March 2014

In April 1895, Charles Russell, a longtime resident of Jonesborough, Tennessee, gave readers of the Herald and Tribune newspaper an unusual story to read. Here is a paraphrase of his account.

“Early one morning, I fell into a deep sleep in my comfortable porch swing near downtown Jonesboro. When I awoke from my slumber several hours later, I quickly noticed that my surroundings seemed strangely different with curious noises that greeted my ears. I looked in the distance and saw factories on every side of the town, but oddly observed no smoke emitting from any of them.

“I hurriedly went into my house, donned my coat and vest and scurried down to the street where I encountered another surprise. The streets and sidewalks were no longer dirt. The roads were granite and the sidewalks were granolithic (crushed granite and cement) in every direction. I thought surely I must be dreaming. This was not the Jonesboro I knew before my nap.

Jonesboro Court House as it Appeared About 1960

“I continued my stroll toward town and soon encountered a gentlemen whose attire was much different from mine. I introduced myself and he said his name was James Dosser, a familiar name in Jonesboro's business past. He wore knee pants and shoes with a platinum buckle and a short roundabout with a fancy silk shirt. His cap had a gold band around it with numbers on it. I noticed another man similarly dressed nearby with a silver band on his cap and different numbers. Where was my Jonesboro?

“Charles stunned me when he told me this was Jonesboro, Tennessee and showed me the date on his morning newspaper – April 1, 1960. Before I took a nap, it had been April 3, 1895, but after my snooze, it was 65 years later. I seemed to have traveled forward in time during my nap. 'Ah,' Dosser said, 'When you went to sleep, electricity was in its infancy and not readily available; now we do everything by electricity. It is a way of life with us. The women even wear essentially the same type of clothing as men.'

“I asked Charles the meaning of the gold and silver bands on the different caps worn. He explained to me that they indicated the wealth of the individual, which the law required them to wear in order to accurately collect income tax. 'The gold bands,' he said, 'signified billionaires, of whom there were four in town: John D. Cox, L.W. Keen, Ed Boyd and me, Charles Russell.'

“I asked him how the four gentlemen came to accumulate such a sizable fortune. He explained that Mr. Cox had been banking all his life; Mr. Keen had invented a process of taking pictures by electricity; Ed Boyd was in the wholesale grocery business; and, as for himself, he secured a position as post office inspector and made some good investments.

“The silver bands represented millionaires and there were quite a number of them in town. Among them were J.J. Hunt; proprietor of 'The Lightning Elixir;' S.H. Anderson of the Bicycle Feed and Sale Stable; Tate L. Earnest, Secretary of the Treasury; T.B. Hacker, attorney; and Cramp Smith, Editor of 'The Baptist Howler.'

“I was surprised to learn that all my old friends were still living and asked for an explanation. He told me that in the year 1900, the Old Mill Spring was found to possess something that extended life to those who encountered it. In fact, since that time, there had been only one funeral in Jonesboro and that was of a citizen who died while in Washington D.C. seeking  political office.

“Russell showed me public parks in various parts of the city with fountains and statuaries, among which I noticed were statues of Walter Brownlow, Sandy Stuart, Bob Dosser and R.M. May, who had donated the parks to the city. He escorted me to some of the principal factories, where almost everything was made.

“Where Col. Dungan's house once stood was a large poetry factory where about 200 employees were rapidly filling orders for poems, which the superintendent informed me were to go to 47 different states. He didn't indicate which state was missing and I didn't ask. 'No two places' he said, 'want the same kind of poetry. For instance, one package of a certain dialect goes to Massachusetts, while in nearby Johnson City, one of our suburbs, we cannot sell anything but blank verse.' After that remark was made, I perceived the presence of a distinct rub between Jonesboro and Johnson City.

“We next visited a sermon factory situated at the junction of the Atlantic, Pacific and Flag Pond Railroad and the old Southern. Here I had the pleasure of meeting the Rev. B.B. Bigler who was being measured for a two-hour sermon.

“We next visited other factories and public buildings and, as we returned from Telford on a mid-air car, we heard the electric chimes ringing from the tower of a large cathedral. My guide informed me that it was to celebrate the marriage of A.C. Britton, one of the former mayors of the city.

