March 2012

In September 1928, the Johnson City Chronicle announced that there were plans to proceed with the second of three expansions of the John Sevier Hotel. The first one, having 130 beds, was completed in 1924 on property adjacent to the Southern Depot. The second unit was to be appended to the south side of the first.

The first one, having 130 beds, was completed in 1924 on property adjacent to the Southern Depot. The second unit was to be appended to the south side of the first.

Altered Photo Showing the Three Proposed Expansions as Envisioned in the Early 1920s.

A third and final one was planned that would extend the building to Market Street, but it never materialized, blamed largely on an adverse economy caused by the Great Depression. Today, the missing section is noticeable when you view the hotel at the intersection of Roan and Market streets. My column photo is a trick photography depiction of way the building was supposed to look had it been finished.

The property once belonged to Harry Lee Faw whose family was prominent in Johnson City’s early history. It was serving as a boarding house when the hotel committee became attracted to the site. The land was once an asset because a spring located there supplied water at no cost to weary travelers and their animals traveling through the downtown area. It also served as a water source for Science Hill Male and Female Institute on the hill across the street. After the hotel was opened, the spring became a liability as the water had to be channeled to a sump in the basement and pumped out regularly to prevent flooding.

In 1928, contractors bidding on the second phase included M.L. Beeler and Co. (Johnson City), Hughes-Foulkrod and Co. (Philadelphia), Good Construction Co. (Charlotte), E.S. Glover (Bristol), Pyle Brothers (Kingsport), Walter Kidde Co. (Greensboro) and Burleson and Laws (Johnson City). Beeler submitted the lowest and most attractive proposal totaling $150,000. In addition to the firms competing for the complete job, several companies placed bids for specific work, such as heating, plumbing, electric wiring and installation of certain materials.

At a meeting in the assembly room at the hotel with representatives of the companies and other interested personnel present, the bids were opened and read. Following the reading, the information was tabulated by members of the executive committee. Afterward, the architects stated that final results would be announced the following Monday. Mr. Beeler, the successful bidder, acknowledged that he was anxious to begin work immediately.

The initial task was to clear the lot where the second addition would be located. Previously, it had been used as parking space. Also, land adjacent to the hotel was leased to allow ample storage and working space for the various crews involved. This necessitated delaying a proposed motor building and garage on the property until the new wing was finished.

As with the initial hotel, the new wing was to be 10 stories high and became the central part of the three completed buildings. The middle section was slightly offset toward the west. This added 100 additional beds bringing the total to 230 in addition to offices and storerooms.

After a meeting with the stockholders, authorization was given to proceed because the financing arrangements were in place and D.R. Beeson, the architect, of Johnson City had his plans and specifications ready.

The work was placed under the supervision of the hotel’s Executive Committee, which included notables S.R. Jennings, (president), James A. Summers, Sam R. Sells, Lee F. Miller and J.W. Ring.

Almost 90 years later, Johnson City’s big 2-section “skyscraper” is still proudly standing and serving as a reminder of its storied yesteryears. It became a favorite lodge for Southern Railway travelers and hosted many dignitaries over the years.

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Since I wrote a column in August 2006 about Atlanta’s Montag Brothers Paper Company’s clever Blue Horse awards marketing promotion, I have received a steady flow of flow of comments. My column noted that literally millions of Blue Horse heads were exchanged for cash and prizes, making Montag one of the largest paper companies in the industry by 1950.

One lady sent me two photos of a Blue Horse pocketknife that her mother had owned. It is shown in my column photo. I decided to excerpt from several letters:

“I have several hundred Blue Horse trademarks. Is there a market for these trademarks?”

“I have every Blue Horse Trademark that I collected from the first to the twelfth grade. I never traded them in for any prizes, instead choosing to keep all 1161 of them.”

“I have access to a Blue Horse bicycle, purchased with Blue Horse heads back in the early 1950s. As a student in the sixth grade, I saved them and won one of the bikes.”

“My Father sent in several of the Blue Horse heads and received one of the bicycles. Before he passed away, he gave me the bike and told me to get it fixed. I don't know how many of them are actually left, but I have one and plan to have it restored in his memory.

