March 2013

I received a letter from Tommy Thomas of Johnson City, containing two high quality photographs of Johnson City as it appeared in 1949. “As an avid reader of your column in the Monday edition of the Press,” said Tommy, “I thought you might be interested in the two photos I have enclosed.

 “I was a Gulf Oil distributor in the 1970s and 80s. I sold to Appalachian Oil Company but have since retired from the business. My grandfather and father were also distributors of the company. The Gulf service station in the smaller photo was located at the corner of Fairview Avenue and N. Roan Street. The old Junior High School building can be seen to the right in the background. The operator of the business was a gentleman named Roy Trivette. I think he is the person on the left in the photo. He operated the station for many years in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s. The Gulf Oil Company razed the building in the 1970s.”

The other photo reveals a parade in the downtown district that, according to the license plate of the front truck, occurred in 1949. According to Thomas: “Note that the front gasoline truck belonged to R.Y. Foster. He sold Esso products at that time and ceased operating his business, I think, about 1970.”

Based on an examination of both photos and the additional use of a 1948 City Directory, I made some observations:

The service station photo shows Trivett Service Station, as Tommy pointed out, located at 405 N. Roan Street. Kiser Funeral Home was directly across the street from it. Tommy’s father was a distributor for Gulf Refining Co. The bulk plant was situated at 940 W. Walnut Street. To call them, a person picked up the phone receiver, listened for the operator to say “number please” and gave her the number “80,” after which she would say, “Thank You.” Can you imagine a telephone number that low?

The small sign on the back fence to the left reads, “Drain Your Oil. Change to Gulfpride.” A display rack containing several cans of oil is positioned between the two front gas pumps making it convenient for service attendants to add oil to a customer’s vehicle. This was when these stations offered free service (oil, water and tire pressure checks plus cleaning the windshield). Two additional gas pumps are adjacent to the door leading into the building. A shared outside restroom on the left side of the building contains these words: “Ladies and Men’s Room.” Note the decorative light globes mounted on the brick pillars and a free standing one to the right.


Thomas’s other photo looking east on of E. Main Street is a heart tugging nostalgic journey back to the downtown area. This was the Johnson City that many of us remember.

The license plate is in the shape of the state of Tennessee. The sign on the bumper of the two front trucks reads, “This is Oil Progress Week!” This was a time of celebration when the city paid its respect to the petroleum industry for the significant part it played in past, present and future economic welfare. Although the crowd is modest, a line of trucks can be seen extending up the hill, past the Post Office on the right and out of sight.

Does anyone recognize the police officer standing in the middle of the photo? Could that be Earl Byrd, a patrolman from that era? His patrol car, a black Ford coupe with an emergency light on top, is parked in the road behind him purposely blocking traffic. The sign on the lamppost at the crosswalk reads, “Keep to the Right.”

Several street lamps can be seen on both sides that are typical of that era. Note the two-way traffic flow on E. Main instead of the current one-way flow east. The parking meters appear to be tiny compared to those of today. A small water fountain is barely visible, located on the far left side just to the right of the hedge (left of the lady). It attracted much attention throughout the years, especially on hot summer days. This plaintive device was nothing compared to the majestic bronze Lady of the Fountain that once stood facing east on Fountain Square. It was removed in 1937 and relocated to Roosevelt (Memorial) Stadium.

Note how the people are dressed; most of the men are wearing hats and are decked out with coats and ties. The women appear to be wearing dresses.   

Allow me to guide you on an imaginary walk beginning at Fountain Square and going east on the south (Hamilton Bank) side of the street to Colonial Place (later renamed Colonial Way and Colonial Drive). We will then return by crossing Main Street to the north side of the street and traveling west. See how many businesses you can remember:

Snyder-Jones Pharmacy, Calfee & Swann, Fields Department Store, Congress Barber Shop, Jones-Vance Drug, (crossing Spring Street), Hamilton Bank Building, Carl H. King Co., Hollywood Shop, Southern Shoes, Goldsteins Store, H.E. Hart Jeweler, Peoples Drug Store, Thomas’ Men Shop, Thomas’ Lady Shop, Sterchi Brothers Stores, Dosser’s Department Store, Beckner’s Jeweler, Christiansen’s Café, Smythe Electric Co., Lorraine Shops, Booze Brothers Shoes, The Hat Shop/Plaza Fashions, Masengill’s Women Clothing, (crossing Roan Street), King’s Department Store, Charles Store, Ben’s Sport Shop, American Optical Co., Gunner Teilmann Florist, Siler & Co. and Marshal Brothers Lumber Co.

