October 2015

In 1953, Mrs. Nannie Snyder Murrell, 82, and her husband, N.L. Murrell, who managed the Cloudland Hotel atop Roan Mountain between 1896 and 1906, arrived in Elizabethton for a visit.

While there, the couple made a special trip to attend the sixth annual Rhododendron Festival and once again revel in the beauty of the rhododendron blossoms. Sadly, the hotel that she had loved so dearly was missing from its once prominent place on the hillside and was but a warmhearted memory.

Mrs. Murrell fondly recalled her days at the Cloudland Hotel, sharing many interesting facts about the resort with which she was so intimately connected for a decade.

A Beautiful Scenic View from Roan Mountain Is Shown On An Old Postcard

In the days she and her husband worked at Cloudland, hotel rooms rented for $2.50 per day, the cost of a medium sized steak in 1953. The charge included a nice room at the nearly inaccessible but highly popular hotel, three tasty meals a day and a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy throughout the long summer days.

Nannie recited, without hesitation, the menu items that were offered by the hotel. Breakfast included bacon, liver, steak, fried apples, fried potatoes, flannel cakes, biscuits, coffee and, of course, eggs. Grits were not on the bill of fare.

The big meal, which was served in the middle of the day, commenced with a choice of two soups, two meat entrees, six vegetables and a selection of four desserts.

Supper, a somewhat lighter fare, consisted of cereal, meats, eggs and funnel cakes, in addition to leftover portions of the luncheon menu.

The fortunate visitor at day's end had the option of reclining on one of the wide porches that ran the length of the south and east sides of the hotel or watching a magnificent sunset majestically bathe the mountaintop in  a diffused golden reddish glow. It was serenity at its finest.

Large quantities of flour, sugar and other staple groceries were hauled up the mountain in wagons. Vegetables, eggs and fresh fruits were brought more often to the hotel on horseback. According to Mrs. Murrell, a Mr. Gouge and a Mr. Burleson scoured the countryside around Roan Mountain for fresh meat: beef cattle, hogs and sheep. These were prepared on the mountaintop and safely stored in a house over the ice-cold spring.

Rhododendron Gardens and the Parking Lot Near the Former Cloudland Hotel Location

After all those years, the former worker could vividly remember some of the names of persons who vacationed there. Among the distinguished guests who frequented the hotel was the late Grafton Greene, who later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. He became a celebrated national figure when he wrote the Court's opinion for the famous Scopes Trial held at Dayton, Tennessee in which Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan were opposing attorneys.

Mrs. Murrell further remembered that Louisiana Governor Nichols and his family were guests of the hotel. Dr. Floyd McRae from Atlanta, Georgia came to Cloudland and inspected the hotel before allowing his family to vacation there. He found the place to his liking and visited it on numerous occasions. She also recalled that two of his sons once stayed on Roan Mountain.

The former resident provided a graphic description of the hotel rooms, which she said contained comfortable beds, strips of carpet on the floors, a washstand with a china pitcher and bowl, a dresser and chairs in each room. “We had plenty of cover and used it, too,” she said. “In all my 10 years up there, the temperature was never above 75 degrees and seldom ever dropped below 44 degrees at night.”

On unusually cold evenings, steam heat was turned on. The boiler was fired with wood that had been brought up 3,000 feet from the valley below by means of a cable car. Fireplaces in the main rooms were usually lighted on cool evenings.

The 50-foot great room had the most beautiful solid maple floor imaginable, which glistened when waxed to a high polish. There the hotel guests danced in the evening to the music of a piano, cornet and violin. The musicians, residents of Bristol, were Miss Lucy Kirby, Clyde DeVault and a Mr. Stull. The music was mainly focused on waltzes, square and ballroom dancing.

Rhododendrons Bloom on Top of Roan Mountain In Another Photo from a Postcard

Mrs. Murrell described nearby Profile Rock, which many folks believed bore a striking resemblance to President William McKinley. This site could be reached from Lyons Bluff by crawling between two rocks and traversing along a narrow ledge. Nannie, an avid outdoors person, escorted many guests there over time. Visitors were also accompanied to numerous scenic attractions in the area.

