February 2016

This column is the third of three dealing with a few early 1900 city enterprises. I have attempted to identify the location of each, plus (in parenthesis) some later businesses that occupied that same site. Slightly paraphrased comments are in the present tense.

K.P. Jones & Company

Located at Buffalo and Cherry streets: Johnson City can boast of having a number of prominent lumber yards, among which is K.P. Jones & Co., who are manufacturers and dealers in building supplies and building material of all kinds. A complete line of paint, oils, sash, doors, siding, ceiling, flooring, laths and shingles is available. Hemlock framing is a specialty of the business. The yards and offices of this prosperous concern comprise three adjoining yards at their site.

The members of the company are K.P. Jones and J.E. Brading, two robust and wide-awake business men. The Lumber Company opened its business in February 1902, and since the first of January, 1903, a gain of 100 percent, has been enjoyed in the volume of business. The firm's members are local men and take an active interest in our city welfare.

Johnson City Coal and Lumber Company

Located on Jobe Street (Central Tobacco Warehouse): Prominent among the thriving and flourishing industries in our city who are enjoying a good trade is the Johnson City Coal and Lumber Co., which was established in 1902. S.R. Sells and L.W. Walsh are the owners of the plant and report business most encouraging from the present outlook. They are wholesale and retail dealers in rough and dressed lumber. They also manufacture and carry in stock at all times including flooring, ceiling, siding, molding, laths, sash, doors and building material.

This progressive and enterprising firm deserves credit for the increase of their last year's business, as a gain of 50 percent is the result since the first of January. Mr. Sells is held in high esteem by our citizens for his business qualifications. The company owns abundant mountain land, including a saw mill at Cranberry, NC. The 24-man workforce has a large payroll each week with a daily capacity of 25,000 feet of lumber.

The City National Bank

Located at 214 E. Main Street (H.E. Hart Jeweler): The City National Bank, a most ably-managed and substantially founded financial institution, is a designated state and city depository, with a national repository as well. The facility is regularly inspected by government agents and, therefore, cannot be otherwise than absolutely safe.

All branches of banking business are most ably conducted, collections are made and approved paper negotiated. Individuals, firms, corporations and banks, carrying accounts with the City National Bank will find their terms most liberal. The bank is equipped with handsome and luxurious furniture, along with fixtures and decorations. Every attention and courtesy is extended to callers.

The top officers are James M. Gaunt, president; J.M. Buck, vice president; and Sam T. Millard, cashier. The capital of this bank is all home capital and the bank is officered by Johnson City citizens.

Steven Brothers

Located at 200 Spring Street, corner of Spring Street and the Narrow Gauge Railroad: The large wholesale produce house of Stevens Brothers is a branch of the Baltimore House that was established in 1898. The business is a large buyer of chickens, eggs and dried fruits, drawing its supplies from all parts of the surrounding country. They purchase only first-class produce, which gives them enormous patronage from the eastern markets. G.F. Hobbs, the local manager, is well-known in Johnson City and vicinity and stands high in public esteem. He has been most zealous in his business duties since he assumed charge, and his efforts have met with the high success which he deserves. 

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The Appalachian Trail is a 2,168-mile (2001) footpath for walkers. (According to a 1931 newspaper, it was originally planned for 1200 miles, but has been enlarged over time because of numerous modifications and rerouting.)

The massive, impressive project passes through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Perhaps the best definition of the hikers' dream comes from the Appalachian Trial Conference that organized in 1931:

“The trail is a route, continuous from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, for travel on foot through wild, scenic, wooded, pastoral and culturally significant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. It is a means of sojourning among these lands so that visitors may experience them by their own unaided efforts.

“In practice, the trail is usually a simple footpath, purposeful in direction and concept, favoring the heights of land and located for minimum reliance on construction for protecting the resources.”

Booklet Cover from the Appalachian Trail Club

The trail was provided by the lands it traversed and its survival depended on the living stewardship of its volunteers and workers along the Appalachian Trail communities.

The construction of it alongside the Appalachian summits and ridges, began in 1922 in the Bear Mountain and Harriman sections of the Palisades Interstate Park of New York and New Jersey. It was reported to be more than half finished at the fifth annual Appalachian Trail Conference held at Gatlinburg (“The Burg”), Tennessee at the western gateway of the new Smoky Mountain National Park.

