July 2011

A Johnson City Staff-News writer, Carroll E. King, took an East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) Railroad pleasure trip on July 9, 1933 between Johnson City and Linville Gap, North Carolina to enjoy the stunning, rarely seen surroundings that were inaccessible by automobile.

King berated himself for not having enjoyed the trip many times before, describing the ride through the gorge and over the crest as being as beautiful as is possible over the ET&WNC Railroad. He urged his readers to avail themselves of the railroad’s special 50thanniversary July rates. Sights included the famous Doe River Gorge, Skyland, Grandfather (Mountain) and other points from the vantages of the railroad. To persuade people to ride the train, he published an alluring diary of the trip:

 “Leaving Johnson City, we secured a view of our own local industries not visible by any motor road. Then we climbed up and looked down over Happy Valley and its real beauties never before appreciated.

“Elizabethton followed, then Hampton and next the little newly painted and all shined up engine got right down to business. It was upgrade with a vengeance and within a short time we passed through the tunnel that led into the Gorge, a treat that no one who has not seen it can really appreciate.

“Tracks carved out rock walls, tumbling torrents at our feet, towering mountain walls of anticline rock formations and gorgeous vistas of mountain scenery elicited “oohs and aahs” from the passengers. Indeed the Gorge is a scenic gem that cannot be described. We tried in vain to get Kodak pictures to prove our claims, but the canyon is so deep and shadowy that pictures can hardly be taken because sunlight seldom reaches its depths. But it is wonderful and we unqualifiedly recommend it.

“Then up the hill and further up the hill (we went) until the bracing air and the bright sunshine cause one to dig into the lunch basket long before the anticipated time. Roan Mountain, with its beautiful resorts, high mountain peak and world-famous dahlia farms came next. Then Elk Park, bracing with its cool, clear air and invigorating climate, was closely followed by Cranberry, the home of famous Cranberry Iron Ore. There we dropped one passenger car in order to relieve the game little engine of the extra load on the upper reaches of the mountain.

“From then on, we climbed higher and higher until we reached the very crest of the Great Smoky Mountains and could look down on town after town and enjoy gorgeous vistas of mountain scenery in brilliant sunshine. Innumerable opportunities are afforded here for Kodak shots because the steep grades slow the train down to such an extent that “Kodaking” from the train becomes an interesting pastime.

“Next comes the famous summer resort, Linville, with its magnificent hotel, rustic cottages and nationally famous golf course. Several passengers alighted there to play a round on the noted course, but we felt that we could play golf any day and we wanted to see all there is to see. So we struck along and journeyed on Linville Gap some few miles further and it was well worth it.

“Linville Gap is nothing but a wild spot in the mountains, right at the foot of Grandfather Mountain and is the highest spot east of the Rocky Mountains that is reached by a railroad. Its elevation is 4,113 feet and you can look right up at another slope of several thousand feet between you and the top of Grandfather. But fortunately for physically weak city dwellers, lumbermen of that section have built a tram road or “log highway” to within a half-mile of the summit.

“These split logs have been laid with the smooth side up – one end embedded into the mountain side and the other resting on trestle work. Automobile trucks carrying acid and pulpwood logs dash recklessly up and down this road. We declined with thanks the opportunity to ride and insisted on walking. Although we might be termed a coward for not riding the trucks, we got a far bigger kick out of walking up the tram road studying the flora and fauna and picking gorgeous wildflowers and luxuriant ferns.

“Miles up, it seemed we came to a trickling waterfall and there we spread our picnic lunch. And were we hungry. The writer has as his guest a couple of youngsters and one young lady being an Ohio citizen was not very familiar with the high altitudes. Frankly, we were somewhat fearful of her capacity as she devoured sandwiches by the dozen not by the bite. Dyspeptics are urged to take this trip as a sure cure. If you cannot eat after climbing half of Grandfather Mountain, you are hopeless.

“Then, with the lunch baskets and the canteens much lighter, the climb was resumed with every widening vistas of beautiful scenery and awe-inspiring structures of nature. Realizing that the return trip must be started at 3 p.m., we reluctantly ceased our upward journey and retraced our steps with the pronounced conviction that we would return soon and this time go all the way to the top. And to our amazement, the return trip was equal if not the superior of the up-trip because all of the scenery was viewed from a different perspective. 

“Here and now, it becomes our pleasant duty to express our appreciation of the keen personal interest taken in the entertainment of the passengers by the members of the train crew and the officials accompanying the excursion. Nothing was left undone that would enhance the pleasure of the trip. Constantly crew members were busy pointing out interesting views and historical spots and every few minutes some member would make the rounds to see if everyone had everything he or she wanted.”

