February 2011

In 1909, the year Henry Ford introduced his Model T Ford to the public, there were understandably no automobile dealers or repair shops in Johnson City. Instead, numerous livery stables existed such as Edward S. McClain (W. Market near Boone), Marion McMackin (Locust near Roan) and City Stable (125 W. Market).

By 1917, the number of car dealerships had grown to three: Burrow Motor Co. (339-41 E. Main), E.D. Hanks Motor Co. (119-21 E. Market) and H.R. Parrott Motor Co. (Ash and Buffalo).

Within eight years, 15 businesses attested to the mounting popularity of the automobile: Auto Renewal Co. (520-22 W. Market), Automobile Electric Co. (138 W. Market), Clark Automobile Co. (808 Buffalo), Glover Motor Co. (235 W. Market), Hensley Repair Shop (102 Montgomery), Herrin-Leach Auto Repairing Co. (244 W. Market), H.L. Hobbs (116-18 Water), Kyle Auto Sales Co. (214-16 W. Market), Muse’s Auto Repair Shop (308 W. Main), Offinger-Sewell Chevrolet Co. (114 Jobe), Range Motor Co. (119-21 E. Market), P.W. Sams (518 W. Market), A.J. Shelton & Co. (339-41 E. Main), Universal Motor Corp. (Boone at King) and Young & Goforth (921 W. Main).

Louis Chevrolet and William Durant founded Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911. Six years later, General Motors Company acquired it. According to a 1925 newspaper, Chevrolet engaged in an unrelenting quest to add superior value to its vehicles and compete with Ford’s Model T. To accomplish this, Chevrolet chose a few automobiles for “Speed Loop” tests and selected trucks to “Bump Boulevard” evaluations.

Chevy’s “Speed Loop” was located near Milford, Michigan, where cars were driven around it repetitively. The grueling driving assessment was maintained around the clock throughout the year without regard to weather conditions. In the course of a month, seven Chevrolet cars were subjected to the loop for a combined total of 75,000 miles, providing both routine and abnormal driving conditions that cars would not be subjected to by the typical owner. All models were included in the test group.

Two shifts of drivers maintained a pace of between 35 and 40 miles per hour (a high speed then), stopping only for gas, oil and inspection. The dayshift drove from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. with a half-hour off for lunch; the night group worked from 7 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. with a 30-minute midnight snack.

The “Loop,” which had no speed restrictions, included three miles of gravel track banked high at the turns and one mile of level concrete straightaway. The section of road leading from the “Speed Loop” to the inspection shop had a 11.6% grade. When each car traveled 1000 miles, it was taken into the shop where it incurred a thorough washing followed by a meticulous examination. This was the only time the vehicles were under cover. An assessment report was then issued to management. 

After a vehicle reached 40,000 miles on its odometer, it was taken into the shop and torn down for additional precision analysis. Often, the inspectors found opportunities for major and minor refinements. No detail was considered too insignificant for consideration of design changes in future models.

Chevrolet trucks were also under continuous testing along “Bump Boulevard.” This consisted of an old unpaved farm road, much like those in rural areas that crossed the 1,146-acre proving ground. The defects and irregularities of this road were purposely left intact to challenge the trucks.

The two testing programs were not without a price. The company used about 4,500 gallons of gasoline monthly, but considered the effort well worth the price.  

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Kathleen Hall, librarian at Science Hill High School, shared with me a copy of the school’s first annual, a May 1905 publication known as The Echo (Vol. 1, No. 1).

The Editor-in-Chief was Fred King. Assistant Editors were Emma Hatcher, Fra Matson, Lucy Sitton, Arthur Weaver and Ralph Preas. The Committee on Advertisements included Swannie Robinson and Roma Eiseman.

The smallish 58-page softbound slick paper publication was quite different from annuals today with more of an academic emphasis on a variety of subjects as opposed to a social focus on student activities, news, clubs and sports.

Several editorial comments were featured. “There is no reason why (the school) should be in the rear,” said one. “Other schools publish a paper of some kind and we are determined not to be outdone, hence this effort.” … “In January, the building was slightly damaged by fire. Since then, a fire escape has been added. This will prove indispensable in case of fire if we may judge by the excitement prevalent at the last alarm.” … “This issue of the Echo has been very much delayed on account of the recent fire destroying all our photographs. Next year we promise to have it out on time if not burnt out again.”

One student, Cecil B. Donnelly, offered a brief history of the class of 1905, noting that it was comprised of eight students: Leonidas W. McCown (president), Fred King (vice-president), Maude Beasley (secretary-treasurer), Claire Fulton, Walter Faw Broyles, Ella Russell, Una V. Templin and himself.