The Appalachian Trail project was proposed in 1921 as an extension of regional planning for wilderness recreation through the American Institute of Architects. They seized upon the imagination of members of hearty volunteer support to a degree, which made it one of the most remarkable recreation projects of that time.

Major W.A. Welch, is credited for designing the trail's metal markers with the impressive legend, “Appalachian Trial – Main to Georgia,” which became the emblem of the enterprise.


Appalachian Trail from Franklin Cliffs, Skyland Drive, Virginia

Extension of the Appalachian Trail in various separated portions made necessary a standard marker that could be recognized everywhere. Therefore, Welch changed the legend on the first markers from Palisades Interstate Park Section to “Maine to Georgia,” which was then used all along the way in most of the 14 states through which the trail passed.

Cumulative increase in interest in the following two years led to many new developments and additional groups eager to join in and do their fair share of work. The enthusiasm allowed the trail to be completely marked within the next five years, a remarkable achievement considering the roughness and remoteness of many parts of the terrains over which the trail passed. This was especially true across Northern Maine and in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

Besides interest shown by outdoor clubs, the effort was supported by many public agencies and officials, including the Nation Forest Service, state parks and forest commissions, Boy Scout Councils and others. Interest was spreading like wildfire.

The significance of the great trail was envisioned as a spinal cord for wilderness recreation paths in the eastern mountain areas. It stimulated the enthusiasm of all who enlisted in the work with each passing year.

Appalachian Trail Brass Challenge Coin

The 1931 meeting was held in the South in recognition of the impressive development in the project that had occurred there during the previous year and to stipulate it further. It was under the auspices of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club of Knoxville, Tennessee, of which Prof. H.M. Jennison of the department of Botany, University of Tennessee, was president.

The construction of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains area was expected to be furthered by the impending development of the new and exciting National Park therein. Timing could not have been more convenient for both momentous ventures.

The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club marked the route into more accessible sections. Crossing Indian Gap, the park forces were helpful in making and maintaining it into the more rugged and remote portions in the northern part of the area still being acquired for eventual addition to the Park.

The supervisors of the Unaka National Forest, extending from the Virginia border into North Carolina and the Cherokee Forest in Western North Carolina and Southern Tennessee, were helpful by designating and marking miles of the Appalachian Trail. The newly formed Carolina Appalachian Trail Club of Asheville, North Carolina was likewise active in the Smoky Mountains.

In Virginia, a new and energetic group, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club accomplished an immense amount of work along with the Virginia Blue Ridge from Harper's Ferry to the Shenandoah National Park area and beyond.

Appalachian Trail Patch

In Georgia, the state Forestry Department had been co-operative and one of its assistant foresters had formed the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, which had marked the trail from its southern terminus at Mount Oglethorpe, northward to the Tennessee line.

Important developments from New England were also reported at the Gatlinburg meeting. A promising amount of literature began to develop as informative guides to the Appalachian Trail became available to the public. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club also published a map to the Virginia section.

Thanks to the efforts of all the individuals and organizations in this article, the Appalachian Trial, a hikers' wildest dream, became a reality and is still with us today.

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During Christmas, 1985, Tom Hodge addressed the subject of Halley's Comet in his column. “Several years ago while writing about the impending approach of Halley's comet in early 1986,” he said, “several local residents reported their own sighting of the 1910 comet to me.

By then, people were beginning to understand that the comet was a natural phenomenon that returned on a 75-year basis and not a harbinger of doom as some folks feared. Here are their comments:

1. Joseph Hufham, who was eight years old when Halley came calling in 1910, later became a journalist. “The day the earth was supposed to pass through the tail of the comet,” he wrote, “people were pretty well stirred up.” Newspapers had been telling folks about the comet for weeks. One newspaper related accounts of how some people had gone outside to view the comet and dropped dead. In those day before radio and television, there were numerous unfounded rumors spreading everywhere. Hufham further recalled standing on the porch of his father's store and looking up. The comet was yellow like the moon and bulged like an onion. The tail on it looked like an old cheap sweep broom, not much longer than the body. He could just visualize it swooping down and scrubbing on mountain tops.

