June 2015

I received a note from Betsy Shaw on behalf of her mother, Bessie Kate “Bess” Young Katcham who will be 100 years old on July 18. “Nothing would please her and her family more,” said Betsy, “than to have an interview with you about those 100 years in Johnson City and how everything has changed.”

During her life, Bess enjoyed the Johnson City Press and read every word from front to back. After being diagnosed with macular degeneration, Betsy continued to read the news to her. She especially loves area history articles and can personally relate to so many of them.

Left: Young Bess with Her Parents / Right: Bess (far left) and Her Sibblings

What do we know about the Young family? According to Ray Stahl from his book, Greater Johnson City- A Pictorial History (1983, The Donning Co.), the Young family members collectively acquired more than 2,000 acres that had been bought from the Cherokees, which was about the same amount as that sold under the Watauga Association sale. Bess can be proud of her Young family history.

Listed below are seven questions and answers provided by the soon-to-be centurion. Ms. Shaw interviewed her and supplied me with ample text and photos for this feature. Her comments are only slightly edited.

1. What is the background of the Young family?

“The Young family is one of the original families in this area. My father was Frank David Young and he was the baby of six children (that included Willie, George, Jim, Nannie and Ruth) born to Hattie Matilda Emaline Scott Young and Thomas Young. “My ancestor, Robert Young, and family were the inhabitants of the Young Cabin located at Winged Deer Park here in Johnson City. The cabin was originally located on Mckinley Road behind the Tennessee National Guard Armory. All the men of our family, including my father, were accomplished brick masons with the exception of Jim, who was an attorney. 

“An example of my father's trade was the fact that he put the finishing round of brick on the John Sevier Hotel, a major downtown city landmark. The entire family rode the streetcar down Roan Street to the big celebration. “The advantage of being a brick mason during this time was that masons joined hands and built each other a brick home. We even had a brick outhouse that contained an expired Sears and Roebuck catalog in it.  This home still stands at 2027 E. Unaka Avenue.

“My mother was born to Rebecca and Jim Blevins, who was the Tweetsie Railroad conductor, and was one of six  children from a blended family. The stepfather was Tom White. He hauled slag from the old Carnegie furnace. When they dumped it daily, it lit up the entire sky of E. Johnson City at the end of the streetcar track on E. Fairview. Not many people, if any, are alive today would remember the fiery skyline. At the end of this streetcar track was the Commissary where “the furnace workers owed their souls to the company store.”

Bess and Her Husband, Willard in Their Younger Days

2. Did the Great Depression affect your life and that of your family?

“The Depression was not felt as much by my middle class family as it was by the upper and lower classes.  I say this because we raised our own pork, beef and poultry.  We also had a garden where we raised vegetables. We canned and preserved everything we could. My mother made our clothes out of flower sacks and she made lye soap out of pig fat in a brass kettle over a fire in the back yard.

“Part of the corn crop was taken to St. John's Mill on Watauga Road for grinding into corn meal and cracked corn for chicken feed. This mill still stands today but is not operational.

“What did affect us was rationing of such items as coffee.  Also, the building industry was virtually at a stand still. My family had to sell our brick house and move to find work. We relocated to Morristown and resided there for a year before moving back to Johnson City. My parents were never to own another home. After reflecting on this, the Depression did severely affect us because nothing was ever the same for us.”

3. What do you remember about your school years?

“I attended grammar school at Piney Grove Elementary School and later Martha Wilder located on Myrtle Avenue in East Johnson City. I attended Junior High School on Roan Street. I walked 2.5 miles to school every day and on occasion was afforded a ride by Mr. St. John, owner of mill, as he also took his daughter, Josephine, to school in an automobile.

“My fondest memories were of climbing the magnificent steps of Science Hill High School. I spent two years there but had to move to Morristown for my junior year due to the Depression. My family returned to Johnson City after my junior year, but I never returned to school. Instead, I got a job working at McLellans 5 & 10 store.

4. What are some of the significant changes you observed in your life?

“We lived in our brick house several blocks past the Johnson City Country Club on East Unaka in my early childhood. There was no power or paved streets past the Club. We used a wood stove for cooking and coal stove for heat. We hah a wash board for washing. We had a cow, hogs, chickens and a garden which provided food.

