May 2012

Today’s column contains excerpts from six notes I received from Press readers. If you would like for me to include your comments in a future “Yesteryear Mailbox” article, please forward them to me.

York Trivette: “I’m enclosing a picture of the Spot Steak House (421 E. Main Street, owned by Don and Bill Bradford). It was located about where McDonalds is now situated. I am sure that only a very few of your readers will remember what it was called before it became The Spot. It was known as The Roxy (“The Students Rendezvous Spot”), owned by Carl Woods. This was just prior to World War II. Also, his brother, J.H. Woods, owned the Bypath that was located at 212 N. Roan Street at Millard Street, adjacent to Central Baptist Church. The Bypath later became the property of Dick Cox, who renamed it The Gables.” 

Charlie Mears: “My family stayed at the Rio Motel in 1963 for a few weeks when my father took a new job in Johnson City. Is the building that still exists with various shops in it on N. Roan Street across from the Johnson City Mall where the Rio was located or was that the Greystone Motel?” Yes, Charlie, the motel with the shops was indeed the Rio Motel. The Greystone sat farther south toward town along the same side of the road. Beverly Court was at Sunset Drive and fairly close to the Rio. The Mears family had the distinction on April 20, 1964 of being recognized as newcomers to the area by the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. The publication honored their move from Atlanta, Georgia to the city with a write-up in the paper. 

Rob Bowman: “I was at the Blue Moon Dinner Theater the other night. Do you know anything about the building where they are located? It's at 215 E. Main Street. I think that it used to be the Liberty Theater. There appears to be the projection room visible in the back. From what I could find, the Liberty was at 221 Main Street, then it became the Vogue Dress Shop. The addresses don’t add up. ” Rob, the Liberty Theatre was at 221 E. Main and Wallace Shoes was situated at 215 E. Main. When the Liberty Theatre closed about 1957, it became the New Vogue, owned by Louis Millin, who previously owned the Vogue Dress Shop at 129-31 W. Market Street. He closed one business and opened another with a slightly different name.

David Templeton: I have been searching for a restaurant we once visited somewhere within two or three hours of, or maybe much closer, to Kingsport. My mother had a yen to run a restaurant and heard about one that might be affordable as her starter. We traveled one weekend to see the restaurant and I remember that it had a large coffeepot atop the restaurant, oh, maybe eight feet tall, and a remarkable effigy of a percolator. It would have been probably early 1956. Mom eventually opened a restaurant closer to home on Highway 11-W near Church Hill, Tennessee. The picture of the coffeepot restaurant has stuck in my mind and I have often tried to recollect where it was located. The one I'm trying to find was close to the Tri-Cities area.” Maybe a reader can answer that one.

Carol Wilson: “In your recent article, the Walter Wilson, who was honored by the Kiwanis Club, was my great-grandfather. We believe there is a copy in ETSU’s library or historic archives of the ancestry and descendants of Walter Clement Wilson (1862-1942) and Amanda Melvina Snethen Wilson (1861-1925) written by his granddaughter, Esther Wade Bare. Your article referenced Sophronia as his wife. She was his second wife. Amanda was his first wife and the mother of his children.”

Ben Hall: “The picture of the 1942 “J” Club members in your recent column is a great one. The person third from right, front row (identified as ?3) is me. I lettered in tennis for two years and often played doubles with Roy Holloway. Mr. Johnson, not shown in the picture, was our coach and he would drive us to and from matches in his old green car, which we named ‘the green hornet.’”

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On May 22, 1926, the news came out that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was rapidly becoming a reality. The project grew from the dream of a few enthusiasts to the actual and determined intention of the majority of the citizens in this section of the country, generating more supporters than any other project ever launched in these parts.

The park would comprise about 300,000 acres of forestland in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountain Range, which extended along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. It held within its territorial limits the last great eastern frontier, the final blanket of forest, which covered the entire portion of the United States before the coming of the white man to this country.

In the establishment of the new park, the citizens of the two border states, who had been co-operating in the work, desired to preserve for the future this last great stronghold of nature. Although the land would be deeded forever to the care of the United States Government, it would become the property of the people to be utilized as a national playground for future generations. In its establishment, the people jointly invested $2 million, which was matched with additional funds from outside the two states.

Lumber companies held the majority of the specified land as a timber reserve. The main reason for the magnificent stand of forest, which still existed in this section, was the inaccessibility of the entire mountain territory. No railroads crossed this pristine mountain country and vehicular travel was almost nonexistent over the rough mountain trails.

