December 2011

Today, let’s crank up the Yesteryear Time Machine and drift back to the “good old days” of December 26, 1922 to drive along Johnson City’s streets when its population was about 15,000. When we arrive, we find the temperature to be in the upper 20s with just a hint of snow flurries. For the most part, the main streets are paved within the confines of the city limits.

We make a decision to drive east through downtown from the west end of W. Main to the east side of E. Main and return by way of Market. We are riding in a new Paige Jewett roadster that was purchased for $1,065 from Kyle Auto Sales at 214-16 W. Market. The vehicle has a powerful 249 cubic inch six cylinder engine. 

As we motor along, we observe a variety of cars, trucks, horses (with and without buggies), electric-driven trolleys, bicycles, motorcycles, trains and pedestrians traveling by Shank’s mare (walking). We are surprised to learn that 20 miles-per-hour is the maximum speed limit in town. Mayor Ellison and his board recently approved a list of traffic ordinances. 

Heading east, we cross Delaware, Fall and Winter streets until we approach Watauga where we observe the big square shaped brick West Side School on a small hill to our right. We must slow down to 12 mph during school hours. Since school is not in session, we can resume our speed. 

As we approach Boone, we notice City Hall on our left and the new Arcade Building under construction at 137-38 Main. We draw near the train tracks where we encounter a flashing signal light warning us that a train is approaching. As we wait, we gaze at the Windsor Hotel and Annex on our right that contains T.H. Dyer’s Barber Shop and the Windsor Billiard Parlor. Trains are restricted to 15 mph in the downtown area between Division and Sevier streets and are forbidden to block street crossings for more than four minutes at a time. That sounds impossible.

After the train moves on, we reduce our speed to 12 mph until we reach Roan because of safety concerns in an area that has the heaviest vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the city. To our right is Fountain Square with the gorgeous Lady of the Fountain statue smiling at us. We smile back.

We drive past Roan and speed up to 20 mph, but as we approach Fire Station #2 on our left at 343 E. Main, we must reduce our speed to 15 mph.  The same applies for those driving past Fire Station #1 (headquarters) at 218 W. Market. The fire crews have the right-of-way during emergencies. Continuing on Main, we observe the Franklin Apartments (formerly Carlisle Hotel) on our right at Division. 

We come to the end of E. Main and cross over to E. Market and travel west toward where we began. While we are slowly driving back, let me share some additional traffic regulations. Vehicle lights have to be visible at a distance of 200 feet. A speed limit of 12 mph shall apply at street intersections and while turning corners. At viaducts, underpasses and bridges, the speed is 10 mph. An 8 mph limit shall apply to trucks at the same locations.

If a horse becomes cantankerous on the road, the animal’s owner can lawfully signal for traffic to stop until tranquility is restored. No horse can be parked within 100 feet of a drug store or where food is sold. Pedestrians may cross streets but only at designated crosswalks provided they do so at right angles. A motorist may be arrested if smoke is emitting from his car.

Vehicles operated between ten p.m. and six a.m. must be equipped with silencer apparatus. Horns must only be used as a danger warning. Cars and other vehicles are not allowed to hinder pedestrians at street intersections. An automobile may not be parked all night on a public street. All vehicles must strictly yield to streetcars.

As we arrive back for our Time Machine return voyage, we are ready to leave 1922 and return to the “good old days” of 2011. I sure hate to leave that Paige Jewett roadster behind. 

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The subject of the Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was brought to light several weeks ago when Frank Campbell found three identical vintage postcards of it and sent one to the Press asking for information about the business.

Research shows that the motel had three sets of owners before it closed and was ultimately demolished. Information sources come from the late Dorothy Hamill and Kenny Johnson.

Older area residents may recall the triangular complex that was located at what is now identified as 2115 Kingsport-Bristol Boulevard (N. Roan at Sunset Drive). Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was built in 1945 soon after Robert Johnson returned from military service. Several years prior, he purchased Marion’s Camp, renamed it Broadway Camp before selling it to Cecil Crowe who changed it to Broadway Court.

Johnson’s new business enterprise was located in a sparsely developed area in North Johnson City about a mile from the city limits (located near what is now John Exum Parkway). While listening to the radio, Robert heard the announcer speak of Beverly Hills. He liked the sound of the name and decided to call his motel, Beverly Court. People frequently asked him if Beverly was his wife’s name, but he informed them that her name was Dorothy.

