January 2015

I appreciate Harold “Hal” J. Hunter's Jan. 14 letter to the editor titled, “Preserving History Should Be a Priority of the City.” I wholeheartedly agree. Today's column contains the first of several articles I will feature over time involving a landmark that is no longer a part of the East Tennessee scene. There have been so many in recent years.

In 1971, Paul R. Smith, former writer for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle called attention to the demise of the old 3-story Dixie Hotel that occupied 109 W. Market Street. Some of us will recall when it was located across the street from London Hardware Co.

Building Along the 100 Block of W. Market Street, including the Dixie Hotel,Being Razed in 1971

The vacant, outdated and nearly forgotten hostelry was leveled that year in connection with Johnson City's Urban Renewal Program. It was only a short time later that the building at 105 W. Main, was razed. This was according to Robert Sliger, executive director of the Johnson City Housing Authority, who further noted that other downtown structures were targeted for demolition in the near future.

Two other hotels conducted business at 109 E. Market: the Palace (c1930) and the Grand (c1935). Two hospitals also operated there – Jones Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital (c1923) and Goss Hospital (c1928).

The picture shows the building about halfway destroyed. Weather conditions prevented a speedy clearance of the entire building which occupied the 100 block. This property was in close proximity to the plot of land between W. Market and W. Main that was used by Henry Johnson, founder of the city. He build a combination residence and merchant store near that spot.

The Dixie Hotel was erected in 1922 by the late Dr. James H. Preas, Sr., physician and surgeon, who died there during the time he maintained an office on the ground level. His beautiful residence was at 1300 Buffalo Street on Rome Hill.

The Market Street building fronted 60 feet and extended back 92 feet to an alley that adjoined the old Hoss property, the former Dyer boundary and what was formerly known as the W. Worley property. 

The upstairs hotel portion of the facility contained 19 rooms. Four businesses were located at street level. The hotel portion of the property had not been used as a hotel for several years. It's abandonment was attributed partly to a damaging fire that occurred there.

In 1963, the city's appraisal for tax purposes was lowered drastically because of what official city records showed to be “economic obsolescence due to low income.” The old hotel formerly was patronized to a large extent by tobacco growers of outlying areas and by transients at burley tobacco marketing time.

Also, the hotel and other structures along that block were part of a changing scene that called for connecting Commerce and Lamont streets. There was also be an economic adjustment in the vicinity, seeing the shift of old established nearby businesses, some closing entirely.

Check out the companies that operated from that site from 1911 through 1972.

1911: 109 (vacant).

1913: 107-09 C.G. Hannah & Co., wholesale dry goods.

1915: 107-09 C.G. Hannah & Co.

1917: 107-09 C.G. Hannah & Co., 109 Burbage Produce Co. (Henry I. Burbage).

1922: 109 (vacant).

1923: 109 Preas Building; Jones Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital, U.G. Jones, physician; E.C. Campbell, Mrs. Pearl Campbell; 111 J.H. Preas, Physician.

1926: 109 Preas Building; Jones Hospital.

1928: 109 Goss Hospital; 111 Preas Building, James H. Preas, physician.

1930: 109 Palace Hotel; 111 Preas Building.

1935: 109 Grand Hotel.

1939: 109 Dixie Hotel; single residence.

1941: 109 Dixie Hotel.

1948: 109 Dixie Hotel; 109.5 Cameron's Jewelry.

1953: 109 Dixie Hotel, W.A. Payne, manager.

1955: 109 Dixie Hotel; J.C. Krouse Jeweler; R.L. Cochran Jeweler.

1958: 109 Dixie Hotel; J.C. Krouse Jeweler; R.L. Cochran Jeweler.

1960: 109 Dixie Hotel; J.C. Krouse Jeweler.

1964: 109 Dixie Hotel; J.C. Krouse Jeweler.

1970: J.C. Krouse Jeweler.

1972: (vacant, building razed).