Carroll King reminded his readers that another excursion would be offered by the railroad line the following Sunday at 8 a.m. and urged them to take advantage of the reduced rate opportunity. Based on his excellent write-up in the newspaper, the next excursion was likely full. 

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I attended East Tennessee State University between 1961 when I graduated from Science Hill High School until 1964 when I transferred to the University of Tennessee. It was during this time that the college officially became a university. I remember coming to campus early one morning and seeing that the large letters painted on the two powerhouse smokestacks had been changed from “ETSC” to “ETSU” (as noted in my column photo from the 1963 and 1964 annuals).

In 1909, Johnson City was awarded one of the three Normal Schools to be built in East, Middle and West Tennessee. It bore the name East Tennessee Normal School until 1925 when it became a college and was renamed the East Tennessee State Teachers College.  

According to a February 1915 edition of The Comet, East Tennessee State Normal School issued a document titled “Bulletin #2,” an eight-page pamphlet prepared in the form of questions and answers. The headings were “What the Normal School Has,” “How the School Got Its Resources,” “What the School Needs,” “Terms of Admission,” “Administration,” “Courses and Certificates,” “Expenses and Accommodations,” “Spring Term 1915,” “Summer Term 1915” and “Twenty-Five Reasons Why the Teachers Should Attend the Normal School.”

Under the heading, “What the School Needs,” the most pressing needs were given as a dormitory for men, additional dormitory for women, agriculture and industrial arts building, larger faculty, library and physical training building.

The article stated that nearly every graduate of the Normal School was working in the country public schools of East Tennessee. Adding better-trained teachers to impart higher quality education to the students of the State of Tennessee was the fundamental reason that the school was built.

Among the 25 answers given to the question, “Why Should You Attend the East Tennessee State Normal School,” are the following:

“Because it is in the closest touch with the educational system in East Tennessee, is intimately acquainted with the needs of the public schools and is seeking in every way to meet them.”

“Because no other school in East Tennessee offers educational advantages comparable to those of the Normal School at the same cost.”

“Because the school is unable to supply with its graduates the demands made upon it for teachers.”

“Because new classes are organized each term to suit the needs of new students.”

“Because the school stands for better schoolhouses, better teaching, modern courses of study, better health, better homes and better living for East Tennessee and for the State.” 

The Bulletin further showed that total resources of the Normal School on January 1, 1915 amounted to $286,000, of which the Honorable George L. Carter of Johnson City contributed $200,000. Each year since the establishment of the State Normal School, an extension week relating to agricultural and industrial subjects was observed on campus. This course brought together not only students and faculty of the Normal School, but many citizens from outside the institution of learning.

Annual external courses for the year were scheduled each afternoon at 1:10 from February 23 to February 27 in the school auditorium. All regular afternoon classes were dismissed to give the opportunity for all teachers to be present.  

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A March 24, 1940 Johnson City Press-Chronicle newspaper clipping alleges, “Bluff City Probably Had Section’s Pioneer Plant – Hat Factory Operated in Sullivan Before Area’s Present Industrial Centers Developed.”

Johnson City and other nearby cities had over the years become fertile industrial centers. Long before Henry Johnson built a water tank and depot in preparation for the emerging East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway, a hat factory was in operation near Bluff City close to Thomas’ Bridge. Oliver Taylor corroborates this fact in his 1909 book, Historic Sullivan. He wrote that Edward Anderson operated the pioneer plant producing what he called a “good serviceable hat.” 

Virginia and Southwest Railroad Bridge in Bluff City  

Taylor also noted that the Sparger and Byrd mills at Bristol and the Prather mills at Bluff City, erected in 1874-75, survived only a few years because of high freight charges. The tobacco factories operated by Reynolds at Bristol and Prather at Bluff City also became casualties after selling their goods on credit and not getting paid on a timely basis.

Colonel Sam L. King of Bristol maintained that James King, his great-grandfather, and William Blount, first territorial governor of Tennessee, engaged in iron manufacturing between Bristol and Bluff City shortly after the Revolutionary War. Reportedly, cannon balls used by General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, the final major battle of the War of 1812, were made at the furnace. It was located at the mouth of Steel’s Creek adjacent to a discontinued division of the Southern Railroad.

The locale now known as Bluff City was among the oldest trading settlement in the state. As early as 1777, the commissioners of Washington County, Virginia, ordered a road built from Abingdon to Choate’s Ford (Bluff City). Choate was a notorious horse thief and Indian trader, according to Taylor’s research.

