August 2015

A select party of the beauty and chivalry of our city gathered in the parlors of the City Hotel on the evening of June 10, 1886. The occasion was to honor Miss Eunice Robinson, a sprightly young beauty of Greeneville, TN and niece of Mrs. W.A. Dickinson, the charming hostess of the City Hotel.

City Hotel (right) from the 1870s (Clifford Maxwell Collection, Archives of Appalachia, ETSU)

Miss Robinson, chaperoned by Mrs. Dickinson and Mrs. S. Simcox, received her guests in royal style, possessing a smile and a pleasant word for all. She was dressed in a superb black brocaded satin with white satin vest front.

Streamers of white ribbon fell gracefully from her shoulders to the waist and was looped up and held in place by a large corsage bouquet of lilies. She also wore lilies in her hair. Flowers were her only ornaments. The other ladies were elegantly dressed, but no description was offered of their attire. The gentlemen were “costume de rigueur” (current fashion standards).

At eleven o'clock, supper was announced and all made their way to the dining room where one of those elegant main meals that was peculiar to the City Hotel was prepared.

“Fairy Land”

The dining room represented “Fairy Land,” and the mellow light of the numerous chandeliers falling upon the flower bedecked walls and tables made one forget for the duration of the evening about this stressful world. They imagined they were in the “Fairy Queen's” own palatial residence, until they were rudely awakened from their dream by some rascals who inquired if anyone would like strawberries.

After supper, music, instrumental and vocal, was furnished by Miss Robinson and her sister. Both were fine musicians with remarkably sweet voices. The vocal duet, “Come Where the Lillies Grow” was admirably rendered and elicited a hearty encore. The pleasure of the evening was continued into the “wee small hours.”

The following couples were present: Mr. and Mrs. C.N. Estes, Miss Eunice Robinson and Curt Simmons, Miss Ida Folsom and Dr. G.H. Berry, Miss Jennie Crumley and Dr. C.J. Broyles, Miss Hattie Faw and J.F. Crumley, Miss Stacy Crumley and Ed Clark, Miss Jessie Wylie and Martin Gump, Miss Sallie Faw and C. Bayless, Miss Pearl Barnes and D.W. Victor, Miss Minnie Berkley and Harry Lyle, Miss Emma DeGroat and Cy Lyle, Miss Keff Robinson and S.S. Crumley.

City Hotel became Piedmont House before the property was offered to the public for sale. Its glamorous “Fairy Land” days had come to a finale.

City Hotel Sold

“In the Chancery Court at Jonesboro, Washington County, Tennessee. J.C. Hardin, Executor of Samuel W. Williams, dec'd, et al. vs. J.J. Weiler. Pursuant to the decree of said court at its July special term, 1889, in the above cause, I will on Friday, the 22d day of November, 1889, sell at public outcry to the highest bidder, in front of the City Hotel, now Piedmont House, in Johnson City, Washington County Tennessee, the property mentioned and described in the pleadings and said decree, and ordered to be sold, to wit: The House and Lot known as the City Hotel, now Piedmont House, property situated in the said town of Johnson City, 9th civil district of Washington County, Tennessee, adjoining the property of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway Company and ET&WNC railway depot grounds and a lot formerly owned by (?) O'Brien to satisfy the judgments in favor of complainants and the costs of said cause unless said debts and costs of are sooner paid.”

Terms of Sale

“Said property will be sold on a credit of six and 12 months time in bar of the equity of redemption. Notes with approved security required of the purchaser for the purchase money in two equal installments bearing interest from date and a lien retained on the land therefore, until fully paid. This October 16, 1889. A.B. Bowman, C&M, by W.F. Young, D.C. & M. Oct 17th.”

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Today's column photo shows a WJHL advertisement for April 2, 1956. Several shows were favorites of mine. I am highlighting five of them for your enjoyment.


Mountain Music Makers

In 1953, Bonnie Lou and Buster, whose real names were Margaret Bell and Herbert Moore, came to Johnson’s City’s WJHL television with a three-day-a-week early evening music show that combined country, gospel, bluegrass and comedy into their act, along with some fine banjo work from Chuck (Henderson), the Carolina Indian. Buster performed a comedy routine during each program by donning a clown outfit and portraying a character known as “Humphammer.” The couple moved to Pigeon Forge in 1972 and opened their own show, the “Smoky Mountain Hayride,” at the Coliseum. I attended one of their shows.

The Life of Riley

The Cast of Life of Riley Carry On a Discussion in the KItchen

Oct. 4, 1949 to Aug. 22, 1958: Chester A. Riley (William Bendix), the lovable blunderer, was always getting into trouble at work and at home, but always sported a soft heart. Riley was married to Peg (Marjorie Reynolds); they had two children: Junior (Wesley Morgan) and Babs (Lugene Sanders). The series was played by Jackie Gleason for a year and a half years due to Bendix's movie contract commitments. The actor is best remembered for his oft-repeated line, “What a revoltin' development this is!” John Brown played the role of the sarcastic undertaker, “Digger O'Dell,” who showed up frequently at the Riley home. When he got ready to “depart”, he would declare, “Guess I'd better be shoveling off.” The cast began to dwindle after Babs got married in real life and Junior enrolled in college.