“I next inquired about some of my old friends and found various changes had taken place. Since the discovery of the medical properties of Old Mill Spring, physicians had nothing to do in their line of work. Therefore, Dr. Hoss was farming by improved methods, having his farm lighted by electricity so he could now raise two crops where he once raised only one.

“Dr. Stuart was now the Congressman from the district and Dr. Pierce was celebrated as a hypnotist, having large audiences every night at the auditorium. Jasper Peoples had become mayor, edging out Bridge Baxter by only seven votes in the previous election. Silas Cooper was still clerk of the court, while his oldest son Joe was manager of The Electric Sausage Plant, situated on the Fall Branch and New York Railroad. Peter Tierney was still Governor.

Two Jonesboro Advertisements from 1895

“I was delighted to meet so many of my old friends as they looked 65 years later and found out that they were doing so well. I met Scott Hickey who was running a large egg factory, the only one of its kind in the South. Joe Febuary was proprietor of the Embreeville Steel and Tool Works and his large factory was under the management of Charley Brown.

Captain McPherson was one of the postmasters and Wright Hoss the other. I saw a large nine-story building of white marble, occupied by Herbert McPherson & Sons, wholesale jewelers, who had a large trade with South American cities.

“After seeing more of the sights of the city, Charles and I walked down a sharp incline in one of the parks. I managed to collide with a horse rack at the old court house and received a sudden shock. Suddenly, I awoke and found myself back in 1895 Jonesboro again. Charles was nowhere to be seen and the streets and sidewalks were dirt again. Apparently, I had been dreaming and walking in my sleep.”  

After finding this clipping, I decided to share it with my readers as my April Fool expose. Although the story is quite whimsical, the people were former residents of Jonesboro.  It is interesting that Mr. Russell's imagination, as to what 1960 Jonesboro would look like, was a bit off the mark. It never grew into a massive city, but instead retains that wonderful charm and quaintness to this day. Don't change Jonesborough; we like you just as you are.

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If George Washington is considered to be the “Father of our Country,” who then is the “Father of Tennessee?” In spite of all the great men who helped found “The Volunteer State,” the accolades likely belong to John Sevier.

The American soldier, frontiersman, politician and one of the founding fathers of the State of Tennessee was foremost among the pioneers of the territory and arose to a beloved leadership through his bravery, daringness and valor in Indian wars.

In 1913, it was proposed that Tennessee's contribution to Statuary Hall in the Capitol building in Washington DC would be Andrew Jackson and John Sevier. The hall is an impressive chamber devoted to sculptures of prominent Americans. It consists of a large, two-story, semicircular room, located immediately south of the Rotunda, with a second story gallery along the curved perimeter.


Andrew Jackson (left) and John Sevier

Concern was raised about one of the two individuals selected. Any youngster raised in the Volunteer State would readily identify Andrew Jackson and his contributions to the state of Tennessee. However, the deciding committee was not so sure about John Sevier, although his credentials were certainly overwhelming. In any event, the choices were Jackson and Sevier and they were selected. Their statues in Statuary Hall are shown in my column photo.

I checked my old seventh grade school book, The Story of Tennessee, by Joseph Parks and Stanley Formsbee, that was used by Miss Dora Huddle, Junior High School's Tennessee history teacher. There were 18 references to Sevier, who was portrayed as a great hero in our state.

The selection of Jackson and Sevier was ironic because the two men became bitter personal and political enemies. The competition was strong between them as each wanted to be the leader in Tennessee affairs. Jackson denounced Sevier for his ignorance of the Constitution and failure to respect the rights of the people. Sevier countered by calling Jackson a “poor pitiful pettifogging lawyer.” In spite of their differences, the fair-minded Governor Sevier appointed Jackson a judge of the Superior Court.

Once the governor of North Carolina picked a quarrel with Sevier and the latter was arrested unjustly and taken to Morgantown to be tried for treason and outlawry. The comrades of Sevier did not sit idly while their chief was being condemned. Instead, they took action.

One night a party of four men – James Crosby, Major Evans and Sevier's two sons, John and James rode up over the mountains through the green fertile valleys and arrived at the edge of the village of Morgantown. Crosby and Evans left the party and, disguised as poor farmers, rode to the courthouse holding the reins of one of Sevier's swiftest horses. When the two arrived, they noted that court was in session; through the open door, they could hear the busy hum of voices within.