Most of the class members were products of Johnson City schools through the tenth grade. The teachers mentioned were Rhoda Campbell, Clara Cloyd, Sue Wood, Laura King, Mattie Bullock, Mary Brown, Ina Yoakley, Willie Reeves and Kate Simpson, W.P. Crouch and John H. Pence.

The school colors were olive and white. The class pin was a wreath surrounding a scroll upon which were carved the letters, “J.C.H.S.” “Non Summas, sed Adscendens” was the motto chosen by those in harmony with the ambition and lofty ideals of the members of the class who were about to embark upon the “storm-tossed sea of life.”

Under a section titled, “Class Prophecy,” Maude Leo Beasley came into possession of a device known as a Mysterioscope that recorded with unerring accuracy the things of the future. Pressing the Telegnostikon key on the instrument revealed what the future held for her classmates. She commented on a few of them.

E.C. Reeves wrote a short essay giving the school’s history, which he stated opened its doors about 45-years ago (1869). The school first organized at Oak Grove as a debating society, located “about two and one-half miles from Johnson City.” Membership included J.M. Carr, H.H. Carr, William Taylor, I.E. Reeves, J.D. Reeves, R.H. Reeves and E.C. Reeves. One year later, the group transferred to Brush Creek Campground, “near where now stands the brick tobacco warehouse west of the city.”

Later, Tipton Jobe donated land for a new school on a downtown hill that was referred to as Science Hill. The new facility was appropriately tagged Science Hill Male and Female Institute. For a time, it served the dual role of school and place of worship for area churches. Eventually, the congregations built their own sanctuaries, leaving the brick structure on the hill solely for education. “The work of the small debating society,” said Reeves, “now almost forgotten, had been as bread cast upon the waters.”

J.E. Brading penned a section that lobbied for a new high school to abate over-crowding and allow a more favorable 30 students per teacher ratio. The Board of Education asked the City Council to erect a new high school.

Next, J.F. Templin provided a short history of two area grammar schools, Columbus Powell and Martha Wilder.

A clever five-verse anonymous poem titled, “His Compensation,” dealt with a student being “kep’ in” after school for detention hall for a variety of school infractions. The last two stanzas humorously read, “I’m kep’ in ef I whisper, An’ I’m kep’ in ef I chaw, The piece of gum I’ve borried, An’ am warmin’ my jaw. The truth is ‘at I’m kep’ in, Most everything I do, But one jolly thing about it, Is the teacher’s kep’ in too.”

Swannie Robinson composed a treatise that dealt with her climbing a hill and noting how the sky dramatically changed as she ascended from “sky blue” to yellow, orange and red as if the very heavens themselves were on fire. Other brief essays were “Mildred’s Heroism, (person not identified)” “How Jim Fooled the Boys” (Arthur Weaver) and “A Mountain Trip” (Oran Ward).

The annual contained a sketch of the Tennessee state flag that on April 17, 1905 was adopted as the official state flag. LeRoy Reeves, an 1894 alumnus of Johnson City High School, who at the time was a lawyer and captain of Johnson City’s National Guard, designed it. The significance of the stars, circle and colors was explained.

Included in The Echo was a list of graduates from 1894 to 1904, including an update of their whereabouts and careers in 1905. One name listed was Regina Eiseman who was educated at Virginia Institute and later became principal of Junior High School.

Another entry was a facsimile program for the “Seventh Anniversary; Science Hill Literary Society; Johnson City, Tennessee; Saturday Night; September 21, 1872; 7 O’clock, P.M.” A printed agenda was distributed to attendees: Prayer, Song by the Choir, Address by the President (H.H. Carr), Oration: Eulogy on Columbus (W.M. Boring), Declamation: The Women of the South (F.H. Berry), Debate: Should Capital Punishment be Abolished? (W.P. Rankin, J.C. King, A.B. Bowman and E.F. Akard), Song, Annual Address (J.M. Johnson) and Benediction.

The annual concluded with 21 business ads: I.M. Beckner; Kirkpatrick, Williams & Bowman; H.W. Pardue; Johnson City Traction Co.; Watauga Electric Company; J.M. Buck Lumber Co.; Frank Taylor; City Drug Co.; The Bee Hive; G.H. Shoun & Co.; Summers-Parrott Hardware Co.; Johnson City Bottling Works; Dulaney-Bailey Co.; Hart and Houston Store; Gump Brothers; Brading & Marshall; J.W. Cass; Wofford Brothers Insurance; D.A. Vines; Unaka National Bank; and Biddle and Ellsworth. 