Oct. 9, 1953 to Oct 14, 1956: Topper (Leo G. Carroll) and his wife, Henrietta (Lee Patrick) was a situation comedy about three ghosts: Marion Kirby (Anne Jeffreys), her husband, George (Robert Sterling) and their favorite canine (Neil). After George, Marion and Neil were killed in Europe by an avalanche during a skiing expedition, they returned to America to haunt the Toppers who resided in their former home. Finding Mr. Topper extremely monotonous, the invisible ghoulish trio vowed to help him overcome his bland personality. Although only Cosmos became aware of their presence, the show was packed with floating objects. Even though the series ran only two years on CBS, its reruns resurfaced on ABC and NBC for another year.

I Married Joan

Oct. 15, 1952 to Apr. 6, 1955: Zany Joan Stevens (Joan Davis) was married to a domestic court judge, Bradley Stevens (Jim Backus). Backus is fondly remembered as the voice of the Mister Magoo cartoon character. Bradley counseled individuals who came to him with marital problems. His “ace in the hole,” was that he learned about marriage problems by dealing with his wife on a day-to-day basis. The Judge would relate stories to his patients. Just as this occurred, the television cameras would fade back to the Steven's home for a glimpse of a situation enactment between the judge and Joan. River's daughter, played the role of a college student. 

My Friend Irma

Jan. 8, 1952 to Jun. 25, 1954: This situation comedy starring Marie Wilson, who assumed the role of Irma Peterson and who became known as Hollywood's favorite dumb blond. Her role called for being friendly, enthusiastic, attractive and very wacky, with little sense of logic. Irma roomed with another lady, Jane Stacy (Kathy Lewis) who was everything that Irma was not: levelheaded, smart, logical and patient. Irma's boyfriend, Al (Sid Tomack) was an impoverished con artist. Jane's favorite fellow was Richard Rhinelander (Brooks West), her millionaire boss. The last season lead to numerous personnel changes that eventually lead to its demise.

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Henry Johnson, Johnson City founder, passed from this life on February 25, 1874. His obituary notice was posted in the Jonesboro Herald and Tribune on March 26, 1874. Except for paragraph breaks, it is listed below just as it appeared in the newspaper:

“O, when affliction's friendly screen,

Shuts out life's elusive scene,

When thus she seals our weary eyes,

To all earth's glittering vanities,

A gleam of Heavenly light will pour,

Our dark, despairing spirits o'er.

Henry Johnson, Founder of Johnson City. ( Photo Courtesy of Betty Jane Hylton)

“Departed this life on the evening of the 25th February, 1874, in the 65th year of his age, Henry Johnson, after a long and painful illness. He was born in North Carolina, came to Tennessee, became acquainted with and married Mary Ann Hoss, in the 25th year of his age.

“Eighteen years ago, he located at Johnson City where he has since remained a prominent and highly respected citizen. He was the first citizen of this place and to his influence, untiring energy and undaunted courage does Johnson City owe its origin, ascribing to him the honor so justly inherited of proudly bearing his name.

“The respect, universal regret and sorrow manifested on his burial day, was unlike any that we have here witnessed previously and told plainly that he was beloved and respected by all who knew him.

“The remains were taken to the Presbyterian Church, attended by a large concourse of people, who had assembled to pay the last sad rites, and after the funeral services were concluded by Rev. Mr. Durham, were interred in the old family burying ground where sleeps many of his wife's relatives and two beloved children – one an infant daughter and the other an estimable, noble young man, who had fallen a victim to deadly missiles of death in the late war.

“He leaves a widow, two sons, one daughter, with many relatives, friends and acquaintances to mourn his departure. He was benevolent, hospitable, sociable and kind, ever-willing to alleviate the sufferings of the distressed, assist the poor, a friend to the widow and orphan. His door was ever open to all ministers of the gospel delighting to entertain them. No sufferer went away from him unrelieved when it was within his power to relieve them, and we know that he has gone to reap his reward.

“On the 40th anniversary of his marriage, he took the hand of her who had so long walked beside him down the declivity of life, who had shared his joys and soothed his sorrows, pressed it gently, and perfectly conscious that it was the last, told her he was “going home,” and in a short time breathed his last. But we have the blessed assurance that his ransomed spirit is now enjoying the elysian joys and rapturous delights of the “Golden City,” of which he often so beautifully spoke. Not many days previous to his death, he sang one of his favorite hymns.