“That all changed after the Depression. We moved into a rented house with no animals and no garden. We then became dependent on local stores for our groceries. We did, however, own a car because this was necessary for a brick mason to get to his job. This allowed us to visit family, go on picnics at the Unicoi County Fishery, the Laurels and Cox's Lake. We always picked blackberries at Fall Branch every July 4th.”


Bess in Her Wedding Dress / Bess Graduates from Nursing School / Bess at age 97

5. How did your life change in your early adulthood?

“My friend, Sweden Hodges Wilhoit, lived with my family during the week and we would ride the train from Johnson City to Boones Creek to his house on Saturday night and then ride back to Johnson City on the train Sunday after church. It was not unusual for my mother to allow my cousins to live with us during the summer when they were out of school. 

“I later went to work at the hosiery mill (Johnson City Mills) just off New Street in East Johnson City. During this time, I looked out my window and saw Willard Katcham walking past my house. I said, 'what a good looking boy'. My mother replied after looking out the window, 'Stay away from that boy; he is too good looking and will be nothing but trouble.' Three years later I married Willard. I was living at the time in Johnson City.”

6. What were your later years like?:  

“Willard and I raised three children: Carol, Larry and Betsy. We lived on Boone Street, which was then North Johnson City. I was a full time mom. We also lived in Kingsport for a time while Willard worked at Holston Ordnance Works. We moved back to Johnson City when Willard started working at Thomas Oil Company. We purchased our first new home in 1957 on the west side of Johnson City.

“Tragedy struck my life in 1958 when Willard died of a heart attack while on a deer scouting outing with our 15-year-old-son. My husband was only able to see one grandchild of six, Randy Lyle, and none of our great or great-great grandchildren.

“On Mother's Day on May 8, 1983, the Johnson City Press-Chronicle published a letter from my youngest daughter Betsy, depicting my challenges and recovery. I was able to rebuild my life to become an independent self supporting person through my continuous faith in God.”

Left: Bess Standing in Front of the Robert Young Cabin / The Young Brick House in Johnson City

7. What are your best memories of growing up and living in Johnson City?

“We made our own skedaddle skate boards using a board and some skate wheels, which we played with all day. On the first day of summer, we dropped our shoes and went barefooted all summer until school started again.

“Outstanding memories include enjoying a soda upstairs at Anderson Drug Store; going to the movies at the Liberty Theater; walking to the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas parades; parking on Main Street with Willard and watching people walk by; following the iceman and getting small pieces of ice from the ice truck; receiving candy treats from Tolbert H. Kitts, Sr., who was known as the “Raleigh Man”; seeing our RFD mailman, Ray Mettetal, Sr. (father of Ray W. Mettetal); walking to Godsey Grocery (2103 E. Unaka) with a nickel or dime; purchasing my wedding dress from Masengill’s Department Store in 1936; and having lunch wagon breaks at the hosiery mill with an original six-ounce Coca Cola with mushy ice.”

Happy upcoming 100th birthday, Bess! The readers of the Johnson City Press thank you for sharing your much-loved memories of growing up in Johnson City.”

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The late Sue Carr Eckstein, daughter of Paul Carr, co-owner of Carr Brothers, Inc., once shared her father's massive scrapbook with me. One local undated Johnson City Chronicle article dealt with the passing of former Johnson City mayor, William J. Barton, who I have written about several times over the years.

According to Ray Stahl's book, Greater Johnson City- A Pictorial History, 1983, he served the office from 1927-29. A 1928 City Director reveals that he was president of Barton Implement and Feed Company, located on Buffalo at Cherry. At one time, he was affiliated with Summers, Barton & Parrott Hardware, residing at 309 E. Unaka.

When the former mayor died, Robert King, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, conducted the services, which were held at the residence. Interment was held at the Lyle-Barton Cemetery near the old Barton farm on the Jonesborough Highway.

The services, simple yet impressive, were conducted in the presence of several hundred friends of Mr. Barton, many of whom has been closely acquainted with him for many years. Scores of beautiful floral offerings were banked about the bier and were evidence of the high esteem in which the deceased was held by the people of this city.

