February 2015

December 1, 1910 found area residents at the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway depot in Dante, Virginia anxiously waiting to embark a train for an invigorating snow-capped scenic excursion across the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to Spartanburg, SC.

The travel guide was Mr. David C. Boy, a stenographer for the railroad at its Johnson City office at Buffalo and Cherry streets. He resided at 404 E. Unaka Avenue.

After boarding the train for the journey south, the passengers heard the steam-operated engine performing its job. Mr. Boy assured everyone that there was no place in the country as readily accessible and more picturesque than the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge. Constructing the mammoth road in rough terrain was a daunting task in 1909 and one of the greatest engineering feats in America.

As they left the chilly coalfields of Dante, the morning sun slowly rose in the sky and distributed rays across the landscape causing frozen dewdrops to sparkle brilliantly throughout the valleys and hillsides.

Soon they approached the beautiful Clinch Mountain, a barrier that once impeded the progress of early pioneers as they made their way along the “Wilderness Trail.” The obstacle was summarily removed, not by eradicating the mountain, but by digging a mile-long tunnel through it.

As the train scurried from the tunnel southward, they were in awe at the beautiful valley of East Tennessee in front of them. When they crossed the north and south forks of the Holston River, they observed the little town of Kingsport in the distance. Continuing our journey, they crossed the historic Boon (Boones) Creek massive viaduct, which shortly ushered them into the flourishing town of Johnson City. As they passed by, Mr. Boy directed their attention to the picturesque setting of the magnificent Mountain Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers that was erected by the government. 

The travelers continued their expedition to an area just north of the Tennessee-North Carolina State line, where nature astonished them with every pulsation of its big iron horse. It was there where there was an outlet through which passed the rippling, roaring, pristine waters that flow to the foothills of the Blue Ridge as it made its ceaseless journey to the sea.

The body of water became known as the Nolachucky (Nolichucky) Gorge. It was here where Daniel Boone trekked as he headed to the wilderness beyond. Also, brave pioneers marched across the Blue Ridge and fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Altapass Inn, Altapass, NC, Bowling Alley, Billiard Room

By this time, the sun had reached its zenith and poured forth a flood of light upon the hills and valleys. The train chugged along beside the banks of Toe River until it reached the summit of the Blue Ridge at Altapass, which is 2,629 feet above sea level. They were in the heart of the Appalachian System with mountains rising on each side of them.

Directly in front was the main part of the Blue Ridge, through which was chiseled a tunnel nearly a half-mile in length. The train rolled along briskly darting in and out of tunnels until 17 of them had been passed.

Descending the south slope of the Blue Ridge offered the group the most picturesque scenes located east of the Rocky Mountains. The Clinchfield “Loop” began just beyond the summit and completed a circuit of eight miles. Here they began to see such mammoth snowcapped peaks as Table Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Hawk’s Hill, Roan Mountain and 56 others of varying heights. As the sun began to recede behind the western horizon, the beauty of the hills was further enhanced.

David Boy privileged his passengers to a picturesque tour that was aptly called “The Scenic Route Across the Blue Ridge.” 

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Today's feature is a continuation of the one that began on January 26. The information from The Comet newspaper addresses the origin of Johnson City's Lady of the Fountain. I chose to quote rather than paraphrase it. My comments are shown in parenthesis. Forward me any remarks or questions you might have.

A Closeup of the Lovely Lady of the Fountain (aka Greek Water Carrier)


“Ladies Public Fountain Committee: Under Parks and Public Improvements, Rev. John T. Brown of the committee stated there was no definite report to make, but that the committee would meet with the Ladies' Public Fountain Committee, Mrs. James A. Summers, chairman, on Tuesday afternoon and take up the matter of purchasing and installing a fountain in the Public Square and otherwise improving the enclosed triangle.”


“The New Fountain for the Square: The fountain for the Public Square purchased by Mrs. James Summers and associates, as the result of tag day and other enterprises, is arriving and will soon be in place. When this is completed and the square otherwise beautified, it will be transformed from an eyesore to an ornament to the city. All honor is due to the good women who have had this matter in hand.”

(The fountain impressively made the transition from a proposed simplistic public water hole to a beautiful bowl with eight spigots for pedestrians, pans for watering animals and a statue that sold by the manufacturer as the “Greek Water Carrier” mounted above it.


“Fountain Now Being Erected, Busy with Foundation: Workmen are busy with the foundation and putting in the pipe line. The new bronze fountain will be useful as well as ornamental for all time. It will be only a few more days until the Public Square will be the most attractive spot in the city. This will be the best money that has been spent in Johnson City in a public way for a long time and the ladies, God bless them, are entitled to all the credit.”