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Today's feature is the first of two that will address the origin of Johnson City's beautiful Lady of the Fountain. Although it answers several questions about the development of the downtown water fountain, it also presents some facts that are hard to interpret, “history mysteries” as I call them. The information comes from The Comet and is quoted just as it appeared in the newspaper. Any comments I offer are shown in parenthesis. Feel free to send me any comments or questions you might have. The second Lady of the Fountain feature will appear in late February. 

The Lady of the Fountain as She Stands Watch Over Johnson City's Public Square


“That Fountain, Gift from Judge Hart: We are to have a fountain on Public Square in Johnson City. It is to be a gift from Judge Henry C. Hart. He is going to have it erected and will pay for it from his private purse.

“This is a meritorious step and one dictated by a desire on the Judge's part to not only beautify and adorn Public Square but to afford a convenience to the people of the countryside as well as those of the town and to strangers visiting the city.

“The town and the citizens of the entire country cannot sufficiently thank the donor for his public-spiritedness and solicitude for their welfare, as it will indeed be a boon to them and we await with impatience the erection of this fountain where from the pure waters will flow”

(Note that no mention is made of a Brownlow Fountain or the Lady of the Fountain. It appears to deal with the need of a water fountain on the Public Square.)


“Tank on Square May Be Used As Brownlow Fountain: Having heard possibly that the tank on the square was unsightly in the eyes of some, the Southern (Railway) has had it repainted and repaired. Perhaps permission would be given by the company now to allow it to be used as the Brownlow Fountain until contributors become more numerous.”

(This is the only mention I can find of the railroad tank being used as the Brownlow Fountain.)


“The Brownlow Fountain, A Fund to Erect Fountain: At a recent meeting of the Board of Trade, appropriate resolutions were passed in reference to a fountain to be erected on Public Square in honor of our worthy Congressman, Honorable Walter P. Brownlow. It was the sense of the Board of trade to erect this fountain at a cost of $1,000 and to raise this fund by a popular subscription from the people of Johnson City and surrounding community. (Soldiers' home was approved in 1901. Apparently, the honoring of Brownlow with a fountain occurred two years later in 1903.)

“The Board of Trade therefore appointed a committee of ways and means to which  committee the matter of raising the funds has been instructed, as follows: S.H. Pouder, Chairman; James A. Summers, secretary; P.M. Ward, treasurer; G.T. Wofford; and W.G, Mathes.

“For the convenience of the public, the committee designated J.C. Campbell as a solicitor at the post office and S.A. Byrd at the Soldiers' Home.

“The idea of building a fountain on the square is one that has been strongly endorsed for years but never has it struck so popular a vein of sentiment as when the question of erecting it in honor of Congressman Brownlow was mentioned. That it is an appropriate token of the high esteem in which Col. Brownlow is held by our people goes without saying.

“The people feel that they should do something to show their appreciation and gratitude for the many good things which Col. Brownlow has done for this Congressional district and chief among which is having erected in this city the National Home for disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

“Now that the people have an opportunity to show their gratefulness for so worthy a congressman, they can do so in the matter of this popular subscription fund to build the Brownlow fountain.

“The maximum subscription from any one individual is set at $10, so that any amount up to $10 will be received. This plan is adopted to make the subscription popular and one that can be reached by any individual. All subscriptions will be duly acknowledged through the public press.”


“May Elect Fountain to Honor Congressman Brownlow: Johnson City may erect a fountain in honor of Congressman Brownlow, who has done so much for the town. In the event it is erected, the editor of the Hardeman Free Press should be engaged to deliver the dedicatory speech. He is a fountain that spouts pure water all the time.”


“Southern Tank Could be Used as Brownlow Fountain: Having heard possibly that the tank on the square was unsightly in the eyes of some, the Southern Railway has had it repainted and repaired. Perhaps permission would be given by the company now to allow it to be used as the Brownlow Fountain until contributors become more numerous.”


“Where Is the Brownlow Fountain?: Where is the Brownlow fountain? Has it dried up? We notice a little green spot on the north side of Market street beside the railroad. Great trees from little acorns grow. Wanted more of it.”