Crosby got off his horse, went into the courtroom and approached the judge's bench. He looked his honor squarely and firmly in the face and thundered in a stern voice, “Are you not about through with this man?”

The judge sank into speechless amazement at the man's boldness. The jailers, the spectators, the lawyers – all looked at Crosby not sure what to do. Meanwhile. the bold backwoodsman cast a significant warning glance at Sevier and then at the door. Sevier peeked over and saw his horse pawing the earth expectantly. He knew what to do.

While all eyes were on Crosby and in the confusion of the moment, Sevier quickly, quietly arose and walked briskly out of the room, the bewildered crowd giving way to form a line where he could walk. Once at the door, he gave one bound, landed on his horse and dashed away in a cloud of dust.

“He's gone!” gasped the judge in a dazed manner and looked doubtfully at the sheriff. The confusion deepened and everyone forgot to consider the newcomer who had planned the coup. But this was exactly what Crosby had counted on. He discretely slipped away, found his horse again at the edge of the village and overtook his comrades on the road back to Tennessee.

Sevier continued his services for the cause of the colony and years later was made military governor of the territory of Tennessee by General George Washington.

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Eddie Baldwin reminisced about his employment at Wilson Pharmacy at 273 W. Market Street in the late 1950s and early '60s. He lived on W. Main Street within a short walking distance to the store. He previously worked at nearby (Hubert C.) Dyer's Venetian Blind Laundry.

The drugstore, initially identified as Prator-Wilson Pharmacy, was established in July 1936 by Lee Prator and Guy Wilson. After about two years, Mr. Prator decided to relocate to Abingdon, Virginia and open a pharmacy there. The split proved to be very profitable for both men. The business would retain the same name until about 1951 when “Prator” was dropped, becoming “Wilson Pharmacy.”

“The business,” said Eddie, “was a combination soda fountain and drugstore. Food service included hamburgers, Campbell's soup (especially chicken noodle) that was served in little green bowls, Will Cope hot tamales, ice cream, milk shakes, soft drinks (both fountain and bottles that were kept in a large cooler behind the counter), hot chili with crackers, a variety of chips and an assortment of desserts that included (Orville) Seaver's Pies that sold for a dime.”

1940s: Guy Wilson at Door of His Pharmacy, Next to His Car Parked on W. Watauga Avenue

Older folks may recall that Will Cope made scrumptious hot tamales which were wrapped in corn husks and tied off on each end with string. He operated out of C.C. (Edward W. Carson) Grocery at 212 W. Chilhowie. He delivered his product to Guy's Pharmacy and other downtown establishments, such as John's (Buda) Sandwich Shop. 

Guy had a relief pharmacist by the name of Bill Gregg, who worked there and operated the drugstore in Guy's absence. The pharmacy initially opened at 7:00 a.m. and closed at 10:00 p.m., but later was changed to 8:00 p.m. and then to 6:00 p.m. Unlike most downtown stores, Guy's Pharmacy stayed open Wednesday afternoons. That mid-week evening was known as “mop the floor night,” with Eddie and others performing cleanup duties after the store closed.

A large section of magazines was displayed to the left as you entered the store. The all-important comic book rack was located on the east side of the store, adjacent to a large walnut cabinet that was used to store women's cosmetics.

Comic books were often read by adults as well as children, who would, after buying something from the fountain, take it back to a table, pull a comic book from the rack and read it as they consumed their purchase. Guy was amicable enough to let customers and even employees on break read comics, provided they purchased something. When Guy saw someone reading a book without spending money, he uttered the oft-repeated words, “Okay boys, order up.” The perpetrators got the message.

Eddie worked three basic jobs at Guy's: serving customers behind the counter, delivering food and/or medicine orders on a bicycle” and general cleanup duties.

Eddie recalled this humorous story: “After receiving a prescription order, I jumped on my bicycle and headed west on Market Street to Green's Rest Home (owned by Mrs. Bertha Green at 607 Hillcrest Drive), behind the old Hillcrest Drug building. When I arrived, I parked my bike in an empty space in front of a car.