So formidable was the terrain that mapping of the proposed park had to be done from the air. Mosaic photographs of the section revealed parts of the region that showed no signs of human life. The land appeared undisturbed for miles. Indeed, the region was so vast that there were spots in which no humans had likely trodden.

Within the proposed park area, there were seven major unnamed peaks. The numerous mountains received designations only where they had striking characteristics or represented a significant incident from the past.

According to botanists, within the new National Park, there was a variety of flora that was the most remarkable on the continent. Beginning at the base of the mountains, explorers found trees and shrubs that resembled that of northern Georgia, but after climbing further, a startling change was noticed. The southern varieties were suddenly replaced by more northern shrubs until at the very tops of the ridges were found trees that grew nowhere south of Canada. This variety of flora was more remarkable considering the fact that the number of species in one mountain range greatly outnumbered those species found in the entire continent of Europe.

Hidden in the forest fastnesses of the Smokies were deer, elk, bear and other plentiful species of animals, which were rapidly disappearing elsewhere in the United States. The establishment of the new park further preserved species of animals for the enjoyment of future generations. Even in this section of the country there was need for protection as bear and deer were rapidly becoming limited as hunting became more prevalent. The establishment of the park came just in time to save large sections of the primeval forest; a number of lumber companies were preparing to invade this land with the ax.

One of the major assets of the park was a permanent power supply for rivers, which had their headwaters in this territory. This included not only streams of North Carolina but also those that flowed west from this mountain region. The forest blanket of the Smokies began protecting the continual power supply at the great national power project at Muscle Shoals.

The destruction of these forests would have meant massive flooding in the rainy season and insufficient water supply during the time of drought. The forest cover had an impounding action, which contained the moisture falling on the mountains in a bed of spongy leaves that was slowly released into nearby streams. The exposed deforested slopes had a much greater runoff and streams, which had no forests around their headwaters, received devastation from disastrous floods. According to experts, no system of reservoirs could possibly supplant the value of the natural water storage of abundant forest growth.

After Secretary Hubert Work of the Department of the Interior endorsed the National Park project, the establishment of the new fell squarely into the hands of Congress. There was no precedent for the use of the funds of the National Government for the purchase of National Park property.  In the past, this was handled by individual states. It was possible, however, for a group of citizens to present to the Government a recommended park area that would be accepted and administered by the Government for the welfare and recreation of the general public. Such was the case in the Smoky Mountain project.

The great park area was summarily purchased with funds jointly subscribed mainly by Tennessee and North Carolina to that end. It was policed and improved at the expense of the National Government. The improvement included a skyline highway down the great central ridge, following the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Highways made connection with this central road and traversed the park areas from east to west. It was expected that the establishment of the park and that also of the Shenandoah Valley Park would bring to the south an additional large number of visitors who would add to the prosperity and enjoyment of the section. That was certainly the case.

Congress chartered the Smoky Mountain National Park in 1934 and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially dedicated it in 1940. The efforts of those persistent farsighted champions of the 1920s resulted in the creation of the magnificent Great Smoky Mountain National Park that people all over the world enjoy today.

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In early December last year, I wrote a column paraphrasing a hodgepodge of news bits taken from a variety of newspapers spanning 1890 to 1928. Today’s column follows that same vein with news from the years 1924 through 1947.

I keep a running log of smaller news items that I plan to run from time to time. I find them interesting and hope you do too.

Sep. 1924: Forest rangers battled to save the town of Erwin from destruction by forest fires, which had been raging on Unaka Mountain for several days. At the same time, residents and numerous vacationers fought a series of new fires that were threatening the popular Unaka Springs Hotel and the village of Marbleton.

Feb. 1938: A bus-automobile trailer collision took the lives of two members, Roy Roberts and James Grissom, of the undefeated Carson-Newman College basketball team. More than 20 other students were in the bus en route to Johnson City, but fortunately escaped injury.

Jul. 1940: For the first time in East Tennessee, a presentation billed as “Opera Under the Stars” presented “Carmen” at Roosevelt Stadium in Johnson City. The production was conducted by A.F. Thaviu and featured such famous stars as Mario Selveira, who played the part of Escamillo; Harriet Bruer as Carmen; and Henry Thompson as Don Jose. It was described as “enjoyable entertainment and excellent music to the people of this region.” Tickets were secured in Johnson City from members of the Wednesday Morning Music Club and at Snyder-Jones Pharmacy. They were also available in Elizabethton, Erwin, Greeneville, Bristol and Kingsport. The opera came to Johnson City under the auspices of the Wednesday Morning Music Club and the Johnson City Press-Chronicle.