“Tag Day Next Saturday: Saturday, September 19, is tag day and you are expected to give your mite to help build a fountain on Public Square. The good women of Johnson City are back of the enterprise and it is going to be a success. The more you contribute, the handsomer the fountain will be. (Tag day referred to the soliciting of contributions to a fund, with each contributor receiving a tag.)

“A water color sketch of how the square will look when beautified can now be seen in the William Silver & Co.' show window. It is a very handsome piece of work and was drawn by The Comet's artist, W.E. Burkholtz, perhaps the cleverest artist in the South. It is a beauty and if you will look at it, you will readily give a $5 or $10 to speed the good work.

“The Comet will have an engraving made for publication so that any persons away from Johnson City may contribute for old acquaintance sake.”


“Tag Day A Success: Last Saturday was tag day in Johnson City and the weather was ideal. A large number of industrious ladies, young and younger, worked hard all day and as a result $530 was added to the fund being raised to beautify Public Square. It was a great day's work and the satisfaction that comes from labor well performed will be the only reward until a beautiful square shall smile upon them in the near future and hence forth.

“Miss Lila Taylor won first prize, $5 in gold given by Summers-Parrott Hardware Co., and presented it to the fountain fund. The second prize, a pair of $3.50 shoes offered by Hannah & Faw, west to Miss Bess Slaughter. Miss Mary Hardy won third place, a silver belt pin offered by William Silver & Co., valued at $1.50 and gave the fountain fund the equivalent in cash.”

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On February 23, 1947, a full page ad in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle was dedicated to a newly organized business in town, Dinty Moore's Restaurant. The eatery had been around for several years with essentially the same name but at four separate downtown locations.

The first one, known as Dinty Moore Cafe, was at 249 E. Main Street about 1935s. Last July, the Johnson City Press reported that the old cafe sign was uncovered when workers were remodeling the second floor facade. The managers were Olin O. Point and W. Jack Moore. Older residents will likely recall The Chocolate Bar that resided in that same site in the 1940s.

First Dinty Moore Cafe Sign from about 1935 Uncovered in Summer 2014

The second Dinty Moore Cafe, managed by J.R. Moore, was at 236 E. Main in the early 1940s, that location having been in prior years the site of the Edisonian, Criterion and State movie theatres. Sandy Green, who helped me compose an article about Christiansen's Cafe in Aug. 2012, told me that about 1942 the new restaurant acquired the property vacated by Dinty Moore's Cafe.

The third restaurant was located at 115 E. Market, managed by Pinckney Moore and later Hunter R. Moore. It acquired a name change from “Cafe” to “Restaurant.”

The establishment was sandwiched between Quality Bakery on the west side, Gregg Electric Co. on the east and directly across the street from the rear entrance of Betty Gay Shop, a fashionable ladies' clothing store.

Other names that were associated with the establishment included Raymond Moore, P.R. Moore, Lena R. Moore and Lela O. Moore.

The Press-Chronicle February ad stated: “Opens Monday, Feb. 24, 1947. Open Daily and Sunday. Regular Dinners and Short Orders. Featuring Cleanliness and Courtesy.”

“Congratulations to Dinty Moore. Sure! He'll Serve Enriched Honey-Krust.”

“The Hackney Co., Inc., 101 N. Roan Street, extends congratulations to Dinty Moore and his organization on the day their formal opening.”

“Best Wishes to Dinty Moore and his modern restaurant. We are proud of the job we have completed on your building: Electrical, Ventilation. Gregg Electric Co., 117 E. Market.”

“Congratulations Dinty. We wish you every good thing in your business venture and we are sure your customers and employees will enjoy your Kentile floor installed by E.N. Campbell Co., 303 W. Walnut, Phone 715.”

“Best Wishes, Dinty. Here's wishing you lots of good luck and success in your new restaurant. The Little Store Super Market (112-14 W. Market, Thomas Deaderick, manager).”

“Congratulations Dinty Moore. We feel that your new restaurant is a definite asset to our town and wish you much success. Whitlow Sign Co. (Joe B. Whitlow), Neon Manufacturing Sales and Service, 108 Tipton Street.”

