August 2014

In 1888, a Johnson City newspaper correspondent wrote an article for the paper describing the condition of the city that year. “This ends the year in this locality and we will try to sum up the items of most interest. We had three elections, one in March to elect a mayor and aldermen, another in August to elect county officers and one in November to appoint state and national officials.”

The journalist went on to say that much energy had been expended about the upcoming of what he called the great and coming 3C's railroad than everything else put together.

The writer noted that two deaths had occurred in the city: the stabbing of a man and a train accident involving a young lady. The report included 22 serious but non-life threatening injuries from machinery, clubs, pistols, knifes, falling off logs, kicked by mules and the like. There were also 32 residents who died from sickness and old age.

The city had a July 4th celebration comprised of an unlimited number of opera and other public entertainment. A significant number of police were on hand to maintain order; several arrests were made on various unspecified charges. News surfaced that 21 persons were poisoned at area boarding houses. During the festivities, a riot occurred but without the shedding of a single drop of blood.

During that year, Johnson City boasted of having no destructive fires or any financial failures of businesses. The success of merchants was credited to the doubling of factories and an increase in population and buildings. The Watauga Bank opened and The Bank of Johnson City was turned into the First National Bank of Johnson City, with a telephone connection to Jonesboro. The city's two hotels, the Piedmont and the Watauga, did a sizable business under the management of Weiler and Dickinson.

Three Old Johnson City Advertisements from 1888

Horton, Yocum & Co. began to enlarge the city's Steam Tannery. A contract was awarded for extensive water works to be installed by J.J. Robinson and others. Electric lights were installed over most of the city. Wide streets and avenues were opened up and older ones greatly improved.

Although real estate sales bought in $130,000, more land was desired at even higher prices. Churches were well-supplied with pastors and small congregations. The six existing  schools did well despite the fact that the Board of Education did not appropriate public money for them that year. 

Another hot topic dealt with the making of money for Johnson Citians. How to make money was a problem well-studied by the folks. It was a question that everybody wanted solved. The paper offered some suggestions:

“So to begin with, we say that most people can make money, but how to save it after it is made is really the question that troubles most people. The real problem with all of us is how shall we accumulate this much coveted wealth rather than how shall we make it.

“So now, we suggest a few points. Don't try to keep up in style and appearance with your rich neighbor. Do not hire someone to do work for you if you have the time and strength to do it yourself. Do not ride or drive fast horses just because it is fashionable when you know your income's too small for you to afford the pleasure.

“Do not smoke 15-cent cigars when cheaper one would do, in fact when none at all would be better. Do not waste your means by any kind of extravagance, large or small. Pay for what you buy. Owe no man anything.”

The paper ended its counsel with a plug for a local business: “And, last but not least, trade with Christian Hoss and Hodge in 1889 and secure the best goods for the least money.” An examination of old newspapers from this era reveals that publishers frequently interspersed advertisements along with news. 

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Jay “Terry” Prater, an avid fan of the Johnson City History/Heritage page, has been in the ministry for over 50 years. He has pastored churches in several states, along with East Park and Oakland Avenue Baptist churches  in Johnson City. He recently shared some photos from his early years in Johnson City.

The Praters moved here from Weaverville, NC in 1951. They took up residence on W. Maple St., attending South Side and Junior High schools. For extra cash, he worked about three years (1956-58) as a curb hop at the well-known Shamrock that opened in 1929 on W. Walnut  Street. In his words, “I spent my younger years doing what kids normally do.”

Prater had several newspaper articles and photos relating to his Southside School days that he believed might be of interest to Heritage/History page readers.

Photo 1

The original front side of old Southside Elementary School stands majestically in 1991 prior to it's demolition. The school faced Southwest Avenue, as well as Boyd Street. 

Photo 2

 The front yard of South Side School was the setting in 1955 for a donation of school safety patrol equipment from E.B. Mallory (left) representing the Kiwanis Club. Accepting the gifts were two student traffic patrol officers, Capt. Wilbur Johnson and Lieut. Charles McCracken. Jay, 9th individual from the left, was in Mrs. Nola Dillow's6th grade class.He surmised that other students in the picture were from the 4th or 5th grades.

Paul Odom, a well-known officer of the Johnson City Police Department, was also on hand that day to assist with the presentation. Jay viewed the event as an honor to be a grade school student working with city police. “My patrol assignment was at the corner of  W. Poplar and Boyd streets on the upper side of the school,” he said. “We had hats, a vest strap and a genuine official  chrome badge. The one displayed is the photo is the one I proudly wore while at my post before and after school each day”. Jay asked if Press readers could identify others in the picture.