Robert and Dorothy started with 25 units. In those days, the highway to Kingsport and Bristol was two-lane. The D. (Doxie) D. Marable Gift Shop was located directly across the highway from them. Within a year, the Johnsons bought a lot across Sunset Drive and built a house for their residence. The couple found the motel business very interesting with never a dull moment.

The back of an old postcard from that era states: “One mile north of city limits; U.S. 11E, 19W, 23 and 41; 25 units, Tub and shower, radios, fans, steam and electric heat; Phones 2166 and 9175; Member of United Motor Courts.”

On one occasion, Robert found a billfold in the motel driveway soon after he rented a cabin to a family. Since he was sure the man had dropped it, he put it in his office without looking in it until the family returned from dinner. When they got back, the man corrected identified the wallet. Robert learned that it contained $8,000. People often placed their wallets and other valuables in pillowcases and slept on them during their stays. Diamond rings and valuables were frequently left on washstands, causing the unfortunate traveler to drive many miles to retrieve them.   


In 1962, the Johnsons sold Beverly Court to businessman Robert Dennis and moved to Florida. They also sold their home and a nearby farm they owned. Dennis got his start in the diner business in Newport, Tennessee where he owned the Coffee Pot Restaurant. Later, he acquired the Peggy Ann Restaurant in Kingsport as well as the Beverly Court and Coffee Shop in Johnson City. The successful entrepreneur was also co-owner of several enterprises in Johnson City, including the TPI Corporation, manufactur­ers of electrical heating and air ventilation products.

Facts about the third owners who took over the reins of the Court in the 1960s came from Kenny Johnson, a resident of Newport, Tennessee. They were Ed and Lexie Leonard Reedy, Kenny’s great aunt and uncle. The couple lived in Boones Creek near the train trestle while the Leonards ran the Boone Station General Store. Kenny spent many pleasant hours at his relative’s business in the 1960s while growing up.

Since the Reedys did not have any children of their own, many of the younger clan became their “adopted grandchildren.” The youngsters loved to go to the coffee shop and grill to eat anytime they could convince their parents to take then.

According to Kenny: “Every Christmas Eve, the entire extended family and many of our friends would gather there for a fabulous Christmas party.  We all exchanged gifts with Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed. The scene looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Santa Claus would always make an appearance.”

Kenny recalled some specifics of the motel. “It was a standard motel room common for the 1950s and ‘60s. It had a bed, desk, chair, television with rabbit ears and a small bathroom containing a tub and a shower. There was nothing fancy about it. I ate in the restaurant many times. It was a real treat back then. There were booths lined along three walls with several tables in the middle. A soda fountain type bar was close to the kitchen. The furnishings were Art Deco. They served traditional plate lunches with food items that included chicken, green beans, potatoes, roast beef, corn, pork chops, hamburgers, fries, hot dogs and club sandwiches.

“Behind the motel on Sunset Drive was a white house. I am not sure if the motel owned it.  Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed lived in the house across from the Court on Sunset. There were also a few rental rooms there. Traveling salesmen occupied a large number of rentals for two or three days at a time. My cousin, Don Leonard, told me that another great uncle and aunt, J.M. and Beatrice Leonard, co-owned the motel for a while. J.M. and Lexie were brother and sister.

“The swimming pool, located south of the office and coffee shop, was added in the early 1960s. It was probably the first real swimming pool that I ever swam in. On hot summer Saturdays, all of the extended family would drop by for a swim. With so few pools back then, it was a real treat. Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed were the most gracious hosts.”

Kenny remembered when his aunt and uncle decided to retire: “They sold the property to First Federal and built one of their branches there. The Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was much more than a motel; it was a family business that was enjoyed by the whole family.” 

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Each Christmas, I get in the holiday mood by playing old Christmas radio shows from my collection. Unlike television, radio lets its listeners formulate images of their favorite radio stars without displaying them on a small usually black and white screen. My four favorite programs from the 1930s and 40s are listed below. For you youngsters, they can be heard on the Internet.

Lum & Abner (1938): This 15-minute episode began with a brief intro: “Well, it’s Christmas time in Pine Ridge (Arkansas) and all businesses and other activities have been cast aside in preparation for celebrating the holiday. A heavy snow has fallen and it’s now way after dark.” Lum, Abner and Grandpappy Spears (voice of Lum) help a young couple named Mary, who is about to give birth, and her husband, Joseph. They are holed up in an abandoned barn adjacent to a burned down house on the east side of Pine Ridge. The three old codgers trudge through deep snow following the East Star to take them an ample supply of food from their Jot ‘Em Down Store, warm clothing, an oil heater and bed “kivvers” (covers). The narrative clearly parallels the events that took place in Bethlehem.