This brings us to Colonial Place where we will cross Main Street to the north side and return to Fountain Square by going west. Again, note all the businesses along this side of the street:

Home Federal Savings & Loan, General Exchange Insurance Corp. / Singer Sewing Machine Co., Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, Peoples Bank, (crossing Roan Street), Liggett’s Drug, F.W. Woolworth, The Young Set, The Jewel Box, S.H. Kress, Majestic Theatre/Barber Shop, Kinkead’s Flowers, Thom McAn Shoes, Cole Drug, The Budget Shop, Kinney Shoes, McLellan’s Department Store, Liberty Theatre, Darling Shop, Betty Gay Shop, Wallace’s Shoes, Hannah’s Men Clothing, Glamor Shop Women’s Clothing, Parks-Belk Department Store, Glen-More Clothing Store and Anderson Drug Store. This brings us back to Fountain Square. If only we could actually make that trip.

Two other businesses on Fountain Square visible on the left side of the photo are the Mecca Restaurant, and Mullins Jewelers. Just inside the door to the right of Mullins is a set of stairs leading upstairs to eight professional offices.

A hardy thanks is extended to Tommy Thomas for sharing his wonderful photographs and story with us. 

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In October 1938, an unidentified outdoorsman, whom I will call Jim, joined a hearty group of fellow hunters on what was billed as a cross-country marathon boar hunt on the Unaka Mountains in the hills of East Tennessee. One of the men, Ben Ellis, served as guide for the party. The rugged trip was said to offer the thrill of the chase, the beauty of the mountains at stunning peak fall colors and, if successful, from 60 to 150 pounds of the most scrumptious pork imaginable.

European boars, introduced as game animals in the early 1900s, thrived in Southern Appalachia but were generally considered a nuisance because they destroyed plants and robbed food resources from bears.

The hardy outdoorsmen left at the crack of dawn and traveled up the Tellico River into Cherokee National Forest. Just before 9:00 a.m., they stumbled down a steep trail to the bank of the river and ended up with their first reward – a 150-pound tusker that they slung on a pole between them. The hunters then parked their car a few paces from where the Bald River plunged over a cliff to join the waters of the Tellico and followed a trail that winded far above the Bald.

Prussian boars in the Cherokee Forest were said to be able to run 60 miles in one stretch. When they were rested, they could sail over hills and through timberland with little effort. But when pressed closely, a bewildered hog often turned and gave battle with the hounds, affording the hunter an opportunity to get close enough for a shot.

While they followed Ellis up the steep slope, they observed that the dogs had passed over the crest and were out of hearing distance. It seemed as though they would never reach the top, but they finally made it and paused for a moment to catch their breath and listen for any sign of the dogs. About that time, a faint yelp was heard in the distance.

The boys continued their journey into Cow Camp Hollow, tearing openings through patches of briars. When they were almost in sight of the dogs, the pack ceased baying and took up the trail again. Their prize had taken to his heels and that they had to make another dash after him. They crossed the little creek and climbed to the opposite side of the hollow.

Jim began experiencing sharp shooting pains that ran through his body causing him to fight off the desire to sit down and give up. When the group finally climbed the top, they were wet with perspiration. After a brief rest, there came the welcome chorus of the hounds indicating they had cornered an elusive boar once again.

Presently, the hunters came to a small clearing in the center that contained a growth of blackberry briars. On the far side of the patch the dogs had the hog at bay, but before one hunter could fetch his gun, the hog made a break for the timber with one of the hounds between him and the hog, putting the canine in harm’s way.

The huntsman couldn't run another step, choosing instead to walk through the woods on a fairly level stretch of ground to the edge of Cow Camp Hollow. About that time, the dogs came tearing around the mountainsides; the faithful old hounds had brought the boar back and were now chasing him straight down into the hollow below them.

Jim somehow managed to navigate his way through the tangled mess of undergrowth. He stumbled upon Ben who was casually sitting on the bank of Cow Camp Creek watching the boar stand off the dogs. Ben handed Jim his weapon and graciously allowed him the honors. Jim steadied his trembling hands just enough to bring closure to the animal.

The journey back was about a half-mile up the mountainside and an equal distance down the opposite side to the road, but even with a heavy hog between them, they didn't mind the weight. Their hunting exhibition was a complete success.

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The first settlers in East Tennessee took up residence near the Watauga River where they had to adjust to the complications of life in the harsh mountainous region. Before leaving their homes in the East, these robust pioneers saved money for the trip by boldly selling their land and other possessions. Initially, many of them settled in the Appalachian Mountains, but eventually crossed the Mississippi River and headed farther west.

The families packed all the essentials they could reasonably carry on their horse-drawn wagons, including axes, rifles, cooking vessels, food and clothing. The lack of roads presented them with formidable challenges as they migrated across rugged terrain.

Their first order of business when they arrived at their newfound land was to build a rudimentary permanent cabin adjacent to a nearby spring of pure water. This meant finding temporary living quarters such as their wagons, beds of leaves under large trees, canvas covered lean-tos, one-room shanties and even teepees.

Every male old enough to swing an axe chopped down trees and other obstructions to afford them an opening in the thick forest for their new abode. They cut and fit tree logs together, sometimes “scalping” the wood (hewing or shaping it with numerous hard blows from an ax). This was tedious work because of the heaviness and quantity of logs required. They stuffed a mixture of mud and grass in the spaces between the logs to keep the elements and the varmints out.