Rev. King read several scripture sections and prayers were offered by Rev. John Martin, superintendent of the Home Missions of the Holston Presbytery, and Frank Sells.

Miss Rhea Hunter sang, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” a favorite selection of the deceased; She was accompanied at the piano by Miss Mary Lou Lyle.

During that Monday afternoon, all municipal offices were closed in memory of Mr. Barton and practically all city employees were in attendance at the funeral services. Pallbearers were Leland Cardwell, James A. Summers, Frank Lyle, Charles Lyle, Robert Lyle and Joe Lyle.

Flower bearers included Frances Beckner, Mrs. Paul Wofford, Mrs. J.G. Moss, Mrs. H.L. Moore, Mrs. Margaret Wylie, Mrs. H. Cass, Misses Eva Lyle and Mrs. H. Hancock.

Mr. Barton, who was 75 years of age, had been a leader in civic and community matters for many years. Coming to Johnson City from Knoxville when still a young man, he immediately engaged in business and successfully operated hardware and implement houses for a long period of time.

Having also engaged in farming, Mr. Barton was at all times a friend to residents of the rural sections and throughout his life he was a promoter of good roads and was largely responsible for securing better roads and highways.

Mr. Barton was a lifelong member of the Democratic Party and took much interest in its affairs. He was elected mayor of Johnson City in June 1927. While serving as Mayor until 1929, he also served as city judge. It was noted that Mr. Barton's administration was one of the most successful, from the standpoint of the taxpayer, in the city's history.

While Mayor, Barton began a program which called for the erection of four new schools, additions to two or three others, three new fire department stations, including a central headquarters, as well as many other improvements.

The mayor was also instrumental in the enlargement of the fire department and it was during his administration that two new engines were purchased.

Johnson City Newspaper Article Denotes Large Court That Came Before Judge Barton

During Barton's two years as judge, he collected more than $55,000 from law violators in Johnson City and established a figure which had never been equaled before. He was known to be stern, yet fair to everyone.

Surviving were his widow and a daughter, Louise Barton and eight children by a former marriage; John, David, William J. and Jr.

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In August 1889, several newspaper employees from The Comet engaged in a journey that caused them to soar thousands of feet above the clouds… with their feet on the ground. The fortunate few were said to be one of the happiest parties to visit the Cloudland Hotel that summer.

Their names were James A. Martin, Miss Lena St. John, Ralph Boyd, Miss Fannie Blair, Mrs. G.W. St. John, Mrs. Cy. H. Lyle (publisher's wife), Miss Lucy Blair and Frank St. John.

The workers made the journey on that Friday and the newspaper printed their exploits in the paper the following day. There had been so much written about the beauty of Roan Mountain and the Cloudland Hotel that they confined their remarks principally to facts that concerned anyone who might be contemplating a trip there.

After reaching the Roan Mountain Depot on the ET&WNC railroad, the second phase of the journey was traveling 12 miles to the Cloudland Hotel, which was made in a stagecoach. Their vehicle left the depot about noon and, after passing four miles of comparatively level road, they reached the base of the mountain and the balance of the way was spent climbing the zigzag road to the summit.

A Cloudland Hotel Envelope Dated 1891

In some places, the road turned so abruptly that it looked almost impossible for a hack to make the sharp turns. Nervous passengers felt queasy as they peered down the rocky bluffs below, but there was no real cause for alarm.

The road was safe and only careful and experienced drivers were permitted to handle the ribbons (reins for driving horses). The trip up the mountain afforded many magnificent views of the countryside below, which made passengers forget their concerns while riding the hack. One of the striking features of the trip was that all the chestnut trees along the line were dead.

As the travelers neared the summit, they tried to formulate a mental image of how the world would look from above, but it was not until they arrived at the hotel that they witnessed fully what the imagination could not supply.

The hotel was 6,394 feet above sea level and was reported to be the highest human habitation east of the Rocky Mountains. It was readily understood that the view from this location extended as far as the eye could reach in all directions.

Standing on Sunset Rock and looking out over the tops of mountains miles away and thousands of feet below, with clouds resting on them, a peculiar sensation creped over them and they felt like they were being lifted and instinctively looked around for something substantial for which to take hold.

