November 2010

Wallace Britton, historian of Central Baptist Church, is working with the church’s massive archival collection for inclusion into a forthcoming book. Britton served as Minister of Education and Administration at the church from mid 1960 until late 1967. He credits the late Lona Holtz Akard, the church’s life-long historian, for archiving the church’s anthology.

Wallace offered a sampling from the storied archives that contain three fading, fragile, handwritten books of church business minutes. Over time, he meticulously transcribed each one, word for word, without any alterations.

Records indicate that Central Baptist Church began as First Baptist Church on July 3, 1869, the same year that Johnson City was incorporated. Asa Routh was pastor aided by Martin V. Noffsinger, an employee of Holston Baptist Church. In that era, it was customary to change pastors about every year. They received $100 a year for preaching one Sunday a month. Charter members included A. Carr, Jessee Duncan, Sarah Duncan, Phoebe Duncan, Rachael Duncan, D.A. Edwards, Susan Duncan, Perline Edwards, S.A.F. Edwards, Sarah Carr, C.W. Carr, Catherine Carr, Levina Carr, Sarah E. Carr, Joseph F. Carr, Elizabeth Rice, Henry Price, Susan C. Price and Nannie Landreth.

Meetings were held in the First Presbyterian Church on W. Main for the first 12 years. In the first worship service, Rev. Routh preached a message from Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In May 1881, worship services were conducted on the second story of Science Hill High School on Roan Street. For the first time, a Sunday School was organized with 17 members in attendance.

Desiring a permanent building of its own, the FBC soon purchased property at 224 E. Main Street (future Sterchi Furniture Co. site) from Colonel Reeves for $100. The 34 x 50 foot “Little White Church,” as it became known, was built at a cost of $2010.50. Pastor Thomas Hiter Crouch, the 6th pastor, led the first worship service in the new structure in April 1883. J. A. Cargille was superintendent.

A letter submitted by the church to the Holston Associationmeeting at Buffalo Ridge revealed interesting statistics: “Increased by letter 8, baptisms 7, excluded 7, dismissed 3. Amount spent for minutes $1.15. We have our church house nearly completed. We have an indebtedness of something near $500. We have a flourishing Sunday School with an enrollment of 140, average attendance of 75. Paid out for literature $14.60. Home Missions $5.”

In 1890, new pews were procured and a baptistery was installed. Prior to this, the ordinance of baptism was administered at Brush Creek Campground on W. Watauga on Sunday afternoons. Two church members, Mr. R.C. Hunter and Mrs. Dora Cargille Sproles are believed to be two of the last people baptized in the creek.

Friday, May 5, 1905 was a heartrending day for the populace of Johnson City. A devastating fire broke out along the south side of East Main between Roan and Spring streets, destroying everything in its path with one exception – the “Little White Church.” Many people deemed it a miracle of God while others questioned attending a church in the heart of the growing business district.

The church was essentially undamaged except for paint blister and smoke discoloration. Britton related a humorous story. At the next business meeting conducted by Pastor J.H. Snow, a plan was developed to refresh the church’s exterior. The men voted to let the women paint the church and pay the expenses. Over time, the church outgrew its facility. A strong debate divided the church as to whether to expand or relocate.  

On May 1, 1907, about 100 disgruntled members were granted letters of dismissal from the “Little White Church.” They quickly formed a new place of worship in the former Lusk School on the southeast corner of E. Watauga and N. Roan (future site of the Almeda Apartments). It became known as Roan Street Baptist Church with Tom Davis as pastor.

Wallace related an amusing story about the second church. People rode horse and ox drawn carts to town to do business on Saturdays. Many people parked their animals on a lot adjacent to the church. During the next business meeting, the church appointed a member as chairman of a committee whose job it was to arrive early on Sunday mornings to remove droppings from the lot.

Between 1907and 1910, both congregations needed larger facilities, but neither was financially able to build. They decided to reunite in 1910 and construct a new larger building at a site about equidistance between them. Church leaders narrowed their search to two lots, one owned by Isaac Harr and the other by G.M. Sitton. Both were ideally situated on N. Roan. They chose the Harr property and acquired it for $5000, requiring $1750 cash payment and notes to pay off the debt in two years.

The assets of both churches were transferred to the trustees of the new organization known as Central Baptist Church. The membership consisted of 510 people. The Main Street property was sold for $10,000. Tom Davis became the first pastor of the third church. Services were held at Roan Street Baptist Church until the new facility could be built. The cornerstone was laid in early spring 1912 and one year later the congregation moved into their impressive new building.