“I have a complete 42 model bike that has been painted silver, but it has original tires and all.”

“I have a considerable number of trademarks. My older sister gave some to me and I collected others. There is not much information out there about them.”

“I have a Blue Horse spiral notebook in a relic's collection that I started several years ago. I saved enough labels and enough change, 25 cents as I recall, for a Blue Horse Beanie. In fact, I did it twice and was the talk of my grammar school class.”

“Recently while I was working as a substitute at our local library, a gentleman brought in some old books to donate. As he was flipping through the pages, he came across about a dozen Blue Horse emblems. They brought back a lot of memories to this man who, as a child, had apparently clipped and saved them for a gift that he wanted.”

“My son was cleaning out our attic and ran across two small boxes of Blue Horses that really brought back memories of my school days. I was wondering if you know of anyone, such as a history museum, that would be interested in them.”

“My husband has an old pearl handle pocket knife with the Blue Horse symbol on the end of it. We were wondering if it was a prize awarded by collecting the horse coupons.”

“While we were cleaning out my deceased mother’s belongings, we discovered 29 Blue Horse coupons. Mama had saved them for her sons. Printed under the horse’s head are the words, ‘counts as two trade-marks.’ We were wondering if Montag Brothers' Paper Company would honor them now. I would love to have a beanie cap.”

“Do you happen to have the words to the Blue Horse jingle that was popular at that time? I have a friend who is obsessed with finding the words to it.”

Another reader remembered the tune and took a stab at the lyrics: “… paper so white and lines so true (or blue), Blue Horse is …   Stamped on the back is one … (additional) proof, Blue Horse, Blue Horse ….” 

“I found a Blue Horse bracelet in my late sister’s old jewelry box and believe it is a prize from the Blue Horse redemption of horse heads for the 1950’s.  I was wondering if the company gave bracelets as one of the prizes. It has the dark blue horse and two little horseshoe charms. Also, my grandmother ran an old country store that I remember sold Blue Horse paper.”

The once popular old sapphire steed has long vanished from the scene but our memories of him continue to tug at our heartstrings.

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Tuesday, September 14, 1915 was an exciting day for circus lovers in Johnson City. At 6:00 a.m., as the sun slowly began to disperse the darkness in the morning sky, the first array of circus trains began to appear in the city.

The Gentry Brothers Famous Shows, known as “the cleanest circus in the world,” had arrived, bringing with it the promise of an entertaining spectacle for its residents. Four Gentry brothers, Henry B., Frank, Walter W. and J. W., all from Bloomington, Indiana, originated the circus in 1887; it remained in business off and on until 1934.

Because of the number of cars coming to Johnson City, officials had to make provisions with the railroad for track space. The number of railcars on hand was said to be twice that used in previous shows.

Early risers desiring to witness the circus unload were rewarded with sights of showmen who had tumbled from their berths, ready to go to work after a night’s slumber. While most residents were still in bed, the surrounding lots were magically transformed into a city of canvas tents. To the casual observer, the exhibition appeared to be one of disorder and confusion, but the operation was performed as it had been done so many times before with not a single worker wasting time and energy.

At 10:30 a.m., the circus was ready for its famous street parade, which was billed as “taking place rain or shine.” By this time, the parade route was aptly populated with curious spectators of all ages.

Although the procession route is not known, it was advertised to be “a solid mile of gold and glitter.” Based on this clue and the previous carnivals and circuses that came to the city over the years, the likely starting point was at the railroad tracks near Model Mill (later General Mills). It probably turned left onto W. Walnut Street, took another left onto Buffalo Street, bore right onto E. Main Street at Fountain Square and traveled straight ahead to the large open field that the city’s Municipal Building now occupies.

The parade was a precursor to and an advertisement for what would later be presented in the big canvas circus tent. Oldsters and youngsters were caught up in dreams of fantasyland. The owners hoped this public display would attract scores of paying patrons to the performances.

The circus offered two exhibitions in Johnson City that day. Doors opened for a complimentary inspection of the animals in the menagerie at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Each performance commenced one hour after the gates opened. The displays were of a larger and grander scale than those previously offered. Children attending the show in the afternoon slot were permitted to ride an elephant or pony under the care of a trained and courteous attendant.