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Fiddlers’ conventions became popular in East Tennessee and surrounding areas around the turn of the century and grew even more prevalent in the 1920s, 30s and beyond.

Most rural and many urban Tennesseans had fiddles resting in their closets begging to be played. Conspicuously absent were violins, suggesting a difference between the two instruments or perhaps the two musicians. One dictionary defines a fiddle as “a stringed instrument, see “violin.” Flipping the pages to the definition of a violin produces a similar result, “a stringed instrument, see “fiddle.” To complicate matters, some old-time fiddlers referred to their instruments as violins.

The unfretted fingerboard 4-string devices were heavily utilized at country get-togethers where “choose your partner” was a familiar utterance interspersed between the screeches and screams of fiddle strings. The fiddle became the brigadier general of the traditional instruments performing old-style music. The resulting sound was exhilarating and fans adored it.

The uniqueness of a fiddler was playing by ear and rarely bowing and fingering a tune the same way twice, preferring instead to improvise on selections. This was not the case with the more rigid violinist who received his or her playing orders from sheet music resting on a stand. Fiddle music often received a bad wrap from people who played music in public but had not yet mastered the instrument. Most seasoned fiddlers readily invited novices to play along with them to help them become skilled at their craft.  

A typical fiddlers’ convention usually began in early afternoon and continued into the night. At 1:00 p.m., there would be an open-air concert kickoff with as many as a dozen fiddlers playing at the same time. Thirty minutes later, with the convention now in full swing, the tempo changed producing two hours of breakdown music that echoed into the surrounding hills. Its manner mirrored the simple yet often capricious life of the mountainous community.

Some musical notes appeared reluctant to emerge while others were as flat as a glass of cola that had been long neglected. None of this mattered because the performers were playing the music they loved best to a highly appreciative audience that showed its approval.

The most atypical song of the evening occurred when each fiddler played a different tune in unison with others. The combination of noise, ranging from E flat to canine howls, often qualified for a disturbing the peace citation. The hound dogs present in the crowd settled themselves on their haunches at a safe distance and howled a mournful accompaniment on the refrain. When the smoke cleared and the last fading echo of melody took refuge in the hills, no one appeared to have been injured and the magistrate, who was likely a fiddler, issued no warrants.

The evening continued with a compilation of tunes from a dozen fiddlers sawing away on “Dixie,” “Arkansas Traveler,” “'Billy in the Low Ground,” “Fox Chase” and “Devil's Dream.” Next came a fiddler, described as having plenty of resin on his bow, fingering and bowing to “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” Seven fiddlers followed by grinding out the ditty, “Goin' Long Down to Town.”

The show concluded with a combination of performers playing: “Fire on the Mountain,” “Leather Breeches,” “Sugar in the Gourd,” “Please Don't Shoot the Fiddle,” “Down in Bolson’s Hollow,” “Peter Went A Fishin’” and “Sally Goodin.”

Old-time fiddlers had no place at Grand Opera concerts, but instead were more suited for the Grand Ole Opry. But that wouldn’t occur until 1925 when WSM’s Judge George Hay sounded his distinctive foghorn and invited fiddlers, the likes of Uncle Jimmy Thompson, to entertain at the Ryman Auditorium and over the radio airways.  

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Throughout the years, most small towns that develop into large cities acquired small nicknamed districts that typically vanish with time as the city grows. Johnson City was no exception.

Today’s column deals with some of these localities, most of which are no longer called by that name. See how many of the dozen appellations below you can identify with or perhaps have heard about.

Potlicker (also spelled potlikker and pot liquor) Flats was the vivid label bestowed on a section on the west end of town that surrounded Fall Street. The name likely was derived from a term meaning the broth left in a pan after cooking vegetable greens (collard, turnip or mustard), beef or pork.

Another section of town, loosely sited around Walnut Street at Roan, was called Dogtown. We can only surmise that the area had an inordinate number of dogs roaming around it. Can anyone provide additional information?

Carter Addition denotes another section that endured for some years. It was a tract of land beginning at Virginia Street and running out to the university, taking in sections of Pine, Maple and Walnut streets. It was named for George L. Carter who also lived there and sold land around it.

Stumptown was located east of Roan near Grover Street. It was dubbed by that name because long ago when there were only three houses built there, the surrounding area was cleared of trees but work was stopped, leaving the stumps still standing. This was a benefit for nearby residents because “stripping” the stumps provided a quick and convenient source of firewood.

Tannery Knob, the hill on the north end of Legion Street, was so-called from the tannery  business located at the foot of it that was once operated by Henry Gildersleeve.