May Ross McDowell recalled that on Dec. 26, 1930 fire struck the church. Unlike the fire of 1905, the building was heavily damaged requiring extensive rebuilding. In spite of this being during the Great Depression, work began immediately to restore it. The ensuing loan became a burden on the ministry for several years. While work was being done, the congregation met for 10 months at Junior High School. During this time, a baptistry was added and a secondhand organ was purchased. In 1946, the church purchased Carillonic Bells.

Over the years, CBC spawned several area churches: Snow’s Chapel, Temple, Midway, Unaka Avenue, Clark Street, North Johnson City and Southwestern. Today, a drive by 300 N. Roan Street exemplifies the prophetic words offered by Rev. Routh on June 3, 1869 at the church’s first service. 

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Area oldsters will likely recall the musical antics of Spike Jones and His City Slickers in the 1940s and 50s. My uncle, Glenn Cox, owned a collection of the comedic bandleader’s 78-rpm breakable records and introduced me to the group about 1950. 

About that same time, I recall hearing their songs being played over WJHL radio by popular deejay, Eddie Cowell, who incorporated their chaotic classics into his daily radio show. If you listened to Eddie Cowell, you heard Spike Jones.


Jones cleverly and humorously stereotyped his music as “dinner music for people who aren’t very hungry.” He acquired his nickname from his father, a Southern Pacific railroad agent, who thought his son was so thin he resembled a railroad spike.

The band’s typical format was to commence a song with normal melodic music and then, after about 30 seconds, transition into a wild no-holds-barred arrangement with a variety of sounds: cowbells, fireworks, foghorns, screams, horse laughs, shattered glass sounds, gunfire, car horns, screeching tires and clothes being ripped. There was also an unwholesome portion of human sounds: belching, snorting, gargling, whistling and hiccupping. Even their instruments appeared to be deranged, such as a “latrinophone,” a toilet seat with strings.

Over time, the ensemble included regulars Carl Grayson (straight vocalist and violinist), George Rock (high pitched child’s voice, trumpet), Mickey Katz (vocal sound effects), Sir Frederick Gas (played a leather reed known as a Sadivarious, Doodles Weaver (comedian, known for his Beetlebaum routine), Dr. Horatio Q. Birdbath, Red Ingle, Ed Metcalfe and Helen Grayco (Spike’s wife). As members of the band, they were frequently heard on records, radio shows and television programs.

Some of Spike’s best-known classics were “Cocktails for Two,” “Hawaiian War Chant,” “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” (Beetlebaum, an unlikely horse wins a race), “Ponchielli's “Dance of the Hours,” “Der Fuehrer's Face” (reached #2 on the Hit Parade during the war years),” “Mairzy Doats” (“Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey,” and “The Hut Sut Song (‘Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit’) and my favorite and seasonal favorite, “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (#1 on the Hit Parade in 1948).” 

The Slickers were anything but second-class; they could play harmonious music with the best of the big bands of the 1940s era. In 1941, they received a contract with RCA Victor and recorded extensively for the company until the mid 1950s when they moved to the Liberty label. It was then that they dropped their straight music intros in preference to comedic songs.

As a connoisseur and collector of programs from “The Golden Age of Radio,” I recently listened to several Spotlight Review programs that aired over CBS between 1947 and 1948. The show’s sponsor was Coca Cola and featured Spike as the show’s high-energy host. His program featured an assortment of special guests: The Mills Brothers, Vic Damone, Buddy Clark, Eddy Arnold, Francis Craig, Jack Smith, The Milt Hearth Trio, Nellie Lutcher, Jan August, Jack Owens, John Laurenz and Dorothy Shay (“The Park Avenue Hillbilly”).

The end came suddenly for the chaotic clowns when Spike died in 1965 at age 53. The big farcical curtain descended for both the bandleader and his band. Their unique offerings were immediately extinguished, leaving the Slickers as another fond memory of yesteryear. 

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I received three responses pertaining to my recent columns concerning the 1925 Ford motorcar and the 1939 SHHS football season.

Murvin H. Perry wrote, “The public anticipation of the introduction of the ‘New Fords’ occurred in 1927 as Ford geared up to present the Model A, which came out as a 1928 model. People referred to the Model A as the ‘new Ford’ rather than its model designation. Also, the new car you describe as a 1925 model was really the 1926 Model T. It may have been introduced in 1925, but the features you enumerate – nickel plated radiator shell, gas tank in the cowl, crowned fenders, 29 x 4.40 balloon tires – appeared in the 1926 model. Balloon tires were an option in 1925, but the standard tire was the 30 x 3½ on a clincher rim.”