“I delivered my package and was about to leave the home when I heard a loud crash. To my dismay, my bike had fallen over and the driver of the car behind it accidentally ran over it, heavily damaging it. Since it wouldn't roll, I lifted it over my head and carried it back to the store, dreading having to tell Guy the bad news. When I did, he just smiled at me as if it was no big deal. Two days later, I had a brand new bicycle to ride. That's the kind of man Guy Wilson was.”  

Bill's (Garland) Barber Shop was in the building on the east side of the pharmacy. When Bill moved his hair cutting operation across the street to the building vacated by (W. Howard Stewart's) The Red Store, Guy bought the building, knocked out the wall between the two stores and significantly increased the floor space of his pharmacy. This acquisition allowed more tables to be added.   

A nice feature about the pharmacy was that people who urgently needed an order filled could call Guy's home and someone would come and open the store to fill the customer's order. He remembered one urgent request that occurred in the wee hours of the morning turned out to be for a pack of Kodak film.

Eddie left Wilson Pharmacy to go to work for Giant Food Market on Commerce Street in downtown Johnson City. Later, he was hired by the Johnson City Police Department, serving under Police Chief Tom Helton. Eddie requested that I give honorable mention to three long-time store workers: Shirley Shepherd, Ray Trivette and Mabel Dykes.

Thanks Eddie, for your cherished yesteryear memories. 

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Johnson City's mayor in 1908 was Guy L. Smith, who also worked for the Armbrust-Smith Co, a furniture store at 204-06 E. Main (much later the site of Nettie Lee's Boy and Girl Shop). If we could somehow ask Mr. Smith what Johnson City was like soon after the turn of the twentieth century, he would likely answer us like this:

“Johnson City is located in Washington County, the oldest and first settled in the state. It was in this county in 1771 that a colony set up and established the first free and independent government, known as the Watauga Association. It was also the home at one time of Andrew Jackson and of Davy Crockett.

“Johnson City is situated on the Southern Railway, 106 miles northeast of Knoxville and about 25 miles from both the Virginia and North Carolina state lines. Its growth in population in a single decade increased from 637 to 4,150 and the population in the last few years has more than doubled. As of today, we are the third largest town in East Tennessee and already being called “The Coming City of the South, a designation all of us love to hear.”

“Johnson City's altitude is 1,650 feet above sea level, it being located in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. These mountains with their subordinate ranges are in full view of the city. In both scenery and climate, it is very similar to Asheville, NC. A significant plus for this section of the country is its cool nights in the summer and its freedom from malaria, mosquitoes and epidemics.

Main Street Looking East in 1908 Johnson City

“Protected by the Allegheny Mountains on the east and the Cumberland Mountains on the west, this area is the least visited by destructive winds of any in the Union. Because of its altitude, summer temperatures are much lower than those recorded in the cities of the north.

“Near Johnson City, within an hour ride by train, are some of the most noted summer resorts in the country. The majestic Cloudland Hotel on the top of Roan Mountain, the highest habitable point east of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 6,300 feet, is a celebrated resort for sufferers of hay fever and malaria.

“Another notable resort is Linville, NC, located at the foot of Grandfather Mountain (elevation 5,000 feet). Unaka Springs, 20 miles distant, located at the foot of several towering peaks on the banks of the Nolachucky River, is resorted to for its medicinal spring. Not to be omitted are Austin and King springs whose healthful waters are principally Chalybeate and Lithia.

“Johnson City has five railroads:

“1. The line from the Southern Railway from Washington, DC to Knoxville, Memphis and New Orleans, passes through the city, putting us in direct contact with every municipality on that great system.

“2. The ET&WNC Railroad runs from Johnson City through Cranberry, NC, where is found the finest body of magnetic iron ore in America, and on to other points in North Carolina. The general offices are in Johnson City.

“3. The Virginia and Southwestern is now a branch of the Southern Railway and reaches the city on the tracks of that system.

“4. The Johnson City Southern connects the city with the Embreeville furnaces.

“5. The CC&O Railway, still under construction, is correlated with the Seaboard Air Line and will extend from the coal fields of Southwest Virginia to the Atlantic Coast.