“Marshall Brothers Lumber Co. (Carl L. and Olin R. Marshall) wishes to express sincere wishes of assured success to the new and modern Dinty Moore's Restaurant. We are proud to have had a part in its construction.”

“Best wishes Dinty Moore's Restaurant for a most prosperous business. The perfection of an-all gas equipped, most modern kitchen makes prosperity evident through satisfied customers. Watauga Valley Gas Company (329 E. Main, Howard W. Gee, phones 260 and 1349).”

“Congratulations to the new Dinty Moore's Restaurant, 115 W. Market. The new, modern equipment and fixture furnished by Scruggs Equipment Co., Inc., Scruggs Building, Broadway at Jackson, Knoxville, Tennessee, Local Representative, W.D. Chadwick, Johnson City, Tenn.”

The restaurant made one final relocation about 1961 when it moved up the street to the more spacious 121-23 E. Market site. It was a bit more upscale than most of the downtown restaurants of that era.

Dinty Moore's unusual slogan was “Dinty Moore's No Better Than The Best, But Better Than The Rest.” If you recall the downtown diner, drop me a line.   

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Ms. Cecile Mettetal McQueen sent me a letter containing a March 1978 newspaper clipping written by former Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, Dorothy Hamill. The article dealt with Ms. McQueen's grandfather, Ray Albert Mettetal, who with his wife, Gwendolyn, resided at 1301 E. Holston in Johnson City.

The elder Mettetal was the father of Dr. Ray Wallace Mettetal who practiced in Johnson City for many years and who was my family's primary physician and a good one I might add. He worked U.S. Mail, RFD Route 4 from 1917 until 1949. Initially,he rode a horse carrying the mail in saddlebags, riding over bumpy roads and experiencing a diversity of weather conditions. Later, he purchased a one-horse mail wagon from Ohio, which he used for several years before acquiring an automobile. In those days, carriers had to provide their own transportation, including horses.

Mettetal's first year of work encountered the worst winter ever recorded in the area. One morning, his red bay horse was completely frosted over and was as white as cotton. Ray was so cold he put his gloves over his face and attempted to thaw his frozen eyelashes with his breathe. He later learned that it was 23 degrees below zero that morning.

The body of the mail wagon was metal and originally painted green. The top and sides were canvas so they could be rolled up or lowered depending on the weather. It had glass side windows and a removable windshield. On the sides of the vehicle were the letters: “U.S. Mail, R.F.D.” 

Albert's route included Princeton, lower Knob Creek, Austin Springs, Watauga Flats and Piney Grove, a distance of 27.5 miles over crude roads that consisted of mostly cow paths and mud. Later his route was expanded to 40 miles after he purchased a Ford automobile.

Ray would rise about four a.m. to get ready for his route. When he began using the mail wagon, he kept two horses and usually rotated them. His days were often long such that he would not return home until eight or nine o'clock in the evening, which prevented him from seeing his son until Sundays. “I saw more of the people on my route,” he often said, “than I did my own family”

In all the years Ray traveled that route, he came to know the people well by carrying them medicine, notifying them when their cattle got out, handing out candy to the youngsters and other services. He could even tell you what the families on his route planted in the fields. 

Ray, often told his family that people “killed me with kindness.” On hot days, he might find slices of cake and a tall glass of cold milk waiting for him in the mail box. In cold weather, he might discover a note inviting him to come in the house and help himself to a bowl of hot soup.

Of all the many experiences of those 32 years, none were more unusual than the time he was called upon to play Cupid. One morning, a man came out to his mailbox and asked Ray he would help him find a woman. Knowing that the man's wife had passed away some time back, Mettetal assumed that he wanted a housekeeper.

Ray asked the man, “What would you be willing to pay her?” “Pay her?” exclaimed his friend. “I want you to find me a wife.” Ray responded with a grin and rode off determined to help the hapless fellow. On that same day, a lady came to the mailbox with some mail and began talking to him.