Photo 3

One summer about 1954, area students were invited to show up at Southside School with their favorite dog. The event was a part of the city's Park and Recreation Board's summer program, sponsored by the Jaycees. Jay said that, although he did not own a pet, he was asked to display his soapbox racer to the spectators. Several youngsters brought little cars that had been painted and dressed up with tin cans, reflectors and the like. Jay actually had a hook on the back of his bicycle he used to tow his racer. He likened this to early NASCAR promotions. Jay said the group comprised several grades.  

 On the front row, left to right, are Claudine Shugart, Becky Taylor, Bobby Lilly, Jack Lawson, Jimmy Shugart, Mike McNeese, David McNeese, Laura Morris and John Miller Bray. On the back row are Martha Jean Crumley, John Jones and Jay Prater (sitting in his car).

Photo 4

Terry referred to his report card as “the dreaded document” for school year 1954-55, bearing the names of his sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Solon Gentry, and the school's principal, “Nancy L. Beard.” The school superintendent, John H. Arrants, is listed at the bottom. I chided him about not showing both sides of the card.

Photo 5

The school offered awards to students for achievements in a number of areas. Jay received an “Excellence in History” one from the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution)  for his design and construction of a replica of a Civil War Fort. It was about two feet square with watchtowers on each corner and constructed of building materials such as ice cream sticks. Although it was left at the school for future show-and-tell, Jay wondered if it might still be there.


Photo 6

Terry's father purchased a special gift for his son, a beautiful 1930 Ford Model A coupe for $30 that was complete with rumble seat and white wall tires. Prior to his family acquiring it, the car sat on a hill near Kingsport for several years before being “rescued.” The “A” was later sold for $50 in the interest of purchasing a cool Whizzer motorbike.

The coupe was painted maroon with black fenders and polished chrome. This was in the days when gasoline was 19 to 21 cents a gallon and often cheaper. He recalled frequently buying one gallon of gas at a time for it.

Jay related a humorous story: “We had an alley behind our house on W. Maple that ran the entire length of the block. It afforded this Southside hot rodder a place to impress his schoolmates and irritate the homeowners as dust was no small problem then. On one occasion, with the rumble seat full of friends, I turned around at the end of the alley and spotted a police cruiser slowly making its way toward me from the other end. I quickly backed up, found a small parking space nearby and we all ran inside Bill Darden's Rainbow Corner, a safe haven at 337 W. Walnut and Earnest Street.

“Moments later, while my nervous friends and I cowered low in a padded booth, two big officers strolled in the establishment, looked around and moseyed over to where we sat, terrified and hardly breathing. 'Who's driving the  Model A?,” asked one of the officers. I confessed and immediately began visualizing what the inside of a prison would be like. With a slight but detectable grin, one policeman said, 'Son, that  Model A  is creating some dust you know.' That was all he said. I guess the world was not such a bad place in 1953.”

Photo 7

The new building of Temple Baptist Church in 1954 was located at the corner of E. Maple and Division streets. The older and previous church was at the corner of E. Maple and Afton. The car on the left is a shiny and new looking 1940 Chevrolet that belonged to Jay's parents. The pastor at the time was Rev. Joe Strother. Many years later, the new four-lane highway, now I-26, took the property. The church relocated and is now known as University Parkway Baptist.

Photo 8

“The clipping from April 19, 1964,” said Prater, “is a part of my personal treasures and a reminder of special opportunities afforded me in those early years. I continue to enjoy a friendship with my former pastor Richard Ratliff.”

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In my unvarying search for Northeast Tennessee history, I often uncover attention-grabbing material. Recently, I spotted something from the late 1800s that aroused my curiosity because it pertained to Davy Crockett, a favorite theme of mine. It concerned an actor from Kentucky who became rich and famous for his on-stage portrayal of the noted hunter and storyteller.

Frank Mayo (1839 to 1896) was an American actor and comedian. In 1872, he perchance depicted Davy Crockett in a stage production, featuring a backwoods character that, almost overnight, endeared him to his public. He became synonymous with the role for a couple reasons – the sincere, polished acting in his portrayal of the Tennessee pioneer and the reputation of the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician.

L to R: Frank Mayo Flyer, Sketch of the Famous Actor, Portrait of Davy Crockett

On one occasion late in his career, the actor had just concluded a Crockett performance when he was approached by some newspaper reporters desiring to interview him. In spite of his fatigue and the lateness of the hour, the congenial actor agreed to talk with them.  