Fibber McGee & Molly (1945): This Johnson’s Wax-sponsored program has Fibber foolishly trying to spray paint a Christmas tree that he has purchased. The usual characters come by one-by-one to chide him: Dr. Gamble (local physician), Mrs. Carstairs (town socialite), Harlow Wilcox (series announcer who cleverly worked a commercial into each weekly program) and Teeny (the little girl next door who is really the voice of Molly).  The highlight of every season was the special rendition at the end of each show of the classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” featuring the King’s Men and the Billy Mills Orchestra. It beautifully captures the unique sound of the 1940s.

Amos & Andy (1947): Andy takes a job as a department store Santa in order to raise money to buy his daughter, Arbadella, a special doll that she wants. The young people standing in line give Andy so much grief that he constantly summons the floorwalker for help. The show ends with Andy delivering gifts at Amos’ place. Andy puts his young daughter to bed and turns on the radio to help her go to sleep. When “The Lord’s Prayer” is sung over the station, she asks him to turn it to some Christmas music. Amos then gives his classic recitation explaining how the words to the song relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

The Jack Benny Program (1948): Arguably Jack had the funniest Christmas show to be broadcast over radio. He and his wife, Mary, are in a department store in Palm Springs shopping for gifts. The show’s regulars are also there: Dennis Day, Eddie Anderson (Rochester), Phil Harris, Don Wilson and Frank Nelson (famous for his drawn out exaggerated line, “Yeeessssss”). Mel Blanc (the versatile voice of Bugs Bunny and many other Warner Brothers characters) works in one of the departments. Jack repeatedly buys a gift from Mel, has it wrapped and then returns it before leaving the store to exchange it for something else. Each time, the attendant has to unwrap the item, put it back on the shelf and then wrap another one for Jack. Finally, the aggravated clerk has had enough of Jack’s antics and goes ballistic, creating one of the most hilarious scenes in radio history.

Other Christmas shows from that golden era include The Great Gildersleeve (1942), Burns & Allen (1940), The Bing Crosby Show (1947), Edgar Bergan & Charlie McCarthy (1939), The Fred Allen Show (1937), The Abbott & Costello Show (1945, Hallmark Playhouse (1949), Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch (1946), Our Miss Brooks (1950) and My Friend Irma (1950). Many of the shows became an oft-repeated holiday event to the delight of its faithful listeners.

If you have a favorite radio show from the past, drop me a line. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks. It is a pleasure producing this weekly column.

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October 6, 1895 was a historic day for Johnson City and numerous other towns in the South. The Liberty Bell, perhaps the most precious relic of the birth of our nation traveled by rail from Philadelphia through our city to Atlanta to reside as a major exhibit in the Cotton States and International Exposition being held there.

The Liberty Bell was cast in 1753 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the East End of London and sent to Pennsylvania. It consisted of 70% copper, 25% tin and traces of lead, zinc, arsenic, gold and silver. The bell weighed 2,080 pounds; the yoke added another 100 pounds. It was 12 feet in circumference around the lip and had a 44-pound clapper.

Although this was not the first or last journey for the famed Bell, some people expressed their concern that a railway accident could destroy it or perhaps cause it to further crack. Others reasoned that the Bell belonged to the nation and should be shared with its people. Another faction saw it as a means to further improve still strained relations between the North and South by promoting national patriotism. A lawsuit settled the argument when a court ruled that Philadelphia could proceed with the trip.

The train consisted of five Pullman coaches, a combination buffet car and a flat car containing the Bell. Around the platform of the latter vehicle was a railing, constructed so as not to obstruct the view of its prized occupant. On each side were panels bearing the words, “Philadelphia” on one side and “Atlanta” on the other. In the center of the platform was a special protective frame to keep the Bell from moving. On the top lengthwise timber was inscribed in golden letters, “1776, Proclaim Liberty.” This was in reference to Leviticus 25:10 (“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.”).

  On October 4 at 8:00 a.m., the train departed the “City of Brotherly Love” while a sizable crowd gave the train an enthusiastic send off and wishes for a safe return. As the train traveled from city to city, cheering crowds, speeches, ceremonies, blaring factory whistles and great fanfare greeted it. Spectators touched it, kissed it and saluted it.