2. Fred Shaw was 18 in 1910 and came home from working in the fields. Nobody was there so he called out, 'Whare's everyone at?” “Down in the cellar,” one of them yelled back. Sure enough, they were scared and huddled in the potato cellar. His wife remembers, “We weren't really scared; we just stood at the bedroom window and watched. But our mama told us, 'Y'all shut that window. Ah, but everyone didn't react that way.'”

3. Ruth Butler was 13 at the time and said her grandfather took all the children out after supper to see the comet. “He knew we'd been hearing all kings of superstitious stories about it, and he reassured us that none of them were true.”

4. French Bordeaux was seven in 1910. He recalled, “Our parents woke us up from a deep sleep that night and took us out on the porch to see the comet. It looked like a big old star, with a tail behind it. It didn't seem to worry me much, but it had some of our neighbors all worked up.”

5. Josephine Jacobs was 27 when the comet appeared. “I was so busy taking care of 15 children. I worked in the fields, picked cotton and peas, and cooked meals on an open hearth, which didn't leave much time to be gazing up at Halley's Comet. I was busy with life on earth.”

6. Mona Moore was a 20-year-old teacher in 1910. “Some people thought the comet's tail consisted of stardust,” she recalled, “and when the comet got close to earth, the tail would shed, and all that dust would throw the world off balance.”

7. Ryda Lennon rushed to her baby chickens. People were saying stars might be falling, so she took the hen off her biddies and covered them up good so that no stars would hit them. “I didn't seem to worry about people,” she said, “just my biddies.”

8. Van Benson noted that a friend brought an almanac by with a picture of the comet in it. It showed the celestial body looking like a snake and heading for earth. When they turned the page, they encountered a picture of Teddy Roosevelt with a baseball bat knocking the comet away. The caption read: “The comet found out that Teddy was on earth.” They all had a hearty laugh over that.

9. Richard Hall (82), a 7-year-old plowing his field, hollered at his mule, “Whoa, you mule. Look a-yonder.” He and the mule stared up at the comet that had a tail like a monkey. He remembers that people were shouting that it would burn the earth.

On the 1910 Halley's visit, word circulated in advance that the comet wouldn't be quite as visible that visit and maybe would be accepted with less fear and worry. The next Halley's arrival is scheduled for July 28, 2061; don't count on this writer being around to cover it.

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In mid-summer of 1891, Johnson City received a new much-needed water works system, which was long overdue that covered all parts of the growing city. For their faithful and untiring efforts in the construction of the new plant, the Watauga Water Company deserved the highest compliment.

Although time was limited and the city was hindered by injunctions and other obstacles, they fabricated the reservoir and put in an entire system of piping within less than two months. This was a significant undertaking that included more than four miles of main piping that extended from the mountains to the furnace and distributed to 13 miles of branch piping.

Although the targeted time established for the completion of the new venture was July 1, 1891, water began flowing into the distribution pipes on June 27, five days early. This beat the record on any other enterprise that has been undertaken in Johnson City. The Watauga Water Company, instead of asking for an extension, impressively fought obstacles and pushed the work to completion even before the appointed time.

There was hardly a person in the city who thought they could accomplish the undertaking so quickly. In fact, there were some individuals who, before the work began, were disposed to believe that the chosen company was not large enough for the task. But despite the beliefs of such individuals, the clear freestone springs of Buffalo Mountain took their rise in the midst of all the city's activity and the city continued to advance toward certain splendors of its future.

With the opening of the city water system came the great steel plant, the Carnegie Hotel, the completion of the Electric Light Plant, the Carnegie Iron Furnace, the JC&C Railroad, the Electric Street Railway and many other accomplishments significant to the city's expectations.

Numerous Newspaper Ads from 1891 

On the day of water flow, a newspaper reporter along with representatives of the Watauga Water Company and several gentlemen of the city, including members of the Board of Aldermen, traveled over a portion of the grounds for the purpose of inspecting the new hydrants.