Jul. 1940: The Civitan Club placed automobile tags on sale bearing the appropriate slogan, “Johnson City – Where History and Scenery Meet.” The plates served several purposes by promoting tourism, trade and industry for the city; generating revenue for playgrounds in needed areas; and accumulating funds for a Boy Scout troop for underprivileged youths. The tags displayed black lettering on orange background. 

Jul. 1940: The Johnson City-Press Chronicle once had a Sunday feature called, “The Public Library” that provided a review of three current books on its shelves. On this day, the offerings were Charles’ Gift by Hubert Footner (story of a 1650 dwelling on Chesapeake Bay), “The Last Tragedian by Otis Skinner (early days of the American theatre) and The Making of a Minister’s Wife” by Anna Johnson (living a challenging lifestyle).

Feb. 1947: New York Congressman Irving Ives came to Johnson City to address the East Tennessee Lincoln Day dinner. The republican’s views mirror the debate in Washington today: “Congress must bring our national budget actually and definitely into balance to save the nation from economic disaster. Non-essential governmental spending should be cut to the bone and only that which can be fully justified should be allowed. Then by all means, we should adopt a tax reduction. Tax reduction must of necessity come last to bring our economy into proper adjustment.”

Feb. 1947: While Johnson Citians were basking in the warmth of an unusually mild winter, two local boys were enduring the bitter cold as part of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s noted Antarctic expedition. Frank Roupas (19-year-old former graduate of Science Hill High School) and Jack Shipley (17-year-old attendee of ETSC Training School) were serving in the Navy on the carrier ship “Philippine Sea” as part of “Operation Highjump.”

If you have any news tidbits from yesteryear to share, I would love to receive them for future articles.

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Lewis Brown, an occasional contributor to my column, asked me if I was familiar with a former Johnson City business known as the Spudnut Shop. 

“Many years ago when I joined the Optimist club,” said Lewis, “John Roach (former parts manager for Tennessee Motor Company, 401 W. Market Street) told me about a donut shop in the downtown area that opened sometime after WWII and made donuts from potato flour. Apparently, it was inexpensive and made good donuts.”

I do not recall that eatery. According to my research, the product was the brainchild of Al and Bob Pelton, brothers from Salt Lake City, who had eaten some potato-based doughnuts while visiting Germany from a folk recipe that traces its beginnings back to that country. The boys, impressed with the taste of it, experimented with potatoes, wheat dough and other ingredients before deciding on a secret dry potato mix formulation. Thus began a business in 1940, which they cleverly named Spudnuts. 

In 1946, the entrepreneurs established a nationwide chain of franchised Spudnut Shops; two years later, they totaled over 200 stores across the country. The tasty delicacy was widely advertised, using as its slogan “Coast to Coast, Alaska to Mexico.” Soon Mr. Spudnut, a doughnut cartoon character, began appearing in advertisements. Within six years, there were over 300 shops operating in 38 states. By 1964, the company was distributing about 400,000 Spudnuts per day.

One tantalizing ad from 1952 promoted other Spudnut products: “Buttons and Bows (luscious pastry, succulent taste and appetite surprise, topped with fresh coconut and maraschino cherry, five cents), Spudnut Persians (a crispy melt-in-your mouth goodness, tangy cinnamon layers, smooth, five cents), Spudnut Bismarks (tender crisp crust with tangy fresh-flavored filling, wonderful for lunches, five cents), Spud-Overs (a light flaky crust surrounding a generous portion of Spud Apples, blended with an exciting selection of rare spices, two for five cents).”

An advertisement from 1956 described the product as “a special blend of finest wheat flour, powdered whole eggs, specially prepared potatoes, milk solids and other vital ingredients, all mixed and blended perfectly to the secret Pelton formula. Spudnuts are 'raised' in a proof box, just like all finest pastries. Then they are cooked at an exact high temperature in highest-quality shortenings, causing them to be greaseless. Finally, they are glazed, sugarcoated or chocolate iced.” 