The Gentry Brothers Famous Shows, which were promoted as “the world’s pioneers in trained animal exhibitions,” had been extensively enlarged to offer realistic taming of jungle leopards and other ferocious beasts within “canvas coliseums.”

In addition to several feature acts, three of them were new to America: The Carr-Thomas Trio, sensational burlesquing acrobats; The Cole Troupe, novelty artists of breathtaking and difficult acts on the high wire; and The Krannell Sisters, aerial butterflies swinging by their teeth in a fascinating display of grace and splendor in mid-air. 

A funny story circulated about the circus. A fire once caused workers to scamper about pulling hose lines to extinguish the blaze. The next day, a trained monkey was observed pulling hose from a box in a corner of the menagerie. This action destined the primate to become the first monkey fire chief in the world. Soon, other monkeys mimicked the act and they, too, learned to battle a fake blaze. The act became an instant favorite with circus fans.

After the final show, the circus promptly returned to the railroad cars and discretely departed for its next destination, ending an exciting day for Johnson Citians.

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My History/Heritage page feature last week dealt with the opening of a new Science Hill High School at N. Roan Street and John Exum Parkway. A different location was proposed in 1946 when C. Howard McCorkle, then principal of the school, sent a letter to the Johnson City Planning Commission proposing a 4-part program:

1. Construct a new senior high school building for grades 9-12 on property surrounded by E. Main, E. Market and Bert streets, adjacent to the Central Fire Hall. The main entrance would face south toward Roosevelt (later renamed Memorial) Stadium. Except for a small physical education gym included in the new design, the old gymnasium on “The Hill,” built in 1939, would continue to be used for sporting events.

2. Designate one large wing of the new facility for a combination school and civic auditorium capable of seating 1500 to 2000 people, thereby replacing the existing City Hall auditorium at Boone and W. Main streets.

3. Convert the old downtown senior high facility (N. Roan Street) to junior high for seventh and eighth grades. 

4. Remodel the existing junior high building constructed in 1922 at N. Roan and Fairview for a medical arts center. This would allow ample space and parking for most of the city doctors to have office suites there. Another advantage was its close proximity to the new Memorial Hospital next door. McCorkle and the School Board believed that this would greatly enhance the possibility of Johnson City becoming a future medical center.  

The new grade arrangement was known as the “6-2-4 Plan” (grammar schools, 1-6; junior high, 7-8; and senior high, 9-12), replacing the present “6-3-3 Plan” (grammar schools, 1-6; junior high, 7-9; and senior high, 10-12). Another bonus was that it would reduce congestion at the new hospital. The new high school would be near its designated athletic and drill fields. Further, the new junior high would be slightly closer to its athletic fields. An attractive feature of the new proposal was that none of the existing facilities would be abandoned or razed.

In spite of McCorkle’s petition, the Board of Education issued a resolution requesting that the city refrain from using the proposed strip of land for a new high school. Mayor Welsford P. Artz stated that the city had been approached by a manufacturing firm and was quoted a price for 600 feet of the 1000-foot frontage property in question. The type of building the company proposed was what the commission wanted to see there. It was to be a low one-story building, occupying only a comparatively small portion of the lot. The firm further intended to beautify the grounds, making it an attractive addition to the town. However, the city set aside a portion of the land adjacent to the fire station for future use.

The School Board immediately countered with another letter to the commissioners: “In the near future, the normal growth in the city’s population and the growing obsoleteness of Science Hill High School will make the erection of a new (school) imperative and that the land in question is an ideal site for a modern high school. It is adjacent to the stadium and ballpark, away from the congestion and noise of the downtown section, on the side of town toward where future growth will likely occur, level with ample parking space, abundant space for a modern high school building with a auditorium and room for a large recreation center in addition to a high school campus.”  

McCorkle’s proposal was rejected and the offer for the company to build there fell through. The land was essentially not used until years later when the city relocated its municipal and safety offices on the site. It would be another 15 years before a new high school would be constructed in North Johnson City.  

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