The family had two options for a floor; they could leave the hard earth bare or cover it with heavy split slabs of roughly dressed timber known as puncheons. The roof consisted of clapboards held in place by straight wooden logs. A rudimentary door was cut in the south side of the house and a small elevated window was provided along the north side.

For many years, household furniture was crude but also functional. The cabin contained no fine furnishings such as bureaus or sofas. Instead, a bed consisted of nothing more than two poles pushed into cracks in a wall with the opposite ends resting on two rough forks cut from tree branches. On these were laid flat boards, which supported a bed tick (mattress) filled with leaves, straw or feathers from wild pigeons, geese or ducks.

Clothes were hung on wooden pegs in the walls around the room. The finest piece of furniture was generally a rustic chest that was used to store the family’s finest clothes and treasures. 

Since bricks were not available then, chimneys were lined with rough, flat stones and soft clay. The fireplaces, which were used for heating and cooking, were usually outsized enough to hold half of a wagonload of wood. 

A good water supply was essential for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing purposes, as well as storing and preserving butter, milk, fresh meats and other perishable items.

Initially, pioneer children did not attend school for two reasons – they were usually unavailable and youngsters, regardless of their ages, were needed for essential chores at home. Men and older boys hunted wild game. The meat was then cleaned, cut it into pieces and stored in salt, which preserved it until it could be eaten. Just prior to cooking, it was scrubbed to remove the salt. Another option was to store meat in snow barrels in winter.

Those were the days when adversity and strife often existed between settlers and Indians, thus forcing them to occasionally gather their belongings and seek refuge in forts or stockades. These hardy brave settlers eagerly sought a new and exciting way of life, which they received and more, usually exceeding their wildest expectations.  

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Most politicians show little compassion for their opponents. Often a debate gets ugly with harsh and sometimes angry words emitting from both sides of a debate with each trying to outdo the other. It is rare when two people can disagree on issues while showing respect for the other.

Such was the case in 1886 when Democrat Bob Taylor and Republican Alf Taylor stumped the State of Tennessee campaigning against each other as nominees of their respective party for governor. The fact that they were brothers did not prevent them from waging political warfare against each other throughout the Volunteer State in joint debate.

In that memorable campaign when they met at Chattanooga, they stayed at the same hotel and shared a room. When the supper hour had faded away, a band appeared below their room balcony. A chant commenced from the crowd below calling out in unison: “Alf Taylor, Bob Taylor, Taylor brothers.” The brothers responded by coming out on the balcony. 

Alf Taylor spoke first. He gave a brief speech that included thanking the crowd for their interest in the gubernatorial campaign and for coming to the hotel. Then he took his brother by his arm and humorously proclaimed, “And now fellow citizens, I have the pleasure of introducing to you the brother of the next governor of Tennessee.”

Bob Taylor, not to be outdone by his younger sibling, thanked Alf for his kind words and then invited everyone to the inauguration ball at Nashville. Bob said he would be installed as governor and where he graciously said, “You will again meet my distinguished brother, sitting at my right hand, the chief and honored guest of that occasion.”

When they appeared at Lebanon, Tennessee in Wilson County several years prior, 8,000 people greeted them. The county was once the stronghold of the old Whig party. When Alf began his speech, he offered a eulogy on the party and its leaders: “Fellow citizens, if the Whig party were in existence today, I would not stand before you as a Republican. (My brother) is a more graceful speaker than his brother and he touched a tender chord in the affection of his audience.

But Bob Taylor unmercifully tore away the Whig mask from the brow of the Republican candidate. Yes, fellow citizens, every Republican speaker nowadays begins his speech with a eulogy on the Whig party and its great leaders. He tells you in feeling tones, ‘(Henry) Clay is dead, (Daniel) Webster is dead and I don't feel very well myself.’”

The two unique characters toured the country providing entertainment in a most novel way, something not seen before. It was very popular as noted by the huge crowds that attended their lectures. They were secured for an engagement in St. Paul, Minnesota and then appeared at the People's Church.

Later, the Taylor brothers appeared at Sweeney and Coombs Opera House in Houston, Texas. Their entertainment was not billed as a lecture or two lectures. Instead, it was described as entertainment in which the two men were brought out as in a beautiful drama of fraternity.

In the presentation of the first half of the theme, the Honorable Alf Taylor typified and set forth the spirit and resolve of the Yankee nation. Bob Taylor, with the assistance of a splendid male quartette in which he participated by singing second tenor, portrayed the beauties of the Southland, the peculiarities and oddities of all his people. He provided illustrations of their music and dwelt with humor and pathos upon the rare customs of her rural people.

The other members of the quartette assisting the ex-governor were Robert W. Nichol, Robert I. De Armon and T.A. Davis. The production was proclaimed as “something new under the sun.” 

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