“How many times have you played Crockett on stage?,” asked one individual. Frank paused a few seconds, put his hand to his temple and responded: “My head is getting gray and every hair is a Crockett. This is a special night, the 3000th one. I have played it so long that the public has identified me with it and the demand is so strong that I am essentially prohibited from producing anything else. In one sense, I am regarded as the real Davy Crockett.

“In nearly every town I visit, I am invited to hunting parties, when the truth is that I never shot a gun in my life. Buffalo killing expeditions have been organized for my benefit. They are surprised to learn that I have neither the experience nor a taste for that kind of sport.

“I am passionately fond of appearing in other settings of legitimate drama. I was the principal supporting actor for Julia Dean Hayne (American actress) in all the classical characters in which she appeared. I favor variety so, consequently, the continual playing of one character is becoming monstrous to me.”

Another reporter noted, “You certainly had a full house tonight.” Mayo countered with “Oh yes, the house is always full. The late Davy Crockett is very popular, but it exasperates me to be compelled to play it all the time.”

Frank truly believed that he was a veritable Davy Crockett. Even in other occasional roles, people could not disassociate him from his mountain man character. He sincerely believed that a magnificent Shakespearean artist was spoiled when he became Davy Crockett.

Newspapers of that era had many flattering comments for Frank “Davy Crockett” Mayo:

1. “Mr. Mayo's fine physique and voice of great pathos and flexibility are no small portion of his advantages. He has disciplined himself into a subdued and picturesque style of interpretation, which is exceedingly effective.”

2. “David Crockett is a historical character and one of those wonderfully brave souls who fell at the Alamo. The love story that runs through it possesses all the elements that capture the public sympathy.”

3. “Mr. Mayo is the ideal backwoodsman, a hero in buckskin, commanding in statue, an Apollo in appearance, strong as Hercules and as tender as a woman. He possesses a face for manly beauty.”

4. “This theatre cannot afford to lose Davy Crockett or Frank Mayo. There is no play anything like the former and no actor to replace the latter. The pioneer, Crockett, was a gold mine and local managers demanded it be so.”

5. “Frank Mayo's “Davy Crockett” is one of the best of the realistic class of plays. The pure love of a strong, untutored nobleman of the forest is at all times portrayed in a masterly manner by Mr. Mayo.”

The end came in 1896 when the actor passed away.

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Governor “Our Bob” Taylor often commented about the John Robinson Circus that he occasionally visited. It was the first one that he ever witnessed, never forgetting the lingering memories of it. Bob speculated that he would always remain young as long as this circus would fill his memories of those special days long passed by. He was convinced that it was the best tonic old men could ingest.

An Early John Robinson Circus Parade As It Passes Model Mill on W. Walnut Street

In 1904 when Taylor was a young lad, the Robinson Circus came to town. His family lived in the Watauga Valley then and the great posters of that day created excitement when it announced its exhibition at Elizabethton. The heart of every mountain youngster beat high with eager anticipation. The circus date was more firmly embedded in the minds of area youth than that of the Declaration of Independence.

Wise old farmers seized the opportunity to receive double chores from his family with the promise of taking them to the circus. Bob's heart tingled for that special sensation again. He obtained faint symptoms of it in his aging years when a band blared out its melodies and painted clowns performed their funny magic before crowds of spectators.

“I remember one time,” Bob said, “we had the circus with us at Elizabethton. It was the first show I had been to and I was one of the gladdest lads there. The performances that day were all under one tent and the acts occurred one at a time in a single ring, not three that came later.

“An elephant would occasionally became unruly, drawing attention from the crowd. I later suspected that the circus somehow made the big pachyderm that way in order to draw attention from the thrill-seeking crowd.”

Bob explained that during the performance, word spread that an elephant had been given a “chaw terbacker” (chew of tobacco). To local mountaineers, this fabrication meant the highly-exaggerated destruction of the entire population surrounding the event. 

Shortly, the elephant was pacified and to save the legend from obscurity, a report circulated that it was not a “chaw terbacker” after all. The elephant had instead gnawed on a chinquapin (ching-K-pin) burr, a spiny nut fruit that grows in higher elevations. The reassured crowd soon meandered back to the big tent with confidence restored.

Bob noted that when he acquired enough courage to enter the exhibition area, he encountered a situation that took him all day from which to recover. It was the custom of circuses in those days to tie an elephant to a stake just inside the entrance as an mesmerizing publicity stunt.