“Gump's Rebuilding Sale: A full page advertisement elsewhere in this issue of The Comet will carry good news to many homes in this city where there are men and boys to be shod. For 29 years, Gumps has been a household word in Johnson City and vicinity and stood for clothing of quality. The business has grown steadily with the town and now has outgrown its quarters, in a sense.

“In other words, the house is going to put on a new front to make a suitable background for the Public Square when the handsome new fountain is placed. Contractor Curtis will begin remodeling the building on July 15 and to give his corps of workmen elbow room, this big sale has been inaugurated, the first in the history of the firm.

“The prices offered are astonishing when it is realized that only the highest class of clothing, furnishings, hats and shoes are carried in stock, advertised by the makers and standard the world over. You don't have to be your own judge to purchase at this sale, the brand on the articles tell the story. This sale will be a big success because the people know from experience that the Gump reputation is behind every article offered in the sale and the prices will do the rest.”


“Help Lift the New Fountain Debt: The fountain cannot be presented to the city until it is entirely free from debt. The committee is not willing to be responsible for the money necessary to complete the work. At a recent meeting, they decided to make a statement in the local papers so the people will know how their money is to be expended.

“Subscriptions can be left at Summers-Parrott Hardware Co. The list has already been started so bring your contribution at once and we can start the fountain to bubbling. Contributes on Tag Day totaled $527.50.

“The project cost $802.03: cost of the fountain purchased in New York (Lady of the Fountain portion was purchased in New York while the bowl came from a Lenoir City foundry), $515; Freight, $25.45; foundation, $63; concrete walkways leading to the fountain, $96; and two drinking troughs for horses, $74.50. Contributions from local businesses were Unaka National Bank, $15; Summers-Parrott Hardware Co., $10; Hart & Houston, $5; Wm. Silver & Co., $5; Bank of Commerce, $5; Dosser Brothers, $5; H. Gildersleeve $25; and Gump Brothers, $5.”

The Lady of the Fountain as It Appeared at Mayne Williams Library When It Was Located at the Site of the Old Downtown Science Hill High School


“Mrs. James Summers sent the following list of subscription since the last issue of The Comet: Watauga Electric Co., $5; Johnson City Traction Co. (streetcars), $5; William G. Mathes, $10; Frank Henderson, $5; Brading & Marshall, $10; Wofford Brothers, $5; Humane Society, $13.50; Charles Cargille, $3; and cash, $5.

“Money was also donated to provide two additional 8-foot walkways across the triangle to the fountain: M.I. Gump, $20; J.C. Paving Co., $5, P.Q. Miller (Justice of the Peace), $5; and W.F. Jones, $5.”


(The much anticipated news finally arrived.) “The Fountain is Now Bubbling: The water wagon is in constant eruption in this city now and forever more. Tuesday, the new fountain on the Public Square was connected with the reservoir and the bubbling drinking cups have been doing double duty since. When the additional walks now being laid are finished and the curb put in along the Southern Railway, the public can get a general idea of how beautiful the Square will look with the finishing touches of grass and flowers are added.”


“Elks Help Swell Fountain Fund: Johnson City Lodge No. 825 B.P.O.E. (Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, also said to be the “Best People On Earth”) gave a check for $51 to Mrs. L. Armbrust this week to help pay the balance due on the fountain and improvements the ladies have undertaken on Public Square. This is the largest contribution from any organized body and was as thankfully received as it was cheerfully given. In this generous gift, the Elks have maintained their reputation for doing the proper thing upon all occasions, this proving their right to be known as the B.P.O.E.”


(An advertisement in the newspaper shows Tunnell's Studio no longer located on “Public Square” but on “Fountain Square.” It appears that the square was renamed about that time, which has remained until the present. Walter P. Brownlow must have been proud to have the fountain erected in his honor. He died on July 8, 1910, almost exactly one year after the fountain started bubbling.)

Walter P. Brownlow for Whom the Fountain Was Dedicated

(I conclude with one interesting observation. Mrs. James Summers, wife of former Mayor James A. Summers was instrumental in getting the fountain established downtown. She was also the one who acquired the statue when it was removed from Roosevelt (Memorial) Stadium for metal recycling. She took it to her garden in her new home in Henderson, NC and later assisted with its return to Johnson City. What a history the Lady has experienced.) 