Over time, the town became Middletown (situated between Abingdon and Jonesboro), Union, Zollicoffer (so named to honor Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer), Union (again) and finally Bluff City on July 1, 1887. The town acquired more name changes than any city in Tennessee. The current designation is derived from the steep rocky bluffs on the Holston River along one side of the town.

 Davy Crockett’s father, John, lived in the vicinity of Bluff City before moving to the Limestone settlement in Washington County, Tennessee. Saint Joseph Company, producer of a well-known brand of drug products, originated in Bluff City. In 1805, a settler could purchase a quarter-acre plot of land for $82. 

In 1872, Bluff City’s first newspaper, the Landmark, started publication with W.D. Pendleton as proprietor and Major B.G. Vance as editor. In 1878, the paper moved to Blountville, the county seat. It was claimed by many authorities to be the second oldest town in the state behind Jonesboro.

Another paper, the Central Star followed a few years later. B.L. Dulaney, forefather of Mrs. Jay Gump of Johnson City and N.J. Phillips, owned it. Phillips later became the sole owner and moved the paper to nearby Newport in Cocke County. The last newspaper to be put out in Sullivan, as noted by Oliver Taylor, was the Sullivan County Developer in 1908 with W.D. Lyon serving as editor.

My column photo shows the Virginia and Southwest Railroad Bridge in Bluff City. It was originally planned to haul iron ore from Northeast Tennessee, but instead became a major transporter of farm and timber products. 

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According to the late Ray Stahl’s book, A Beacon to Health Care, Johnson City’s first hospital opened in 1903 when the National Home for Disabled Soldiers became a reality. Four years later, Dr. W.J. Matthews opened a modest clinic on the first floor of the Carlisle Hotel (Franklin Apartments) at E. Main and Division streets. Then in 1911, six doctors launched Memorial Hospital, a small 10-bed facility at 712 Second Street (Myrtle Avenue).  

With that said, a September 1915 edition of the Johnson City Staff newspaper contained an editorial from someone identified only as JOL, bemoaning the fact that Johnson City did not have a public hospital. Why did Mr. L say the city needed a hospital that year if Memorial Hospital was still in operation? 

The editorial writer began his note saying, “I have been extremely interested in the new hospital movement since I had the pleasure of reading several articles by prominent local citizens in your good paper recently that I personally feel that too much cannot be said in behalf of this very much-needed institution.”

JOL noted that local doctors in 1915 were not wealthy enough to establish a private hospital or even collectively support one. To administer care beyond their capabilities, a patient had to be referred to a hospital in another city. That often meant traveling long distances over rough roads and incurring expensive medical bills. Local doctors were strapped for lack of modern equipment, medical support and hygienic facilities.

Emergencies were another matter. With time being of essence, local doctors frequently took extraordinary measures to save lives and provide relief for their patients. To ease the burden on the doctors, the writer felt that Johnson City deserved a modern hospital. The need became even more critical after automobile and railway traffic significantly increased. Also, industry growth bringing with it new and sometimes hazardous occupations necessitated a quality medical center. 

On the financial side, few hospitals were moneymaking institutions with practically all of them being supported through endowments and subscriptions. Local doctors made it abundantly clear that they did not expect to use the hospital for moneymaking purposes. It was to be an institution for the care of patients. They reasoned that with a new hospital, they could refer people needing medical attention to it rather than sending them outside the city, thereby saving them time, money and possibly their lives.

The new hospital movement required modern facilities with an X-ray machine, a thoroughly equipped and sterile operating room, an ambulance and congenial surroundings. Charity patients would not be turned away; the hospital would be open to everyone, rich or poor.

JOL concluded his editorial with a challenge: “Every good citizen should manifest some interest in this very worthy institution.”  

New Appalachian Hospital at Seventh (Chilhowie) Avenue

Apparently the overly crowded and inadequate Memorial Hospital in 1915 did not meet the standards of a “new hospital movement,” prompting JOL’s editorial. Five businessmen quickly remedied the situation when they purchased Cy Lyle’s (The Comet newspaper’s editor/publisher) 2-story, 16-room brick house at 809 Seventh (Chilhowie) Avenue for the new Appalachian Hospital. The group previously secured a charter that granted them “the right to organize, equip, own and operate a hospital and sanitarium.”

The facility opened to an appreciative public that likely included Mr. JOL. From that modest medical beginning of yesteryear emerged today’s impressive Johnson City Medical Center. … and the beat goes on. 