Although Maupin Row off King Springs Road still denotes a street, the old Maupin Row section extended out Locust Street to Southwest Avenue and on toward the university. It got its name as an honor to a revered Salvation Army preacher, Theodore Arrowood, and his wife, Reecie, known as the “Angel of Maupin Row.”

The well-known Spring Street cut through a section of downtown that began at E. Main and extended south across the railroad tracks. It acquired its name from a spring that was located at the head of it. Further down the street was a croquet ground where Johnson Citians could engage in the then popular outdoor sport using wooden balls, wire hoops and a mallet. Thomas E. Matson, who was a civil engineer with the ET&WNC, put in a line that carried water from the spring to a business on Tipton Street. He also constructed a standpipe on that line which permitted water to flow into a trough near the location of Poplar Street that provided refreshment for cows and horses.

Perhaps the smallest parcel of land to acquire a name was Fonde Circle (mentioned in my recent Stella Lent article). It was a triangle of ground on the Southern Railroad property where the tracks now cross Market Street. For years it was an unsightly trash heap. When Mr. Fonde, a regional superintendent for the railroad, died, the railroad created a job for his widow to beautify locations along the adjacent train tracks. In that parcel of land, she planted shrubbery, grew flowers and even installed a small pool as a living memorial to her late husband.

Four additional sections of town were Jenny’s Hill situated behind Robin’s Roost on South Roan Street where the first reservoir in Johnson City was sited; Squirrel Hill around Piney Grove; Clinch Hollow, an area on Cherokee Street above Southwest Avenue; and Master Knob a quiet secluded hill on the east side of the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Princeton Road (my favorite place to explore).

Over time, many of the nicknamed districts slipped quietly into yesteryear, but a few are still withy us. If you have others to share, please send them to me. 

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From time to time, I incorporate a history quiz in my columns to challenge Press readers’ memories of vintage Johnson City. Listed below are 15 questions. See how many you can answer without looking at the answers at the end of the column. Older residents should know many of them.


1. The Sevier Theatre was once located at 113 Spring Street. What was located at this site before that?

2. Was the front entrance to the old Arcade Building from W. Main or W. Market Street?

3. The east block of Main and Market streets had a small walkthrough adjacent to McLellans that provided a convenient access from one street to the other. What popular business operated for years at 124 E. Market in that crosswalk? 

4. F.W. Woolworth’s last location was at 315-17 E. Main, the current site of Hands On Museum. Before that, it was a narrow store on the north side of Main Street between Fountain Square and Roan Street. Was it adjacent to Liggett’s (drug store) or Hannah’s (men’s clothing store)?  

5. Was the front entrance to Parks Belk Department Store from E. Main or E. Market Street?

6. Peter’s Gift Shop was located at 325 E. Main. Many residents (including me) bought tropical fish from Peter because he took such good care of them. What was Peter’s last name?

7. What is the name of downtown Johnson City’s longest running business that is still in operation?

8. Nance Lanes, a bowling alley, once conducted business between E. Main and E. Market at Division. What car dealership previously occupied that site?

9. When the Lady of the Fountain was relocated from Fountain Square in 1937, where did the city put her for a few years before selling her?

10. What was the name of the individual who made, delivered and sold delicious hot tamales downtown to local businesses as well as to pedestrians?

11. What was on the property at the southeast corner of E. Main and Roan before King’s Department Store was built there?

12. The John Sevier Hotel’s original building plans called for how many sections? How many were actually completed? 

13. What once attracted townspeople and visitors to the Faw property at N. Roan and W. Market before the John Sevier Hotel was constructed there?

14. What two city-owned buildings were adjacent to the Leon-Ferenbach plant, situated back-to-back along the east end? One faced King Street, the other W. Market Street.

15. What was the name of the Fire Department’s trusty mixed pit bull canine mascot that faithfully served the city from 1928 until 1936? 


1. Elk’s Building – BPOE (Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks). 2. W. Market Street. 3. Arcade Shoe Shop. 4. Liggett’s. 5. E. Main Street. It also had a side entrance from Fountain Square. 6. Peter Naher. 7. Masengill’s. 8. Dan Plank Oldsmobile. 9. At the entrance to Roosevelt (Memorial) Stadium. 10. Will Cope. 11. The Methodist Episcopal Church, today known as the First Methodist Church, now located at 900 Spring Street. 12. Three were planned but only two were completed. 13. A spring that not only became a watering hole for visitors and their animals to the downtown area but also became an essential water supply for Science Hill High School across the street. 14. Johnson City Police Department (north) and Fire Station #4 (south). 15. Boss, operating out of Fire Station #3.  

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