“A new Federal building has been erected in the city and plans have been drawn for the erection of a Union Passenger depot at a cost of $100,000. In addition to a recently installed modern sewer and water system, we have paved many streets and laid several blocks of sidewalks. Already in place are substantial business blocks, progressive banks, a thorough education system, elegant and costly church edifices, splendid retail stores and many beautiful modern homes.

“Johnson City is destined to become a manufacturing center because of a strong and steady inflow of population. The three competing trunk lines entering the city offer affordable rates to all points. It supplies coal, thus securing for manufactures a permanent and unfailing fuel supply. The Nolachucky, Watauga and Holston rivers, which are close at hand, afford power sites of immense value.

“The surrounding deposits of minerals, the great variety and supply of hardwoods, cheap and abundant labor make Johnson City 'The Coming City of the South.”'

I think most of us would concur that Johnson City has more than lived up to its 1908 expectations.

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On Tuesday, March 1, 1955, turbulent winds from a funnel-shaped cloud ripped off roofs demolished barns and turned boats upside down in the Boone Lake area.

According to the Weather Bureau at Tri-Cities Airport, although winds ranged as high as 80 miles per hour, no injuries were reported in the brief, yet violent storm. Reports from the Flourville area described the squall as rushing along with a sound like a truck. Almost immediately, the area became ominously dark.

Flourville Mill Roof Damage Can Be Seen

The roof of the Flourville Mill (makers of Daniel Boone Flour and Becky Boone Corn Mill) was heavily damaged off, with damage unofficially estimated at around $1200. Hal Wexler’s barn was demolished and sections of it were hurled in a westerly direction into Boones Creek. Large trees were uprooted in the vicinity and several of the side roads were totally blocked by debris.

A boat house belonging to Bert Couch and Ivan Good was tossed on its top, the strength of the wind breaking a one-inch steel cable that was holding it. Dr. Nat Winston’s boat was reported to have been lifted up and blown to dry land while other crafts were flipped on their side by the strong wind gusts.

V.C. Ford, owner of the Boones Creek Boat Dock, said that he was sitting in his car when the storm struck, resulting in the back end of his vehicle being blown around about three feet. “I was scared to death,” he said. He added that one boat was blown about 300 yards.

Portions of Roy Brummit’s barn were carried about half a mile and sections of the tin roof were scattered over adjoining fields, with some of it landing in trees. A truck owned by Jim Crouch was also swerved around in the road for about three feet. Several residential window panes were reported broken and damage inflicted to roofs.

The storm, which many residents described as a ”baby twister” hit the Flourville area the hardest, although other sections received high winds and rain.

Nearby Johnson City received a heavy rainfall accompanied by winds about the same time as the storms struck the Boone Lake area. Also, Kingsport streets reportedly were flooded by the deluge. A barn near the Tri-Cities Airport and a radio range tower of the Weather Bureau were knocked down.

The weatherman said the storm moved eastward at about 40-50 miles per hour. For those residents in the storm area, which extended over a radius about two miles, the groundhog must have had seen his shadow a month earlier because the weather roared in like a lion that day.

A Spokesman for the Johnson City Power Board noted that considerable damage resulted from the wind, which entangled power lines causing short circuits. He said that the trouble was sporadic over a fairly large area and not confined to any one section of town. All crews worked to restore serves to the relatively small percentage of power users who were affected.

The Inter-Mountain Telephone Co. reported the problem of “wet cables” following the heavy rain and that emergency crews were hard at work to repair the damage. Company officials said that a total failure on the line had been occurred between Knoxville and Atlanta.

Cloudy skies were occurred for the remainder of the day, with scattered showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon. A springtime temperature was forecasted by the weather man for the day with a high around 70.

In Morristown, a large tree fell across some Southern Bell Telephone Co. lines, knocking out telephone services to all Tennessee points east of the city. The company also reported that 70 of its long distance circuits were cut by trees, felled by wind gusts up to 82 miles per hour. The outage occurred about 7:30 a.m. near Whitesburg, about 15 miles east of town.

Associated Press news service to newspapers and radio stations in the upstate area was affected temporarily by the weather.

At Knoxville Municipal Airport, a strong gust of wind picked up a Piedmont Airlines two-engine plane and slammed it into a fence.

How many of my readers recall that troublesome 1955 spring day?

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