Four carriages were dispatched to escort the party to the highest points traversed by the system. The hydrants were opened and, in every case, a large volume of water was forced out in a most satisfactory manner. One individual, a Mr. Boardman, tried to secure hose with which to make further tests, but was unable to get it so quickly.

There was, however, every indication from the pressure displayed through the hydrants that by means of hose, the water could be carried with great efficiency to the top of the highest buildings in the city, thus insuring protection against a fire that no chemical engine could provide.

All members of the party expressed themselves as being perfectly satisfied with the operations as they had observed them. The water came out in a great stream and with such force that it tore the ground up where it struck. There could be no doubt that Johnson City had as good a system of waterworks as could be found in the South, one that would address all its purposes for years to come.

The city's water works was not a trivial thing for a growing city; this fact was proven by all the recent buildings that had been constructed. Johnson City's old frame buildings slowly gave way to substantial brick structures. The pioneer garb of the city had been tossed aside. As purely as time passed, the city advance. Four years wrought significant wonders in the beautiful valley and it is still beautiful.

The Watauga Water Company proved itself worthy and received the confidence of the citizens. The eyes of the blind had been opened, and the incredulous mortals of Johnson City, many of whom had dreamed for years beneath the shadows of the great ore belt, were now awaked to the reality of what was going on around them.

The city was entering the march of progress and would be on top down the road when it reached a population of 25,000.   

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In 1888, Limestone, Tennessee was described as “a lovely, healthy village, sporting mineral and sulphur springs, good farms and good people.” A newspaper reporter, identified only as “Carswell,” stopped at the Limestone Depot, which was one of many railroad stations on the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway.

“The old brown building,” he said, “was twice shelled during the Civil War, but it's wounds were patched. The old Vet looked all the worse, as it stood in the village among the most attractive buildings of any in the State.”

Along Railroad Avenue, the business houses presented an excellent showing, being modern in style and tastefully painted with names that were admirably displayed. The rear windows looked out upon the calm waters of the Limestone, with its sandy islands and wild and tame ducks harmoniously enjoying the lovely surroundings.

The writer further noted that on the opposite side of the river, the sandy shores gave way to meadow-like grasses, and on terrace heights above cottages and mansions, aiding the other's beauty by diversity. Gothic, Elizabethan and Queen Anne cottages, divided by garden spots, a comely schoolhouse and a glistening spire, as rising between miniature hills, presented a glorious sunset picture hinting that Limestone should have had a more relaxed name.”

He further noted that the village, blest with pure running waters from streams, rills and springs, boasted that there had never been a case of sickness, which could be attributed to water stagnation. Jockey Creek joined the Limestone by the picturesque mill and two miles southwest, the famous Nola Chuckey (Nolichucky) River flowed until it vanished in the French Broad River some 50 miles distant.

Two Limestone Advertisements from 1888

“Limestone had so many healing magnesia and sulphur springs that citizens treated them with little fanfare, said Carswell. “The Magnesia Springs, owned by Ebenezer Oliver & Co., were tested by analysis to have not only the advantage of the best properties, but also as being free from lethal taste or smell. Springs around Limestone, which received no attention, could have been the site of a summer resort.

The lands in Washington County that surrounded Limestone were owned by farmers whose cultivated fields stretched to within 1200 yards of the village bridges. Their names were J.B. Klepper, Miller Brothers, Pence Brothers, Dr. Dobson, W.M. Mitchell, John A. Keebler, E.B. & M.W. Mitchell, J.0. Broyles, John D. McCray, W.J. Williams, T.J. Williams, J.A. Bayless. J.F. Nelson, D.W. Remine, H.C. Remine, G.M. and M.A. Gillispie, T.M. Brabson, David Byerly and W.B. Glaze.

Mr. C further noted that “Active work is being done by T.A. Gillispie to further the interests of the Farmer's Alliance, which is a prosperous lodge at Limestone. Two churches represent the North and South divisions of the Methodist Church. A pleasant parsonage is occupied by the Rev. George D. French, who is regarded as being a true Christian and deservedly popular gentleman. The Rev. N.S. Huffather, who, during a long ministerial life, followed the Good Sheppard also had his home in Limestone. It is noted that both congregations appear to have forgotten the antagonisms which caused a terrible war.”