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I enjoy walking the streets of downtown Johnson City when everything is relatively quiet and peaceful, allowing me to reflect on the thousands of stores, from pre-Henry Johnson days to the present, which were once open for business.

If the storefronts could talk about all their previous owners, they would say that many were highly successful, operating for years and often passing the torch to another generation family member. Countless others were short-timers who struggled and were forced to abandon their rainbow dreams in search of another pot of gold. 

Of particular interest to me are lesser-known establishments that vanished from the scene long ago. Case in point are three of my recent subjects: Lee Hotel (anonymous contributor), the Busy Bee Restaurant and New York Café (the latter two from George Buda).

Several months ago, Paul Gill sent me a photo of the Tip Top Restaurant that was dated May 1904. I was not familiar with it. Paul surmised that it was located somewhere in the vicinity of Fountain Square. I forwarded the picture to Brad Jolly who ran it on the history page asking readers if they knew anything about it. 


The man in the apron is storeowner, George R. Brown. Standing beside him on the right side is his wife, Sallie. Their son, Melvin, and daughter, Phoebe, are in front of them. The other men are unidentified. 

Recently, I received a letter from Jim Brown with further information about the former eatery: “My father was Melvin Earl Brown who lived all his life in Johnson City. My mother’s name was Lillie.  My dad worked 40 some years for Railway Express.  His father was George R. Brown (my grandfather) and he owned and operated the Tip Top Restaurant and boarding house, which opened in 1904. 

“After my oldest sister passed away in March, we received old pictures from as far back as the 1870s. The Tip Top Restaurant was in some of the first ones we received. Then came another envelope with more pictures, including a newspaper clipping from the Johnson City Press-Chronicle that mentions the restaurant.”

Although Jim’s newspaper clipping was undated and unidentified, I readily recognized it as a portion of a Tom Hodge column. In part it read: “M.E. Brown, whom I have known for years, popped into my office recently. Back in the days when I was going to Science Hill High School and did the public address system for Cardinal Park for Appalachian League games, I saw him every home game.

“At any rate, he came bearing an old photo for me to examine. The photo accompanies this column. The picture was made in May 1904 of the store his father ran at the corner of Tipton and Buffalo streets. That’s of particular interest since that building was recently torn down to make way for the new Downtown Loop.

“His father, G.R. Brown, is in the long apron. His mother stands next to her husband. The girl in front was his sister, Phoebe, and that’s M.E. Brown in front holding the newspapers. His father ran the store – restaurant – boarding house for (a few) years, closing it in 1908. Lodging was at the rate of 25 cents a night.

“The papers M.E. carried at that tender age of six were the Cincinnati Post, which he sold. You’ll note that the streets were unpaved and the sidewalks were of wood. It was not until later that I started wondering about the fresh oysters. Back in 1904, how did you get fresh oysters this far inland? I’ll have to ask Mr. Brown.”   

Excluding the Cardinal Park comments, two telltale verbal tracks in the article identified it as the late Tom Hodge. Mr. Brown “popped” in the newspaperman’s office. No one ever just entered his workplace; he or she “popped” in. Second, the photo “accompanied” his column. It was never added, appended or affixed. Such wording was standard fare for the man who made significant contributions to area history over many years. 

Thanks to the efforts of Paul, Jim and Tom, we now know something about the Tip Top Restaurant including its downtown location.


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“I am in love with Johnson City,” proclaimed George Buda during an interview at his and Wanda’s “tree streets” neighborhood home. For the next two hours, George tirelessly unleashed a barrage of favorite memories beginning with his family. John and Ethel Buda, George’s parents, came to America from Albania prior to 1920 before migrating to Johnson City that year.  

Top: The Busy Bee Restaurant. John Buda is on the left and his brother, Charles, is on the right. Bottom: The New York Restaurant. Insert: George Buda. Both photos are from the 1920s

John and his brother, Charles, initially went to work for Mike Dimma at his Busy Bee Restaurant located at 119-21 Fountain Square. Painted on the store window were the words: “For Ladies and Gentlemen, Dinner 25 Cents, Quick Lunch.” A small sign along the left side of the window advertised “Fresh Pies.”

In 1922, John opened his own restaurant, the New York Café, at 209 Buffalo Street near Wilson Avenue. Charles also worked there. The business was located on the ground floor and the family lived upstairs. George fondly recalled the view from an upstairs window: “We could look out and watch the ET&WNC train, known as “Tweetsie,” pass by. We also saw trains traveling to and from the old CC&O Depot.”