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May 1904 saw Johnson City looking “pretty,” according to the local newspaper. This was four years before the downtown streets were paved. “How pretty the town looks,” it said, ” in its robe of green trimmed with roses and other flowers. The new sidewalks are a great improvement, too. Let us hope they will be built to stand the stress of harsh weather and pedestrian's feet.

“There could be an improvement in keeping the sidewalks clean on Main Street. The present fashion of dress for ladies necessitates so much street sweeping that it would be well if the biggest dirt were taken off before they begin. Surely the town is growing in the right direction. Pleasant homes are the foundation of all improvements, and there are many such here.

“Looking back 14 years to boom times and one sees green lots with trees and flowers where there were once only fresh beds of red clay. We are not yet out of the mud entirely but we hope to be soon.”

The newspaper noted that if the work done with board money was to be conscientiously done, the city could indeed rejoice. The call was for the town to be a good one where people enjoyed coming and which invited the best in a manner to compel them to return.

It was speculated that excursions that brought people to the city for a visit included those who might be looking for a nice place to call home. Therefore, the residents wanted to be able to impress strangers so favorably that they would return again and again, with some of them eventually settling in Johnson City. The best recipe for a successful town was defined as having clean streets, good sidewalks, pretty yards, bountiful trees, flowers and vines.

“By the way, where is that new opera house?,” asked The Comet. “Please hurry it up. The old one has not grown with the town. There has been a reduction of young boys loitering on the streets, but there is need for more improvement. Let them play and have good times but they also need some meaningful work of some kind to do.”

“As to schools,” the publication said, “you may find much to better. The standard should be raised, but when you look back, well, we don't feel too much of a grumble. The town is improving and all must help it. What can you do for your part?”

Other news in the paper that day included:

Foy W. Dulaney, H.C. Miller, George T. Wofford and H.D. Gump represented Johnson City at the Lodge of Elks at Chattanooga this week.”

“James A. Summers made a business trip to North Carolina this week in the interest of the hardware firm of Summers, Barton & Parrott.”

“Rev. Earnest Caldwell, who just returned from China as a missionary, was scheduled to preach at the M.E. Church that next Sabbath morning. He has recently returned from China as a missionary.”

“John Dosser is back from Jonesboro and on duty again at the Patton Drug Co.”

“The Johnson City and Bristol baseball teams will play ball Saturday afternoon at West End Park. The game will be called at 3:30 and the indications are that it will be an interesting contest.”

“Examinations for applicants for positions in the city schools will be held in the Science Hill School building beginning on Monday morning, May 30, 1904, at 8:30.

“P.M. Ward and the other boys, Oran Ward and Raymond Cure went fishing last week up Indian Greek near the Fish Hatchery. They camped out, sleeping in the wagon and catching fish for their breakfast and report a jolly time.”

“'Robin's Roost' has been purchased from Honorable Alfred A. Taylor by Col. W.E. Burbage. Taylor has moved his family to his Chucky Valley farm and given possession of the city property to the purchaser who will move his family into it at once.”

“Austin Springs, hotel will be opened June 1st with a grand ball and many invitations have been issued. There will be an afternoon concert from 2:30 to 4:80 p.m. by the Soldiers' Home band with dancing and refreshments in the evening.”

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Jay Prater, a frequent contributor to my Yesteryear articles, wrote me saying that he had diligently searched for his Duncan yo-yo after reading the Red Shield Boys’ Club article last week on the History/Heritage page. So far, he has not located it, but won’t stop looking for it. Today’s column deals with Valentine’s Day.

The W. Maple Street lover of downtown Johnson City history further noted that he uncovered some vintage Valentine cards several months ago, but it just came to his mind this week that it might be appropriate for a Valentine’s Day column. I think many readers will readily identify with these valentines. I remember exchanging them during my formative years while I was at Henry Johnson School in the early 1950s. I only wish I had saved mine like Jay did.

Each year on February 14th, many people exchange cards, candy, gifts, special meals or flowers with their special valentine. The day of romance that we call Valentine’s Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but has origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia.