The visitor was especially impressed with the Rhododendron Gardens. She declared, “You have missed a never-to-be-forgotten sight if you have never been there.” She spoke of the 300-foot grassy slope on which the hotel was situated as “the most gorgeous place on earth.” When the wind blew, as it did most of the time, the soft thick carpet of grass resembled a wheat field majestically rippling in the breeze. One half-dozen rhododendron blossoms was enough to satisfy most anyone, but imagine 600 acres in full bloom at one time – that was almost too much magnificence for the body and soul to absorb.

On the north side of the hotel on  a little rise, a platform provided a splendid view of the entire area. From this vantage point, the lights of Greeneville, Tennessee were clearly visible and one could even get a view of Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. Many mountains 5,000 feet high and more could also be seen. Mrs. Murrell grudgingly admitted that Mount Mitchell was higher than Roan Mountain but in a spirited manner because Mitchell was uninhabited.

Roan Mountain Hotel and Restaurant as It Appeared in the 1960s

The former employee and guest of honor adequately described an orchid-like flower which she saw in bloom only once on the mountaintop. The blossoms came out around the stem like a double hyacinth, but the fragrance was akin to that of the carnation family. She remembered Gray's lily, a lovely flower resembling the snapdragon called “Painted Lady” and a plant known as “Indian Pipe,” belonging to the mushroom family with a perfect pipe hanging from its stem.

A Mr. Young, who was past 80, had journeyed from Greenwood, Mississippi for relief from asthma and who, upon reaching the mountaintop, was able to breathe freely and enjoy the season there.

Mrs. Mupcrell, daughter of the Snyder family who ran the old Snyder House on North Street, a favorite hotel of that era, knew General Wilder from whom they leased the hotel in their first years on the mountain. She first visited the mountaintop with a party while lumber was being sawed for the large hotel. She recalled they walked from Carver's Gap to the summit.

During the 1953 visit, Mrs. Murrell was looking forward to the day when another hotel might be built on Roan Mountain to ensure that more people would become acquainted with and love the natural beauty which abounded on its majestic peak. She recalled that, for days at a time, low hanging clouds would envelope the hotel in a ghostly white mist, wholly obstructing the view. But as the fog lifted and the sun made its welcome approach, the lodge again became an absolute paradise.

Mrs. Murrell's adoration of the Cloudland Hotel and Roan Mountain allowed her to leave many footprints on her favorite mountain, which she said still remain there in spirit.

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According to a Thursday, Oct. 24, 1918 Johnson City Daily Staff newspaper, a determined looking and likely-nervous squad of young recruits from Washington County, assembled at the Southern Railway Depot on the afternoon of the 23rd. They were there to begin preparations for the next morning's rail journey to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, SC.

Street View Showing Mess Shacks & Tents at Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, SC, 1918

The camp, named in honor of Brigadier General James Samuel Wadsworth, was approved June 1917 as a temporary quarters site. The 27th division trained there from September 1, 1917 to May 4, 1918; the 6th from May 10, 1918 to June 23, 1918; and the 96th from October 20, 1918 to January 7, 1919.

The group consisted of recruits from the June and August 1918 registration class who were being mustered into service to swell the growing army of America's unexcelled fighting men.

There were 66 strong young men, including alternates, from Johnson City and an additional contingent of 74 men joining them from Bristol, Elizabethton and Mountain City.

S.K. Lindsey, drill master, was in charge of the company. The soldiers were initially formed in line and put through a few rudimentary movements.

Shortly before embarking the train, the soldiers marched to the Red Cross room located in the Summers Building at the Southern Station where each man was given his parcel and box lunch.

The Red Cross Attention Station was used by the ladies to prepare excellent box lunches for the soldiers. The food in each box was carefully inspected before it was distributed. The left over boxes were subsequently packed in cartons and loaded on board the train for the men en route.

The room was fully equipped for taking care of an emergency situation should a soldier arrive there and need immediate medical attention.

Prior to departure time, the station was saturated with a horde of people who were there to wish their special soldier “the best.” The young men were then loaded into coaches for the journey to Camp Wadsworth and beyond.

