Lake on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings. There was no charge for the roundtrip bus ride or swimming at the pool. In addition, the department provided additional lifeguards. Jane May was the director.

Admission to the pool by the 1960s was 50 cents. Patrons took a numbered wicker basket into the change rooms, placed their clothing and personal items in it and returned it to the attendant who stored it on a shelf for safekeeping. The pool had two spring-operated wooden diving boards, one high and one low, on the right side of the deep end that were fabricated from 2 x 10 lumber. 

In 1964, Woodland Lake was sold to Joe Ramsey who kept it operating until 1968 when the Washington County School Board acquired the property for construction of David Crockett High School. Woodland Lake’s 42-year rein of memorable community service was history.

When asked about her photography class’s plans for this year, Mrs. Grogg responded: “I would like to continue this project but on a smaller scale. We need more photos of the school property from later years. If Johnson City Press readers have any to share, we would love to scan them for our project. Call the school at (423) 753-1150.” 

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A January 1930 Johnson City Chronicle newspaper clipping concerning a unique program promoted by Johnson City High School’s (Science Hill) Home Economics Department had an eye-catching title, “Menus Planned by Students for Fat Folks.”

A subtitle further stated, “Home Economics Department of Senior High Display Samples of Goodies.” The display cabinet of the Home Economics Department caused much commentary among the student body and Parent-Teachers Meeting on that Tuesday afternoon. Appetizing odors permeated the air, causing a significant number of students to crowd close to the glass door to see what was appealing to their sense of smell.

Several “oohs” and “aahs” were heard attributable to a display of delicious foods that had been arranged for students in two groups, those overweight and those underweight. Imagine that occurring today. The newspaper provided a sample of a suggested daily menu of food items (and corresponding calorie count) for each group. Quantity was not always specified.

Overweight Diet

The 200-calorie breakfast menu consisted of grapefruit (100, no sugar), black coffee (0), thin cream (50) and toast (50).

The luncheon 425-calorie offering was comprised of two bran muffins (250), beans (75) and pineapple salad (100).

The evening meal yielded 625 calories with a listing of beets (100), meatloaf (100), bran muffins (275) and asparagus on toast (150).

The overweight person’s daily count totaled 1,250 calories.

Underweight Diet

Breakfast displayed six offerings totaling 575 calories: oranges (75), bacon (100), eggs (100), milk (125), toast (50) and cornflakes topped with bananas (125).

For lunch, persons on this diet were allowed 880 calories: peas and carrots (125), graham bread (70), mousse with chocolate sauce (300), milk (125), slice of meat loaf (150) and potatoes (110).

The dinner meal contained 1,180 calories (555 more than that for those on the overweight diet) that included bran muffins (125), French cocktail (250), pineapple salad with cheese and dressing (325), tomatoes (110), cold chicken (200), spinach (80), carrots (75) and beans (15). The underweight person’s daily total came to 2,635 calories, more that twice that for the overweight person.

The plum (no pun intended) in all this was that when a person crossed the line from overweight to underweight, they were encouraged to switch diets. The lower calorie diet was supposed to reduce weight while the higher one was designed to keep students at their ideal weight.

A closer inspection revealed that the underweight crowd painfully uttered the “oohs” while the underweight ones joyfully proclaimed the “aahs.”  However, the two groups were pleased that both healthy meals were aimed at keeping students at their prescribed normal weights.

On a further note … A few weeks later, 65 members of the school’s Home Economics Club and a few guests met in the home of Miss Josephine Cloninger at 212 E. Eighth Avenue. Assisting hostesses were Misses Anna Bell St. Clair, Rhea Seaver and Edith Cox (my aunt). Several pupils from the Foods and Cookery section of the department presented an entertaining two-act program titled, “The Contrast.”

According to another newspaper clipping: “Delicious refreshments were served consisting of sandwiches (352), hot chocolate (112) and cookies (101).” Depending on the quantity consumed, the calorie count could easily have exceeded 1200. This group, who likely had a hand in developing the two school diets, was definitely not aiming the social event’s snacks at fat folks.   

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In 1925, an acknowledgement was made that although several automobile manufacturers had been building motorcars since 1900, it was the inimitable Henry Ford who produced a vehicle that exceeded the realm of manufacture to become an institution.

The new Ford that year appeared to live up to its expectations and more. The announcement that the new 1925 Ford was about to roll off the assembly line greatly aroused public interest. When the car was finally unveiled, hundreds of thousands of people all over the country crowded into Ford showrooms within a span of days to inspect the new product. In large cities as well as small ones, the machine was equally well received, the new model dominating popular conversation.

Johnson City’s dealer was Universal Motor Corporation, located in the southeast corner of the intersection of King and Boone streets. They sold the Ford, Lincoln and Fordson (tractor) vehicles. The city displayed the same excitement being generated across the country. The dealership was immensely packed throughout business hours. According to one comment: “Barring any discussion of merits or relative values of the various small cars now on the markets and with the thought of fairness to all, it is probable that never has a new model of any make at any price and at any time attracted as much attention.” That was quite a statement.

