September 2016

A December 1908 local newspaper had this to say about Johnson City's anticipated growth: “To say that Johnson City will grow by leaps and bounds during the coming year will be stating nothing more than the truth and to back up the assertion herewith give you some of the facts gathered from those who know.” 

In the first place, bids for the construction of the new government building were planned. This was not identified but likely at 103 Tipton Street between Spring and Buffalo streets. 

Johnson City 1908 Advertisements

Congressman Brownlow asked Congress for additional $20,000, which made a total of $105,000 to put in the building, outside, foundation, cement sidewalks and basement.

Mr. Carter began the foundation work promptly after the contract was awarded and the plans received. Walnut Street was paved and cement sidewalks laid on both sides from Buffalo up to West End Heights. 

A property was purchased at the corner of Buffalo and Walnut by some prominent citizen, who build a $10,000 model market house and grocery. Work on this venture began immediately.

In the early spring 1909, Mr. Carter erected a $50,000 hotel (not the Carnegie Hotel, which was built by Gen. Wilder in 1891 for $125K) possibly the Pardue (Windsor)  Hotel) that provided Johnson City with modern and spacious accommodations.

A modern office building was also begun and finished during that same year. Also, a large store building was erected to be a model department store.

Work was started and finished on the new Southern Train Depot, which was believed would join in and build a large union depot. Plans were also on foot to build in the Carter Addition a thoroughly equipped opera house. 

The above items were cold, hard facts and it was but a matter of a few days until most of the work was begun. The $100,000 flour and feed mill (Model Mill) was an assured fact. This project was just as certain as the building of a new Post Office.

The parties had been waiting on the finishing of the CC&O Railway to a point where they could connect with the N&W and C&O railroads and finish through to Bostic, NC in order to get a milling in transit rate on their shipments of grain from the west. This was targeted to be built the following spring and summer in time for the wheat harvest. 

Johnson City 1908 Advertisement

Johnson City 1908 AdvertisementsNext came the extension of the streetcar line. Plans called for Johnson City and Jonesboro to be connected by a modern interurban electric street railway.

Johnson City 1908 AdvertisementsThe present streetcar line extension would go forward at an early date to run down Walnut street, up by Mr. Carter's home, which he was in the process of building, then down Maple street to Buffalo, making a complete loop of the Carter properties.

An extension was also to be made, provided Congress consented, so that the line would run out Walnut to Soldiers' Home, going through the grounds, making a connection with the present terminus, thus looping through the home grounds. Streetcars would then be running in both directions.

Mr. M.L. Fox, manager for the Unaka Corporation had a complete drawing made of' the entire property, giving lots and numbers, from which maps could be made and given to real estate agents of the city to sell. It was said that fully half a million dollars would be spent in the Carter addition in improvements during the year 1909. 

Mr. Carter's plans called for a through train schedule to be put on between Dante, VA. to Bostic, NC and a special train from Dante, Va., to Johnson City and return, making a local train service in both directions.  

The Commercial Club got busy to advertise the advantages of Johnson City with Mr. Carter and to help make a city of 25,000 by 1911.

Regrettably, not everything materialized in this glowing report. The streetcar line from Johnson City to Jonesboro never became a reality and the projection of Johnson City having a population of 25,000 was a bit of a stretch. That accomplishment, according to former city historian, Ray Stahl, did not occur until 1930.  

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The Comet, an early newspaper of Johnson City, occasionally included a column titled, “This and That,” aptly named because of its unusual subject matter and curious wording.

One 1894 winter edition offered several diverse entries. The vintage newspaper received news that a nameless Johnson City voter had exchanged his registration certificate for anything he could get for it. The average going price on the street was five dollars. While this was a common practice for those individuals desiring to buy votes to swing the general election, it was generally frowned upon and considered a dreadful practice by most townspeople.

Since Easter was just around the corner, the ever-busy hen would, consequently, have to redouble her efforts to satisfy the public demand for eggs. With good weather and plenty of feed, the newspaper saw no reason why the faithful foul couldn't meet the challenge without “having egg on its face.”