Shown in this list of names are those from Washington County. Some of the spelling is questionable but is shown just as it was listed in the newspaper:

Ollie T. Burrass, James W. Wilson, Floyd McKinley Tyree, Charles Ray Bayless, William McKinley Crow, Vernon Whitlock, William M. Fitch, William McKinley Green, Frank Kite, Henry Elbert Williams, Robert Marion Johnson, Clarence Walter Barnes, James Jackson Hale,

John Franklin Brokn, Samuel Clinton McCurry, Bernie Hubert Ball, Kelly McKinley Graybeal, George Branch, Charlie McInturff, James Lee Ferguson, James Franklin Brown, Guy A. Miller, Carl Eugene Cannon, Hubert Bryon Wheelock, William Benjamine Taylor, Colonel Stacy Elliott,

George Squibb Bacon, Hubert Baldwin, Carson A. Story, Eugene Kitzmiller, Roy Shaward Deakins, Hobert William Harrison, Alfred Henry Johnson, Benjamin Bryan, Paris Earl Story, Clayton Byrd Loyd, Clyde Joseph Campbell, George T. Britton, Hiram Cole, Dennis Bricker,

Nathan Dempsie Tarlton, Hobart Mat Richardson, Enoch Hobart Bacon, Aon Whaley, Walter Clifford Elliot, Hobert Smith, Willard L. Mitchell, Dock William Black, Charles Clarence Johnson, Uriah Squibb Lewis, Sherman Jarrott, Noah Edgar Collins, Dana Scott Laws, John Robert Miller,

Thomas Jefferson Bacon, James F. Brown, Loncion Porter Insco, Ephream Buck Norris, Hickey Sliger, Paul Franklin Lawson, Robert Scott, Charles Earl Shell, William Chester Adams, Hugh Vestal Kyker, William McKinley Clark and Mack Andis Shipley.

I hope many of you recognize a family member or friend in the list.

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On Dec. 11, 1951, the late Dorothy Hamill, former writer for the Johnson City Press Chronicle, covered a story at South Side School concerning the first Girls Safety Patrol troop in the city.

Four times daily, ten young ladies, from a carefully selected sixth grade pilot group, assisted students cross school intersections. They further directed traffic and insured that signs were positioned in their proper places. Not only were they having a joyous time as patrol girls, they treated their responsibilities with utmost seriousness.

“Perhaps it's the motherly instinct in little girls,” said Miss Nancy Beard, principal of the school, “but instead of merely halting traffic for the little ones to cross, some of the patrol girls guide smaller ones from one curb to another. Impressively, one patrol girl was observed carrying a handicapped child to the bus stop.

Above: Susan Givens and Carolyn Brimer Safely Escort Young Shelia Steffey from Her Car. Two Other Patrol Girls, Barbara Lingo (left) and Patsy Sanders, Also Stand Guard.

According to Miss Beard, being trained under the able leadership of students, Nelson Blackburn (captain) and Bobby Wilson (lieutenant), the Girls Patrol proved to be prompt, efficient and obedient. Since they proved their worth on patrol, she said the boys and girls alternated the critical activity for the remainder of the school year.

The young ladies in the patrol were Lynne Rabun, Susan Givens, Sonia Gail Laws, Sharon O'Dell, Joyce Haynes, Nancy Heath, Carolyn Brimer, Barbara Lingo, Patsy Sanders and Kay Rhea. In rainy weather, they used the boys' caps, raincoats, belts, badges and flags with their own boots.

“Not only do the girls prove themselves capable of assuming responsibility,” Miss Beard continued, “they show their physical prowess by moving the heavy stop signs, a job that, at first, they refused help from the boys. They didn't need them. In addition to forming a patrol, the girls helped run the book store and assisted with cafeteria chores. They secretly hoped that the boys would be called upon to lend a hand with cooking.”

The expressed reaction of the girls serving on the patrol was nothing short of enthusiastic because they felt important and they were. “It's a lot of fun,” Lynne Rabun declared. “We've just been on for a couple of weeks, but our Girls Patrol is doing a fantastic job. We hope to keep on, too. And when the boys' turn comes to take over, we promise to be good sports and obey them just like they complied with our commands.”

The Girls Put Out the Heavy Signs While the Boys Watch at a Distance

The young females were asked what they would do if a big snow covered the ground, causing students to began throwing snowballs at one another. Lynne had a ready answer. “We'll teach them to behave.” “It's fun to take over a big responsibility like this,” Barbara Lingo noted. “I surely hope we can keep on with it.”