Ray learned that she was poor, a widow and had to work for a living. Ray told her about the man and asked if she was interested in meeting him. Her answer was a quick, “I am interested.” Ray saw them two days later together heading down the road … to get married.

After 32 years of faithfully delivering the mail, Ray A. Mettetal retired in 1949 due to health reasons. It was time to go to the house and let somebody else deliver the mail.

Cecile said the old mail wagon stood for years on her grandfather's farm, until it was later moved to her father's residence. It eventually ended up at her house. Time eventually took its toll on the old wagon, including a tree that fell on it, heavily damaging it. Even though it is beyond restoration, she cannot bring herself to throw it away. It brings back so many memories for her.

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Today's column  is the first of three articles dealing with the Lady of the Fountain's origin in downtown Johnson City. The other two pieces are larger feature stories presenting my research that spans 1894 (when the fountain was first conceived) to 1909 (when it became fully operational).

Lady of the Fountain on Fountain Square (Archives of Appalachia, Wofford “Pat” Watson Collection)

Former Johnson City Press-Chronicle staff writer, Marianne Odom, wrote an article for the paper in August, 1983. Her work coincided with Lady's returned to Johnson City from Henderson, NC to resume her role as a part of the city's past and future. She had been absent 46 years.

The Lady measures seven and a half feet tall, which includes the vase on her shoulder. The dedication ceremony was held on Sept. 20 that year. The figure that once graced Fountain Square found a new home inside the Johnson City Public Library that acquired the land on the north side of Mayne Williams Library after the old Science Hill High School was razed and the hill leveled. About 30 people attended the ceremony that day.

Mayor Raymond Huff described himself as one of the few residents of Johnson City who could actually remember the figure in her original resting place and then proclaimed Sept. 20 as “Lady of the Fountain Day.” The statue was placed in the main lobby of the library, surrounded by live plants.

In the early 1900s, Mayor James A. Summers and other city officials voted to erect a fountain on the square to honor U.S. Rep. Walter Preston Brownlow. The congressman had been instrumental in making Johnson City the location of the Mountain Branch of the National Homes for Disabled Veterans, today known as the Mountain Home VA Medical Center.

I consulted Carol Grissom, Senior Objects Conservator, of the Smithsonian Institute and was told that our statue was definitely the “Greek Water Carrier,” sculptured by Alan George Newman (1875–1940) and copyrighted in 1905 by the J.L. Mott Iron Works (118-120 Fifth Avenue, NY). The water fountain below the statue was fabricated at a Lenoir City foundry, which also did railroad repair work.

In 1937, the fountain had to be moved to correct traffic problems at Fountain Square. The Lady was relocated from downtown to Roosevelt (later renamed Memorial) Stadium where she stood near the Doughboy statue. Later the city hauled the fountain to the city dump.

Fortunately, the statue was saved from metal recycling by Alice Summers, who acquired her and kept her in a barn for several years before shipping her to Henderson, North Carolina to grace the garden of Mr. and Mrs. John Zollicoffer. Mrs. Zollicoffer was the former Helen Summers of Johnson City. Her son has been very helpful in piecing together the history of the Lady.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce became interested in the statue several years later. At Johnson City's Centennial, Dan Wexler, Jr. managed to locate the figure in the private Henderson, NC garden.

When contacted by members of the chamber, the owners were unwilling to part with the piece, which had by that time fallen into severe disrepair. Her legs were cracked and concrete had been used to repair the damage.

Later, however, she was dedicated to the city and shipped back in 1983. Several local residents were instrumental in obtaining the Lady's return.

Mike Rose, a Carter County high school teacher and sculptor, was asked to restore the piece to her original beauty. With the help of several students, the team began stripping paint and removing concrete from the base of the statue.

Rose and his students used special materials to repair the cracks and returned the statue to her original slate blue color. The cost of the project was in excess of $5,000.

My two upcoming features, providing added details from old newspapers about the early days of the beautiful Lady of the Fountain, will occur in a few weeks.

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