“My latest sun is sinking fast,

My race is nearly run,

My strongest trials now are past,

My triumph is begun.

“And after, he had become quite deaf and his voice was so weak and tremulous that he could scarcely speak, he would greet his friends with “almost home,” almost home.” Thus has passed away from earth forever a kind and affectionate husband, an indulgent father, a useful citizen, a warm-hearted friend and a devoted Christian. Long, long will he be sadly missed.

“Around the old homestead, there hangs a gloom, a loneliness; there sits a vacant chair and hangs an unworn hat, with many, many remembrances clustering around them that will long speak forcibly of the departed. The once happy family circle is broken.

“The little affectionate grand-daughter, Minnie, in whom he was so devotedly attached, who loved him with all the ardor and fondness of a pure and childish love, in whose little heart there is a void and has learned its first bitter grief- wanders around lonely and sad.

“The once happy home is sadly changed, though beautiful flowers are budding around it, yet the hand that reared them lies cold and pulse-less in the embrace of death; but where flowers are blooming whose beauties never fade, but bloom in one perpetual summer where sorrow can never come.

“Where all is bright and beautiful in the golden streets of the New Jerusalem across the Ley River, that hand is becoming to those dear ones left behind to come, where the happy band can be reunited and never be broken by the unrelenting hand of death.

“How blest the righteous when he dies,

When sinks the weary sun to rest,

How mildly leaves the closing eye,

How gently heaves the expiring breath.

So fades the summer cloud away,

So sinks the gale when storms are o'er,

So gently shuts the eye of day,

So dies the wave along the shore.”

Henry Johnson's obituary notice, a history gem, offers yet another glimpse into the life of Johnson City's founder.

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In 1896, the area where Oak Hill Cemetery would later be built was a wilderness of unkempt weeds and briers. A number of small animal pens were located there, along with barbwire that served as a perimeter fence.

The property was anything but attractive; it was also, in fact, untidy pasture land for the town cow and was a “disgrace” to the city. Soon, a committee of ladies from each of the city churches met in the home of Mrs. C.K. Lide and planned how to raise money for a nice cemetery fence.

With an oyster supper, a lecture from Senator Robert L. Taylor and another from Honorable Alfred A. Taylor, enough money was raised to build a substantial fence around the burial ground. “Oak Hill Cemetery Association” was organized November, 1896, with Mr. C.K. Lide as president.

A monthly meeting was held in the homes of different members, offering an occasional ice cream and strawberry festival, musical concert or the like. Unfortunately, it raised barely enough money to handle the weeds and briers and pave a narrow driveway through it.

The president moved away and the meetings were discontinued until Oct. 28, 1904. At that time, the ladies were called together in the home of Mrs. C.E. Faw and the association was reorganized with Mrs. W.J. Exum as president.

The group met with discouragement, criticism and was faulted for their lack of progress, but they persevered until they began to feel pride in their work. Their efforts inspired J.C. Mumpower, their sexton who bore his share of the censure, to agreed to serve another season.

The public apparently never realized that during the summer,  the sexton couldn't mow the entire cemetery in a day, get on his knees and clip grass from around graves, trim around corner stones and cut in such places as could not be reached with the mower.

All of this was in addition to possibly having to dig three or four graves in the same timeframe. By the time the poor worker mowed the entire ground, the cemetery was needing mowing again and sometimes needing it badly, especially if the weather was prohibitive.


Oak Hill Cemetery Advertisement from June 4, 1908

Often, a visitor would visit the cemetery only to find his or her departed loved ones resting in a particular spot that needed attention. He or she would go away with hurt feelings, believing that their cemetery space was not being mowed regularly while other parts of the cemetery looked nicely groomed.

The individual often made an appointment to see the president or another officer of the association and tell them their square was not being kept up as it should. They argued that they paid their $1.20 annual fee the same as others, but lacked proper service. Sometimes, in a fit of anger, they would ask that their name be taken off the book, electing to either take care of the unkempt plot themselves or hire someone to do it.

It was noted that such individuals needed  to visit the cemetery more often in order to get a truer picture that their plot of land received the same good care as all of the others. The visitor would, in turn, go away feeling much better that proper work was indeed being done.

Saturday, May 30, 1908 was decoration day. The sexton was especially anxious to have people travel to the cemetery on that day, expecting to do his best to have the grounds in tip top condition. The cemetery team asked those who attended that day to offer encouraging words to the sexton and others, thus making them feel their efforts were appreciated.

The officers that year were Mrs. J.A. Martin, president; Mrs. Frank McNeese, vice-president; Miss Sallie Faw, Treasurer; and Miss Nellie Kitzmiller, secretary.

I would be amiss if I failed to mention the late Chet Willis who selflessly volunteered his services at the cemetery for several years that included opening and closing the gates daily. Alan Bridwell and I have not forgotten this steadfast gentle giant who left us in the summer of 2008. 

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