It was a grand sight for the visitors and a trip that would never be forgotten. They realized that space and the English language would not allow a fuller description of the surroundings.

The hotel was leased by Mr. W.S. Ayers of Richmond, VA who was described as being a hotel man in every respect. The gentleman had been in the business for 30 years and knew the wants of guests who graced his lodge. Experienced and attentive waiters and porters were employed and nothing was left undone that would add to the comfort and pleasure of the guests. A very important feature of the hotel was the cuisine. The table was supplied bountifully with a variety of seasonable vegetables and delicacies, which were palatably prepared. This fact was remarkable owing to its distance from markets.

The universal remarks that guests made when they arrived displayed one of surprise and complete satisfaction at the variety of dishes set before them. The public was strongly urged to go to Roan Mountain and the Cloudland Hotel and become acquainted with the hundreds of guests there and they would enjoy the trip as much as did the newspaper party that visited there in 1889. 

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Today's column conveys another Taylor Family account to my fervent yesteryear readers. It took place in Aug. 1900 at the delightful home of General James P. Taylor, near the community of Clarkson, TN. Not being familiar with that location, I learned that it was a community in Washington County that eventually became defunct.

The Delightful Tranquil Setting of General James P. Taylor, a Relative of Bob and Alf Taylor

It seems that Gov. Robert L. “Our Bob” Taylor and his family were pleasantly spending the summer months there. Although the residence was yet unnamed, it would soon acquire one after the governor christened it, “Rattlesnake Lodge.” The name evolved after he and members of the family experienced a frightening encounter with a specimen of the poisonous timber rattler, “Crotalus horridus.” It showed at the front door of the elegant dwelling.

The governor's son, David, was the “Columbus” of the incident, being the first to spot the dreaded snake and make its presence known. He quickly elevated a yell of consternation, which quickly smote the crowd of loungers, supplanting their relaxation under the sprawling trees in the yard. Above the collective uproar of excited human voices could clearly be heard the death song of the fearful rattler.

The governor, who had been deeply pondering his new lecture, “Sentiment,” arose from his sylvan retreat and added his familiar voice to the rapidly augmenting commotion. He shouted, “Run for your lives,” and, at the same time, made several rapid retreating strides toward the horizon himself. Meantime, the venomous minstrel of the rocky foothills slowly slid into the grass near the path and merrily jingled his little tambourine as if to entertain his unsettled guests.

When the governor saw that his son had reached a place of comparative safety in the orchard some distance away and he himself had attained a strategic position on the nearby porch, he began to formulate designs for the demise of the unwelcome intruder. He doffed his hat and made a backward sweep with his hand as if to brush down imaginary hairs. Then, without hesitation, he shouted, “Kill it!”

The approval of this sudden declaration of war was at once attested to by a half a dozen female voices screaming their endorsement, “Yes, kill it.” The governor's secretary, who had previously served as a snake editor for a newspaper, told the crowd that “the best way to kill a snake is to run it to death.”

This would have been a most effective method of resolution had his “snakeship” been induced to follow the lead of that quick-thinking person and keep his pace for a few seconds. However, that did not occur.

Gen. Taylor's son, Robert, abruptly ran from the barn carrying a pitchfork in his hand and provided the spectators with a beautiful demonstration of a true politician at work. After the snake's life was snuffed out, its body was found to measure 42 inches in length and had six rattles.

This spine-chilling episode momentarily halted the crystallization of “Sentiment” but resulted in the naming of the home, “Rattlesnake Lodge.” The owner, who came up breathing heavily after the experience, found his household enjoying the dizzy whirl of the “serpentine dance,” a variation of the skirt dance involving movement and light.

It was noted that the governor and his family would be home in Knoxville early in September. Bob promised his public that if the timber rattlesnakes would stay away from him, he would finish “Sentiment,” in quick order.

For those readers interested in reading “Sentiment,” it can be found on pages 304-17 of Bob and Alf Taylor, Their Lives and Lectures. The Story of Senator Robert Love Taylor and Governor Alfred Alexander Taylor. Paul Deresco Augsburg, Morristown Book Company, Inc., 1925, Printed by Trobaugh Printing Company, Morristown, Tennessee. It is definitely worth a read. I read it hoping to find the mention of a snake but none was found.

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