The automobile was distinctly improved over previous years. It possessed modern stylish lines, crowned fenders, beveled topsides, a one-man type top, larger and more comfortable seats, balloon tires, a rear mounted spare tire housed in a sturdy carrier, a license plate holder, rear lights of improved design and durability and side curtains that swung with the doors.

Also, the coils were removed from their time-honored position on the dash and installed alongside the motor block in a waterproof metal case. The steering wheel was larger and positioned at a more comfortable and casual location. The seat cushions were tilted for comfort and the upholstery was pleated in accordance with accepted standards. Doors were wider than in previous models. The gasoline tank was built into the dash, allowing the filler to be accessible through an opening with a lid that on the average car acts as a cowl (chimney) ventilator.

Passengers did not have to be bothered in order to take on fuel. The windshield was of the ventilating type, comparable with shields on more expensive open cars. The body was four inches lower, permitting more legroom in both front and rear tonneaus.

Amazingly even with all the improvements, there was no increase in price from the previous year. Color options were limited with most touring cars appearing in standard black, but the public was informed that other colors would soon be made available. Buyers didn’t care about their car’s paint; they wanted a Ford. 

Gas supplies were plentiful in 1925, but the oil companies made an interesting prophetic observation that could have been made in today’s environment: “Although the production of gasoline increased 600% in the last ten years, from 1.5 billion gallons in 1914 to nine billion gallons in 1924, it is believed the reduction of gasoline consumption by improvement in automotive engines or the development of substitute fuels or other sources of energy is expected to proceed faster than the exhaustion of our crude petroleum resources.”

Ford Motor Company was definitely in a class of its own in 1925, but that admiration would eventually change as competition from national and international car manufacturers leveled the playing field. 

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Today’s column is the story of Julia Whalen, a young girl unknown in the annals of East Tennessee folklore except for one brief moment of valor displayed in a near train collision in the vicinity of Carter’s Station (Elizabethton) on the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia (ETV&G) Railroad in December 1874.

The railroad was created in 1869 by the consolidation of the East Tennessee and Virginia (ET&V) Railroad (connecting Knoxville with Bristol, through East Tennessee, east of Bay’s Mountain and between the Holston and Nolichucky rivers) and the East Tennessee and Georgia (ET&G) Railroad (linking Knoxville and Dalton, GA). Julia’s brief instant of fame occurred when she observed an approaching freight train speeding forward unaware of another train on the same track.

The sketchy details are noted in a newspaper clipping from that era: “Her presence of mind on that morning was wonderful. She first thought of motioning down the freight train from Bristol, then reflected that it was coming down grade and would be impossible for it to be checked up, so she ran on the track toward Carter, tore her red shawl from her shoulders and waved it, pointing back to the train that was invisible to the engineer but fast approaching.”

The article went on to say that Julia barely escaped death; she was confined to her bed after witnessing a near tragedy. Miss Whalen’s selfless story received national attention from the media. Her actions were described as being “exciting, earnest and persistent in her efforts to save the lives of others on the train without regard for her own safety.” Witnesses confirmed that the young lady bravely remained on the track until the engine was less than five feet from her person. The conductor and engineer, who initially thought the heroic mountain girl had been struck and killed by the train, stated emphatically that were it not for her timely appearance at the scene, everyone on the train would likely have been killed.

The article offered a brief glimpse of Julia’s life. Her father was described as being a warm, charitable, compassionate Irishman with a weakness for strong drink. He served in the Union army and died in Kentucky during the conflict. After the war, Mrs. Whalen married Johnny Burke, another kind Irishman who was employed as section hand on the ETV&G Railroad. After being smitten by paralysis, his disposition changed dramatically, causing him to became extremely bitter especially against young Julia, frequently threatening her life. Consequently, Mrs. Burke sought refuge for her daughter at night at the residence of her grandmother who lived nearby. Julia always returned home every morning with a forgiving heart and the desire to show love toward her unnatural, cruel and cold-hearted stepfather.

The situation grew from bad to worse until Mrs. Burke was confronted with a difficult situation – give up her husband or surrender her child to a family who would properly take care of her. She made the obvious choice; Johnny had to go. He surprisingly complied with his wife’s request and left the premises. 

Julia grew up adjacent to the railroad and became acquainted with a large number of railroad employees. The workers referred to her as “Little Julia,” a pet name that remained with her the rest of her life. She had an unusually beautiful face and an easy and gently disposition that drew the attention of all who came in contact with her. Although her education was limited, she carried with her a strong desire for formal schooling.

It is wonderful to discover a heartwarming story from the annals of yesteryear and bring an outstanding individual into the spotlight for a brief bow after all the years. 

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