I checked my Sept. 16, 1925 newspaper source for the article. It spoke of a Ford showroom frenzy that year. Perhaps it continued to 1927 or resurfaced. Based on Murv’s note, the Fords showcased in the fall of 1925 were definitely 1926 models. Perry is a hands-on vintage Ford restorer and author of Murv’s Motoring Memories (Overmountain Press), a nostalgic collection of old-car memories.”

The next contributor was an anonymous John Doe: “Your article today on the 1939 Hilltoppers got my attention, especially since the Science Hill – Erwin High game wasn't mentioned. I noticed the article you were using was published on Nov. 22 and the Erwin game was played on Nov. 17 so that may explain the missing information. Erwin High was 9-2-1 in 1938 with the tie being a 7-7 game with, guess who, Science Hill. Erwin was 5-4-1 in 1939 going into the game with Science Hill.”

Mr. Doe then quoted from Lou Thornberry’s out-of-print book, “Remembering Old Erwin”: “Johnson City received 1,500 reserved tickets from Erwin High to sell during the week of the game. Additional blenchers were set up at Gentry Stadium to accommodate an expected 5,000 fans for the game. A crowd of 4,000 football fans turned out for the big game. The Blue Devils got off to a quick start as they recovered a Johnson City fumble on the Toppers' 21-yard line on the first series of plays. The Devils picked up one first down at the 11-yard line, but that was as close as they got to scoring. In fact that was the only first down the Devils earned all night.

“Johnson City scored their first touchdown in the first quarter. The Hilltoppers moved into Devil territory after a poor punt by the home team. With the ball on Erwin's 29-yard line, the Toppers pulled off one of their own trick plays. Fred Dulaney took the ball from center and ‘shoveled’ the ball to Kermit Tipton, who then lateraled the ball to Jack Osborne, who sprinted to the end zone. The extra point attempt was blocked by the Devils.

“The only other score came in the third quarter, again by Science Hill. Those six points came from a Kermit Tipton pass of twelve yards to Gayle Cox in the end zone. The Hilltoppers blanked Erwin 12-0 to tie Kingsport for the Big Five title. The report in the Johnson City paper noted that Erwin tried the ‘sleeper play’ twice, but the Toppers detected the play both times. That the Blue Devils failed to score against the Toppers was not too surprising. Johnson City's defense only allowed one touchdown all season and that was in a non-conference game at Mountain City.” 

I agree with you that the Hilltop article was written before the season ended and the Erwin game was omitted.

Carolyn Peoples Guinn: “I am the daughter of Jack Peoples. You mentioned Daddy in your Nov. 1, 2010 article about the 1939 SHHS football team. My brother, Alf Peoples, and I cannot locate Daddy in that photo.”

Sorry, I should have caught that. The Hilltop article was printed in Nov. 1939 while the photo came from the May 1939 Wataugan depicting the 1938 football squad. The correct 1939 team photo is shown above. 

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The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned corporation, was formed in 1933 with a five-fold purpose: flood control, power generation, economic development, river navigation and fertilizer manufacturing.

Timing was ideal due to massive flood problems over the years and a country trying to survive the Great Depression. TVA served most of Tennessee; parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky; and small slices of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana and Virginia.

Before TVA existed, the East Tennessee area experienced a long history of devastating floods. In one incident that occurred in late May 1901, millions of dollars of damage and eight lives were lost from heavy rains that caused area rivers to overflow their banks. The Doe, Watauga, Holston, Chuckey and French Broad rivers devastated growing crops and anything in its way. Six bridges were swept away causing $60,000 damage.

Over the course of several weeks, the Holston River steadily rose. Persons living near the river at the point where Netherland Island divided it in Washington County told of a remarkable discover by area resident, James Light. When the water began to manifest itself, people congregated on the banks, watching houses, barns, parts of bridges and dead cattle floating away, laying waste to fertile farmland.

The spectators along the bank spotted an object coming down the river that resembled a baby cradle. Mr. Light, a humble but daring citizen of the community, sat in his boat anchored on the bank and watched the object drift nearer. At the risk of his life and the hope that he might rescue what appeared to be an innocent baby from the ferocity of the flood, he shoved his boat forward into the dangerous current and hurried toward the object. After dexterously guiding his boat so as to escape being wrecked in the drifts, he finally rendezvoused with the infant at an angle a short distance down the river.