A newspaper in 1960 referred to Spudnuts as “a delicious doughnut-like pastry made from light fluffy potato flour, cooked in pure vegetable shortening, making them easy to digest. Is there just one kind of Spudnut? No. There are at least 30 varieties including chocolate, maple, glazed, nut, coconut, jelly, lemon, cream, twists, honey, apple, spice and others.” A 1962 flyer urges the consumer to come by for some freshly ground coffee and 45 varieties of Spudnuts.

When the Pelton brothers retired in 1968 and sold their business to National Oven Products, Inc., annual sales were $2 million. By the 1980s, the parent company had closed, leaving their franchisees unsupported. Today, the only remnants of the once flourishing sugary business are a handful of stores still marketing the yummy product. One has to wonder if the independent stores use their own formula or have the “secret” one developed by the Pelton brothers.

I can’t believe I missed out on Spudnuts since I love doughnuts, but possibly I was away at college during this time. If anyone can recall eating at the Johnson City shop or perhaps at another one in the area, please identify its location and tell me what you thought of the potato-based product.

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Today’s column is an extension of my April 30 WJSO feature story that Don Dale supplied. He also interviewed Ray Stockard and forwarded to me added facts about the once popular station. 

Top: Ray Stockard (about 1960);

Bottom (l to r): Ray Stockard, Don Dale, Jack London and Randy Jackson (about 1968)

“I started in radio at ETSC’s campus radio station, WETS, in 1957,” said Ray, “receiving much of my training from Professor Harold Frank. After auditioning for WJSO’s general manager, Bill Bachman, in the fall of 1959, I began working part-time at the station on weekends. About 1960, I was given Norman Thomas, Jr.’s afternoon shift. During that time, Bachman resigned to start his own station in Sumter, South Carolina. Don Sluder went with him. Jim Lewis was hired as sales manager and Bill Harris from Missouri replaced Sluder. A couple other announcers were hired when Bob Mattox left, but I can’t recall their names. Afterwards, others from WETS joined the station that included Eddie Carter, Norm Davis, Hugh Metheny and Don Dale.” 

WJSO initiated a new concept in radio when they became the only local station that played a formatted music list of top 40 songs. Such terms as “Top 40 Survey,” “Pick-Hit of the Day” and “Golden Oldies” were virtually unknown then. A record in the top 40 received considerable airplay over “Jayso.”  Almost overnight, the station acquired a vast listening audience.

“In the beginning,” said Stockard, “we had to record all our commercials in the control room after we went off the air because we had no recording studio. There were no tape cartridge machines at the time so we used two Ampex 601 reel-to-reel tape recorders for commercials, jingles, news openings and promos. For a couple of years we had a permanent sign-on time at 5:30 am at full-power; there were people who could hear us loud and clear in surrounding states. No one locally had ever broadcast the news like we did with all the effects and using a start time of 55 minutes past the hour.”

About 1960, WJSO applied for an FM frequency. A 100,000 frequency was available and there was much discussion about building an extra room on the back of their building to house the transmitter. However, Norman Thomas, Sr. at the last minute decided not to pursue it because he questioned if FM would survive.

Ray recalled an amusing event during a broadcast day when deejays played the same song over and over. Listeners flooded the phone line inquiring as to what was going on at the station. It seems they were doing a fundraiser for a charity and informed callers that they would switch to other records when they reached their goal. Ray was certain that this clever act of creativity increased listeners.

WJSO was the first local station to play records while broadcasting on-location remote broadcasts. They even had a “hospitality house” built to take to locations such as the annual Appalachian Fair at Gray, Tennessee. Ray recalled doing a remote with a live band performing on the roof of Gregg's Pizza during their grand opening in North Johnson City. The station also did remotes from car dealerships such as the Tennessee Motor Company on W. Market Street.

Stockard commented on WJHL’s name change: “In the middle 1960s, Jim Wilson purchased WJHL AM and FM, changing the AM station to WJCW and the FM one to WQUT. WJSO began to lose listeners in the middle 1970s when FM station listeners began surpassing those on AM stations. FM used stereo and produced a crisper, fuller sound quality than available on AM.”

Ray remained at “Jayso” from 1959 to 1969, leaving to pursue his own station in Lenoir City, Tennessee. However in 1974, he returned to the Tri-Cities area to become the sports anchor on WJHL-TV.

The pioneer broadcaster concluded his comments with Don by saying, “I often wonder where WJSO would be today if the owners had bought the 100,000-watt FM frequency they were considering in the early 1960s.”

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