The Limestone School had a very able principal in the person of Professor W. Ramsey and an able preceptress (female principal or teacher), Miss Huffaker. Although two teachers taught 125 students in the poor economy, it eventually exhibited remarkable growth, causing its future to appear beautiful and bright. The citizens had great hopes as to the town's future because mineral springs and excellent manufacturing power was backed by woods of oak, hickory and pine creating a paradise.

Carswell concluded by writing: “All passenger trains stopped at Limestone and the station had night and day operators, which indicated the railroad company had respect for the little community. They shipped cattle, mules, lumber and mineral water almost daily, while incoming freights for half a dozen stores and a thickly populated countryside profited the railroad's finances.”  

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I recently came across an April 1985 newspaper clipping written by former Press-Chronicle business editor, Mary Alice Basconi. It concerned an early business in Johnson City – Leach Motor Co.

The endeavor started when Paris Leach went into business for himself in 1911, with one of the first garages in Johnson City to service gasoline engines. He later sold cars, such as the Hupmobile, from a building at 415 W. Market Street.

A 1944 City Directory lists Leach as an “automobile repairer” at 111 Ashe Street, the site of the family's “old home place.” The location, developed in 1931, became his business home. A 1948 directory shows him as the owner of Leach Motor Co.

Paris's legacy to sons Kyle and Harold was his business that withstood years of capricious trends in the automotive industry. Later, he wisely steered his trade along sales of a timeless product: the Jeep, known cleverly as “the ubiquitous World War II four-wheeled personification of Yankee ingenuity and cocky, can-do determination.”

Kyle and Harold Leach with Their Parents' Photos on the Wall Behind Them

“When we went into it,” Harold said, “it was the first 4-wheel drive vehicle for civilian use. Jeeps don't look much different today, although other manufacturers produce vehicles of the same style now.”

Harold recalled that customers came from North Carolina, Virginia and throughout Northeast Tennessee, which included sportsmen, fishermen and farmers along with people who resided in “the real, real rough country.”

“One fellow who owned a farm,” he said, “took one of our little Jeeps, put a plow on it and used it as a tractor.” Others took advantage of the recreational virtues of a Jeep. Leach Motors even sponsored a club, the “The East Tennessee 4-Wheelers,” for Jeep devotees who liked to explore wild mountain trails.

According to Harold, “We went everywhere from Tellico Plains, the Erwin mountains, Elizabethton, places where you could hardly walk. We'd circle the Jeeps up like a wagon train and have lunch. Those were fun times.”

In 1945, Kyle related to his father that, “I don't want to work for you, but I'd go into business with you someday.” Paris Leach told his son to knock out a wall in the building and add an equal addition to it. Kyle did as instructed.  

For many years, the business had no hydraulic lift. To service vehicles, they drove a car over a pit and worked from below. Kyle said with progress the old pot-bellied stove was finally done away with and the pits were replaced with hydraulic units.

With the passing of the years, the Leach brothers, who grew up and labored in their father's shop, began looking forward to retirement. Leach Motor Co.'s turquoise-blue buildings on Ashe Street were sadly put up for sale or rent.

1960 Ad from the Science Hill High School Wataugan

In 1983, the brothers sold their Jeep franchise to another car dealer and piece by piece began selling off equipment and parts, even shelves. In March 1985, Kyle sold two of his father's first purchases for the company: an old vice and a mechanical hoist from the pre-hydraulic age.

“I think that had we not been at retirement age, the business would have held on,” added Harold. He noted that his days would soon be filled with fishing, golf, square-dancing and travel.

The brothers mentioned one loyal nameless employee who had been with the firm since 1946, even through the dismantling of the operation. “He's sort of like an old horse,” Harold said in a flattering manner. “After you work him for so long, you take the bridle off and he still goes into the stable.”

In early March of 1985, the brothers wrapped up their work by answering calls from would-be renters or buyers and watching old equipment being hauled away. Remaining in the family were portraits of their parents and a wall full of pictures from “The East Tennessee 4-Wheelers” past expeditions.

Harold recalled those monthly trips and how Jeep men from Cincinnati even came down once to attend the events. Harold's concluding words to Basconi were “Leach meant Jeep. It really, really did.” 

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