John managed the business for almost 20 years. Around 1939, he sold it to Jim Kalogeros when the Buda family moved to Miami to assist John’s brother in a restaurant venture. They returned to the city near the end of the war because, according to George, “There were German boats out in the waters off Miami Shores and our family decided to head back to the Tennessee hills.” They initially rented a room at the Colonial Hotel on E. Market until they secured lodging at the Gardner Apartments at 319-21 W. Watauga.

George remembered a black semi-pro football team in the 1940s known as the Atomic Smashers that practiced on an empty lot along W. Watauga. It was once the site of the historic Brush Creek Campground. One of the quarterbacks was named Columbus “Ted” Hartsall. The team wore special uniforms and traveled by bus to compete in cities extending from Roanoke, Virginia to Chattanooga, Tennessee. A man named “Smitty” was their sponsor. George often walked over to Jackson Street to watch the team practice.

George commented on the Yon Leong Laundry that was located at 106 E. Market in the early 1940s. This was a “hand laundry,” meaning that soaking, scrubbing, and ironing were done manually. George remembers seeing steam coming through its doors. George Leong, their son, played football at Science Hill High School, graduated from ETSU and became a teacher and football coach at Boones Creek High School. 

In 1949, John Buda opened an eatery in a “hole in the wall” building at 105 Buffalo. It was sandwiched (no pun intended) between two large buildings, one having the date “1888” inscribed above it. The previous owner was Gregori G. Horro who operated it as “George’s Chili & Sandwich Shop.” It was strictly carryout; in fact, the room would barely accommodate two large persons or three small ones. John’s Sandwich Shop soon opened for business to an appreciative public.

Three tasty culinary delights – hamburgers (25 cents), hot dogs (10 cents) and hot tamales (15 cents) – kept John’s Sandwich Shop patrons returning for an encore. The refrigerator was so small that they bought fresh ground beef from Sells Produce twice daily on weekdays and three times on Saturday. John’s classic hot dogs were simple to make, but their taste put them in a class of their own.

Buda bought precooked hot tamales from Will Cope, a local vendor who delivered them to several downtown establishments from his Chilhowie residence. They were reheated and sold to eager customers waiting in line at John’s window. Buda purchased his buns from nearby Honey Crust Bakery with its alluring aroma of bread being cooked. John’s Sandwich Shop was in business 11 years, closing its doors around 1961.  

George played music at the John Sevier Hotel for numerous functions during his high school years: “When Warren Weddle came to town as band director, he had played in a jazz band in Chicago and helped us form a dance band at Science Hill. We were called the Blue Notes consisting of Buddy Beasley, Don Shannon, Phil West, Earl Guffey, Clarence Foxx, Gene Young and myself.  The John Sevier Hotel had a nice (mezzanine) rooftop area outside the main ballroom facing Roan Street.”

When the Blue Notes began attending East Tennessee State College, they changed their name to The Collegians and started playing music over an extended region of East Tennessee that included Erwin, Bristol, Kingsport and Greeneville. 

Another popular group in the area around 1948 was the Jerry King Band. Later, Charles Goodwin formed a band with Rudy Brinkley, Bob Yantz and Gene Young from Johnson City. The latter had a supporting role in the movie, “Coal Miners Daughter,” starring Sissie Spacek in the role of country music singer, Loretta Lynn.  

During 1953-55, George served in the Army, playing drums with a “Base Band” that performed for parades and officer dances. Later, he played locally with the Butch Swanay Quintette at the Frontier Club and local country clubs. He recalled seeing the Glenn Miller Band at the Big Burley Warehouse on Legion Street. The leader was saxophonist Tex Beneke who replaced the popular bandleader after his plane disappeared during World War II. George also played drums for Bonnie Lou and Buster on television.

George commented on the Music Mart where he worked for Henry and Mary Lou Frick from 1956 to 1959. The unassuming musician attributed his enjoyment of working there to the many wonderful people his job enabled him to meet. Henry was a former WJHL radio announcer who, along with ETSC Band Director Monty Butterfield, opened a music store downtown. At that time, Smythe Electric was about the only record store in town.

In the fall of 1960, George left the Music Mart and taught school at Fall Branch High School. He later became assistant band director to Warren Weddle, teaching at North Junior High and working with the SHHS band for eight years.

When an arsonist torched the Gardner Apartments in April 2009, George said a piece of his heart went up in smoke. Although the old L-shaped brick building is gone, pleasant memories abound. History lives on for future generations largely because of shared documentation from thoughtful individuals like George Buda. 

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