The above photograph collage contains 30 valentines that Prater saved from third grade students at Columbus Powell School in 1952. The cards were signed by students and given to their classmates. Although a number of the cards were signed with the student’s first and last names, some contained only the first or last one. Some signatures were on the front of the cards; others were on the back. Jay was able to supply the missing part of the name in several instances. Those missing are flagged by a question mark:

Marcia ?, Phillip Mitchell, Freddie Lee, Janice Harmon, Carolyn Woodby, Lenna ?, Martha Harne, Brenda Spain, Pete (?), Jean Ann Senter, Bobby Crum, Sandra ?, Beth Ann Wallace, Frank (?), Bonnie Lee Fisher, ? Tipton, Kenneth ?, Alma ?, Gary Hoilman, Helen ?, Phyllis Arnett, Kyle ?, Teddy Young, James S. ?, Bob ?, Jimmy ?, Leroy Wood, Miss Thomas, Mrs. Moody and finally, according to Prader, “the proverbial anonymous heart-stopper signed only with ‘I Love You’  and all words underlined.”

I remember a few students from the list as I too attended the third grade in 1952. One in particular, Jean Ann Senter, transferred to Henry Johnson School. I recall her being in my 6th grade class under Miss Sophia Boring. Others were in Science Hill High Schools class of 1961: Bonnie Lee Fisher (father was manager of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. in the 1950s and 60s), Brenda Spain and Phyllis Arnett.

Prater said the third grade teacher at Columbus Powell was Miss Anna Thomas. He noted that she passed away just a couple years ago. He further stated that she and his mother became close friends up until “their graduation into Glory.” The school principal was Mr. Leland.

If you were in Miss Thomas’ class in 1952 or perhaps know someone who was and can supply a student’s first or last name, I would like to hear from you. Thank you, Jay for sharing your cards with us.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks.

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Richard “Dick” Church, who previously shared some memories of the Red Shield Boys' Club, an organization dear to his heart, provided additional memories of the organization. Dick recalled another activity at the Red Shield Boys' Club – stamp collecting.

“There was a gentleman and his young son,” he said, “whose names escape me, who formed a club for boys interested in this hobby. We got together once a week to talk stamps and to show off the stamps we had acquired and traded among ourselves. I still put away a few stamps and have done so over the years. This interest started from my experience at the Boys' Club.”

Dick related another story that had to do with boxing. Ever so often, the boxing coach would get the boys together and offer anyone who could stay in the ring for three rounds a free trip to the concession stand where he usually treated himself to chocolate milk.

“The guys would get together beforehand,” he said, “and agree not to hit each other hard and to pull all our punches. That being the case, even though I was not into the sport as such, it was a way to get a free treat. Fortunately, I don’t remember ever getting hurt.”

Duncan “Diamond Studded” Yo-Yo Won By Dick Church 

Church recalled a craze that hit Johnson City and possibly all over the country involving the Duncan yo-yo company. “All of a sudden, said Church, “Duncan yo-yos were everywhere, “Kress’s, Woolworth's, McLellan's and other five and dime stores. On a Saturday afternoon, when all us kids congregated downtown to hang out or take in a matinee movie at the Majestic Theatre, they would have a young man out front of the stores demonstrating yo-yos.

“There were usually several different demonstrators and all were from the Philippines. They were probably in their 20s. All of them were experts with the yo-yo and would teach the kids how to do tricks with them.

“One evening at the Boys Club, they held a contest to see which boy in the club was the best using a yo-yo. I was pretty good and practiced before the contest so I could make the yo-yo “sleep,” “walk the dog,” “cats cradle,” “shoot the moon” and other tricks. We all lined up with our Duncan yo-yo’s. I don’t think there was any other brand. In turn, each boy demonstrated his prowess with his special yo-yo to one of the guys who judged the contest.”

Dick explained that there were prizes awarded for the first three places. The first prize was a gold, probably plated, yo-yo. The second one was an all-black model with three “diamonds” embedded on each side which would sparkle when the yo-yo was spinning. The latter was the prize that Dick wanted. He didn't remember what the third prize was.

“Well,” he said, “I came in second place and proudly won the special “diamond” studded yo-yo. I still have it and wouldn’t trade it for the gold one even if the price of gold was through the roof and the diamonds were real.

“I must also mention that these young Philippines guys had another special talent. They could whip out a pocketknife and, while you watched, quickly carve a scene, flowers, your name or something else into the wooden yo-yo. They would then take a thick white paint material and rub it into the carved area, polish it off and handed you a work of art.

“I had my black diamond studded one so carved (as shown in the attached photos). Notice on one side is a boat, an airplane, a palm tree and some birds flying; on the other is a garland of some kind of flowers looking something like a thistle.”

Dick further stated that all through the years, he has been thankful for the adult volunteers and the men who ran the club for their dedicated efforts. He singled out one individual, a man named “George,” for kick-starting him in radio, his lifetime vocation and avocation. I am still looking for some who knows George's last name?

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