After making numerous stops of varying durations at towns in Delaware and Maryland, it sped through the Roanoke Valley, over the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the valley of East Tennessee. Although there were no firing of guns, blaring of brass bands or wild hurrahs like what was seen in the northern cities, the part of the country that furnished so many Union soldiers during the Civil War demonstrated beyond question its loyalty and patriotism to the country.

At many stops, schools were dismissed while bullet-scarred former Confederates walked side-by-side with G.A.R. (Grand Order of the Republic) Union veterans uncovering their heads in salutation to their northern guest. The train stopped in Bristol, Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 6 and proceeded to make brief stops in Johnson City (see photo), Greenville and Morristown before halting in Knoxville at 7:00 p.m. for the night.

The next morning found the train continuing its journey through Loudon, Athens, Cleveland and Chattanooga where it again parked overnight. The next morning it chugged through Dalton and Rome, Georgia before reaching its final destination in Atlanta at 2:00 p.m. on October 8. A parade two miles long escorted the prized Bell to Exposition Park. It was enthusiastically received along the route, being the most notable day of the Exposition with 40,000 persons in attendance on the grounds.

The Liberty Bell arrived back in Philadelphia at noon on February 4, 1896 after a successful 4-month absence. A 45-gun salute announced its return.  

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Today’s column is a paraphrased hodgepodge of small articles taken from a variety of newspapers spanning 1890 to 1928. I hope you will find them interesting. 

Dec. 1890: Heavy snow was reported in the mountains of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and North Carolina. Accumulations ranged from six inches to three feet. In Bristol, trains of the Norfolk and Western Railroad attempted to maintain their normal run but soon schedules had to be totally abandoned due to deep snow on the tracks. Ground conditions were very wet and not yet turned to ice. Johnson City measured eight inches of snow while Bristol had 12.

Dec. 1892: Two freight trains, numbers 21 and 22, collided on the East Tennessee Railroad near Johnson City. Both engines were destroyed along with 20 cars loaded with cattle. In addition to the death of many animals, several hobos that had jumped on the trains plus a former employee of the road were killed. After an investigation was conducted, the engineers of both vehicles were cited for negligence in the tragedy.

Jul. 1898: Mr. H.H. McPherson, a resident of Jonesboro, (old spelling) Tennessee, sent the editor of Jewelers’ Circular, a popular trade publication, a letter describing a clock that he had fabricated from a gourd. In his words, “I grew the gourd expressly for the clock and before (it) was half grown, I put it in a press to (prepare it for) the dial and the back or door flat. The gourd is 46 inches in length. The back is cut out and hinged on. It is supplied with movement from a small nickel alarm clock.”   

Apr. 1902: The newspaper noted that Governor Robert “Our Bob” Taylor had entered an old-time fiddlers’ contest that was to be held at Decatur Alabama. Nearly 100 fiddlers who were said to be as old as the governor also participated in the event. Bob, a highly respected native of Happy Valley, Tennessee was noted for his love of the fiddle.

Dec. 1902: A shooting occurred in the lobby of the Carnegie Hotel (which burned in 1910) when two out-of-town registered guests, who had been involved in a card game, became engaged in a heated quarrel. After the feud spilled over into the hotel lobby, one man pulled a .38 caliber revolver and fatally shot the other one three times. Local police investigated the incident.

Sep. 1915: The big news in downtown Johnson City was the opening of a new progressive restaurant, the Idol Inn Café, that was located on Market Street on the northeast corner of the railroad tracks. Those desiring fast food had the option of patronizing their quick lunch stand while others desiring a more leisurely meal could eat in the nice dining room. Those of us who spent a good deal of time in downtown Johnson City in the 1950s and 60s will remember the building as the home of Byrd’s Restaurant, whose slogan was “A good place to meet but a better place to eat”). I did a lot of meeting and eating in that eatery. 

Dec. 1922: Governor Alfred E. Taylor, brother of Bob, took a break from his political campaign long enough to perform the marriage ceremony for his son David H. Taylor and Miss Nellie Hope. The younger Taylor became a star catcher in the Appalachian League.    

Dec. 1928: A Christmas tree about 30 feet high was placed in Fountain Square and decorated by the Kings Mountain Post of the American Legion. The decorative scheme was a part of an ambitious plan by Legionnaires to emphasize the Christmas spirit in every city and town in the Volunteer State. Johnson City’s tree was advantageously located, observable from distances in all directions.  It was beautifully strung with colored lights and “decorated artfully.” Its purpose was emblematic with no ceremonies planned in connection with the yuletide decoration. Downtown was always a special place at Christmas.    

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