About that time, young Bob spotted a big strapping fellow slip in under the influence of strong drink. His pants legs had been stuffed into his boots and he had just enough mountain dew in him to banish any hint of fear.

As the lad staggered past the big pachyderm, he bumped into it and lost his balance. When he got back on his feet, he wrongly surmised that the big critter had something to do with his fall. He greatly resented it and stood there a few seconds looking at the beast with a hint of revenge permeating his thoughts.

Almost immediately, word began to spread that the five-toed mammal had purposely knocked him down by his trunk. The drunk stood angrily before the creature and disgustedly uttered the words: “Lookey here you two-tailed scoundrel, if I jest knowed which end of your head contained your brain, I'd kick it out of you.”

Fortunately without further ado, the imbibed man sensibly meandered off without further incidence. Later in life, Bob would say that this amusing incident still resided firmly in his memory.

I wish to thank Alf and Martha Gene Taylor for sharing this story with me from a treasured family scrapbook.

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I attended the first grade at West Side School (1949-50) and grades two through six at Henry Johnson School  (1951-55). PTA was held on the third Wednesday of each month. We usually decorated the rooms for each meeting, which usually consisted of posters we researched for assigned projects.  I had some really great teachers for my grammar school years. Let me briefly comment on those at Henry Johnson.

Henry Johnson School

Plaques on each side of the front doors

Second grade (1950-51), Mrs. Linnie Rowe: She really knew how to motivate me. I routinely wrote little “stories” on small pieces of paper and gave them to her to read. Not long after, she began reading them to the class, which thrilled me immensely. Her husband, Mr. Everett Rowe, would become my Junior High School principal preceding Tyson Jones within five years.

Third grade (1951-52), Miss Margaret King: She is best remembered for her interest in Cherokee Indian culture. It was during this time that I developed pneumonia and was not allowed to return to school for 15 days. My teacher, being so “thoughtful,” sent me homework assignments to do each day.

Fourth grade (1952-53), Mrs. Alf (Fannie) Taylor: She is remembered for her love of reading books to her young students. She allotted about ten minutes at the end of each school day, continuing the next day where the previous one ended. I fondly remember two books: The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) and Uncle Wiggley (Howard Garis). These books now grace my home library.

On one occasion, Mrs. Taylor learned about an incident that one of the boys did at recess. She asked us to identify the guilty perpetrator, but nobody would squeal. When school was concluded, she dismissed the girls and kept the boys in their seats. After a futile effort to get us to open up, she led us into the hallway and proceeded to whack each boy on the behind with a ruler. Her rationale was that this would at least punish the offender even if the rest of the class received the same discipline. 

Fifth grade (1953-54), Mrs. Dayton (Dorothy) Pierce: My memory comes up a bit short on her. However, my most vivid one was being sent to the basement and ultimately outside by the janitor to bring back some greenery to decorate our room for Christmas. I was the envy of my classmates. Each of us got to help deck out our room for Christmas, a chore I adored.

Sixth grade (1954-55), Miss Sophia Boring (homeroom teacher): She wrote an annual play for the school. The sixth grade class members were the “seniors” of Henry Johnson School. One of the scripts ranged from part of the class doing  the Virginia Reel to a tribute to coonskin-cap clad, Davy Crockett. Miss Boring also read stories to her class and occasionally acted them out, frequently standing on her desk to dramatize a scene. That got our attention. She introduced us to pen pals to whom we wrote. I eventually had two of them, one from Ceylon (later became Sri Lanka) and another from Australia. Miss Boring stands tall in my memory.

Sixth grade, 1954-55, Miss Gordon Browning (geography teacher): Her main contribution to my remembrance was her “Super Sticker Stamp Club.” This clever venture was designed to get students interested in geography by attending a volunteer after-school stamp-collecting club. I was elected president and presided over the meetings. Miss Browning insisted that we learn Robert’s Rules of Order and used them during the formal portion of our meetings. She cunningly had us talk about countries by using stamps, an activity which also enhanced our public speaking skills.

Music Teacher, 1950-55, Mrs. Mary Jordan: She taught all six grades using the popular New Music Horizons series. She instructed us in the basics of reading music, introduced us to several light classical favorites including her favorite, “Peter and the Wolf” and even gave us a French music lesson with the song “Alouette” (“Alouette, gentille Alouette”).

School Principal, 1950-55:  Miss Margaret Crouch was a friendly always-helpful administrator. I can still recall how pleasant she made my transition from West Side School to Henry Johnson School. I won't tell you what it means; look it up. Ah, those were the days. 

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