His boat soon came alongside the floating object, which proved to be a cradle in which lay a tiny blue-eyed baby girl, her eyes wide open and apparently happy as if on a pleasure outing. James picked up the child without disturbing her and carefully placed her in his boat. Once again, he surveyed the swirling drifts floating down on each side of him and steered frantically toward the shore. Every second counted.

The return voyage was a short one but full of peril. People on the bank, unaware that Light had picked up a little girl from the bosom of the storm-swept river, watched with great fear and trembling as he made for the shoreline. Intense was the gaze of those who watched from the shore and great was the relief to everyone when Light finally made a safe landing nearly half a mile downstream.

Joy was unbounded by the crowd of people who had gathered around Light and the baby. In a moment of emotion he called his little rescued treasure a “bundle of joy.” The ladies surrounding the near tragedy fondly and eagerly caressed the infant while Light received hearty congratulations and appreciation for being a hero, making him the proudest man in Washington County. He quickly forgot his personal losses caused by the tide.

In today’s era, local authorities would be summoned to handle the situation and to locate her parents, but in 1901, that was not the case. Since there was no available means of promptly identifying the child, Mr. Light announced to the crowd that he wanted them to spread the word. Also, he said he planned to advertise in the local newspapers in hopes of locating her parents. He admitted that, as poor as he was, he would not part with the child for a thousand dollars in gold.

The stories of yesteryear abound with this one having a happy ending. 

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A trainload of 17 beautiful single ladies arrived in New York City on July 5, 1906 via the Southern and Pennsylvania Railroad. They were winners of a contest sponsored by the Chattanooga News.

The innovative newspaper limited those selected from the states of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. They subdivided the territory into 17 districts, allowing contestants to compete within their respective locations. The winners were those receiving the most votes based on the number and length of subscriptions to the paper.

Eight of the 17 young ladies were from Tennessee: Hattie Hunter (Johnson City), Flora Copeland (Soddy), Flossie Blackburn (Cleveland), Margaret Erwin (Lookout Mountain), Alice Magill (Dechard), Blanche Allison, Pauline Hancook and Catherine Robinson (all from Chattanooga).

The much sought-after plum was a two-week outing to the Big Apple, with two-day side-trips reserved for Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. After initially rendezvousing in Chattanooga, the group attended a ball and banquet in their honor at Lookout Inn, slept in the Pullman car that had been provided for the trip, left the city on Tuesday morning at 5:30 a.m. and arrived in Manhattan later that day. They were escorted to Hotel Flanders at 137 West 47thStreet where they lodged during their visit.

Before the train departed Chattanooga, the local merchants loaded it with “soda pop, ice cream, orangeade, and other frothy and harmless things for young ladies.” Mr. Hudiberg, the head chaperone, noted that there were 1,700 bottles of soft drinks on the train. The body of the Pullman was so full of drinks that the porters could hardly make up the berths. Consequently, the ice cream freezers were moved to the rear platform of the train to give more room. All members of the party were cheerful and in good spirits when they arrived in New York. Fortunately, not one suffered a mishap or experienced an illness. 

The party rode up 47thStreet until one of the girls exclaimed, “Stop. There is the hotel. It’s just like the picture we saw of it.” They all went into the lobby and settled in the parlor while they waited for their rooms to be assigned. They then took the elevator upstairs. The contest winners, chaperons and guards had intended to go to the New York Reef Garden the first night, but at dinner it was learned that their trunks hadn’t arrived from the train preventing them from putting on new dresses. The consensus was that they would not go to the theater.

During dinner, they were informed that a photographer was outside and wanted to take pictures of them. One girl made a hasty jaunt to her room where she quickly refreshed herself and returned in time for the group photo. The ladies decided not to go to the theatre. Instead they opted to walk up and down the Great White Way (Broadway, so named because of all of the white lights). Most of them had never seen it before, although not all were strangers to the Big Apple. One girl, it was learned, had won a prize offered by another afternoon paper in a previous contest. 


The next morning, the party observed the massive skyscrapers from the top of a large sightseeing automobile, followed by a shopping spree that afternoon. In the evening, they were treated to a theatre performance. Managers of the Proctor-Keith Vaudeville Company offered all their playhouses to the popular young women whenever they wanted to attend. The various Coney Island and other seaside attraction managers also asked to be hosts of the youthful beauties.

Two weeks came and went that included side trips, leaving the attention-getting beauties excited but fatigued and ready to return to their respective homes by train. They had something to dream about for the rest of their lives. 

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