Joyce Haynes was equally happy over the chance at being a patrol girl. “It's a big responsibility to help the children cross the street safely,” she stated earnestly. “We must keep the students in safe hands and we try hard to do our very best. Fortunately, the drivers are very courteous people and obey us when we signal them to stop.”

“Even the boys have been cooperative,” Sharon O'Dell said, “They do as we tell them to,” she remarked. “And ever since we've been on patrol, we've only had to report four children. With the boys, sometimes more than that number is reported in one day. And we don't mind the rain at all. We have boots and slacks we can put on when needed. I think it would be fun to patrol in the snow, even if it meant harder work for us.”

Drivers passing by the school displayed keen interest in discovering that girls were directing the school traffic. One driver stopped to remark, “Say, you girls certainly look prettier than the boys'.'' Another halted long enough to inquire about directions to nearby Jonesboro.

The troop uniformly agreed that their captain and lieutenant were very nice and helpful to them. As for the opinion of the other boys at the school, their response was totally predictable: “No comment!”

If anyone can supplement this story or participated in the program, please drop me a note. 

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In May 1891, local newspaper had encouraging news for residents of Johnson City; they were about to acquire two new grammar schools in an effort to reduce age and overcrowded conditions of existing ones.

“We are glad to announce this morning,” said school officials, “that the work of the committee on two new school buildings has been completed, sites secured and designs accepted for the two buildings. All that was left was to proceed immediately after the Aldermen accepted a bid for construction.”

In the consensus of the public, the committee demonstrated outstanding work and made excellent selections. Although residents admitted that the committee was a bit slow in bringing the schools to fruition, they acknowledged that there was no reason to complain further about it. The new education facilities were truly model structures of that pre turn of the century era.

The pronouncement was made to build Columbus Powell School at the corner of Roan and Pine streets for students living in the eastern portion of the city and Martha Wilder School at New and Myrtle for students residing in the northern part of town. The addition of two new modern schools would address congested concerns.

Martha Wilder School as It Appeared on Myrtle Avenue and  in 1891

Columbus Powell was constructed at a cost of $7,500 while Martha Wilder was a bit higher at $10,000. Initial plans called for two smaller schools on the north side of town, but was later changed to one larger school, hence the added cost.

The proposed location for the larger building put it equally convenient to both parts of the city. Both buildings had stone foundations with walls of brick. It was but a very short time before work began and it was hoped to have them ready for use before the following year's school season concluded. They accomplished their goal.

Turning the clock ahead two years found the two schools conducting commencement exercises. Each was described as being of a most interesting and entertaining nature and reflected great recognition, not only for students and teachers but also on the city as well. The closing exercises proved to those present that the educational expenditures were definitely well worth the investment.

Exercises at Martha Wilder School began at 1:30 p.m. and continued for several hours. The program, which was varied and altogether well-arranged, was rendered in each particular discipline in a most satisfactory and enjoyable way. Exercises were consequently executed and were described as being excellent such that the participants could be proud of their efforts. The occasion, burnished with bright faces and sweet smiles, enlivened with merry chatter and pretty songs, was one well worth attending and the few hours of which were undeniably pleasantly and well spent.

Carefully prepared exercises at Columbus Powell commenced at 7:30 p.m. with the invocation by Rev. K.C. Atkins. To say that the exercises were well-attended faintly expressed it; the building was packed with interested parties. Following this were songs, the recitations and declamations, each rendered skillfully if not artistically.

On Monday, June 16, 1898, the Board of Education met in the old Science Hill school building on Monday, June 16, 1898 to, among other business, elect the following teachers for the incoming year:

Columbus Powell (W.P. Crouch, principal): Misses Clara Cloyd, Kate Simpson and Laura King.

Science Hill (S.O. Brown, principal): Misses Bessie Stanley, Lena Anderson and Kathlene Reeves.

Martha Wilder (S.A. Crocket, principal): Miss Nora Cuningham and J.E. Crouch.

One noteworthy change occurred. The office of superintendent was eliminated and a principal was selected for each school, with each one being managed independent of the others.

The early 1930s would usher in three new grammar schools: A new Columbus Powell School, with the same name, would be built on the old site. Martha Wilder would give way to Stratton on a new site and a new West Side would built to the west of the old one would eventually be called Henry Johnson School.

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