On another matter, The Comet launched unflattering comments about Hotel Carlisle (once located at the southwest corner of E. Main and Division streets, which, according to the paper, “remained where it was built and was in the same condition as then – empty.” The structure later became the Franklin Apartments)

Although reports, it said, were published some time ago that it would be opened in grand style in the near future by an Atlanta businessman, the paper saw and heard nothing additional to verify the reports. The streetcars still ran a block shy of the hotel and the Atlanta man never showed up.

In actuality, the streetcar would never pass by the hotel. Instead, it turned a block away at E. Main north onto Roan, then east toward Carnegie.

On another matter, the Taylor Brothers, furniture store owners, graciously allowed patrons to come into their business establishment and rest in their comfortable chairs. During cold weather months, they could also enjoy the warmth provided by a cozy wood stove. This practice was halted for a period of time after the business experienced a serious fire.

Two Advertisements from the 1894 Comet

During the blaze, when confusion had reached its highest pitch, Bob Burrow of The Comet, was forced to his knees, in a praying position, by the forceful hose in the hands of excited firemen. He remained in that position for a while and when he finally regained his footing, he yelled something to Mr. Gump, who was executing a similar jig on the street also trying to maintain control of his pressurized hose. The short scuffles offered a brief chuckle to an otherwise serious event. 

The store manager, George Ferguson, wittingly noted that the fire was made even warmer by the owners' hospitality. They promised that once repairs to the store were completed, the meetings around the hot stove would resume and continue with unabated interest in its new quarters with one notable exception: No chestnuts (old or stale jokes) were allowed to be spoken; only new topics were acceptable.

1894 advertisement  for the Johnson City Steam Laundry “Called for and Delivered”

The Comet continued its desultory banter by saying, “Take to heart, ye crucifiers of horseflesh. Treat that faithful animal (the horse) kindly and with the consideration due its faithfulness. The steed can't talk and tell you, but he tries by signs to inform you that he has put his strength to its utmost to perform his duty. Considering this fact, it is a great pity that he doesn't kick your head off when you wantonly beat and abuse him.”

The newspaper next commented on the weather: “Last Sunday, the 4th, was by far the prettiest day seen in this section since last spring. Notwithstanding, March was usually blustery. Up to that date, no evidence of uncommonly windy weather had been noted. The month was still in its infancy and there was no telling how the latter part would supply.

The weather forecast was a bit prophetic: “For on that day, the tail end of the month reached around and dealt its forepart a blow that came near lifting the hair.” 

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Today's column pertains to Johnson City being rewarded one of the three normal schools in the state of Tennessee in 1909.

A bold headline from the Comet newspaper read: “Board Makes Statement and Gives Reasons for Selection of the Normal Sites in Johnson City, Murfreesboro, Memphis.”

A smaller caption further revealed: “In East Tennessee – The Board of Education Reaches Its Decision After Three Days Deliberation. The Awards Are Conditional on Each City Complying with All Promises Made in Its Normal School Application.”

State Normal School Award

The State Board of Education selected the three cities for the State Normal Schools for the three grand divisions of the State. The decision was reached after three days of careful deliberation on the part of the Board. Believing them to be the logical and proper sites for the schools, a final session was held in which a lengthy statement, signed by each and every member, was issued, giving reasons for the action.

Although 22 towns submitted bids for the schools, later Trenton and Milan withdrew their bids, leaving 20 towns from which to select the three sites. Realizing that 17 of the 20 proposed locations would be rejected, the board accepted the bids of the three towns making what they believed to be the best offers. 

Competition Heats Up for the Schools

Since the passage of the general education bill by the previous General Assembly, a great deal of interest was manifested in the location of the new schools. A high spirit of generous rivalry was shown by the various towns, which grew more intense as the day of selection drew near.

In some instances, this rivalry even approached bitterness. However, when the decision of the board was made public, the delegations from the various losing towns had little or nothing to say about the matter. Of course, the delegations from Johnson City, Murfreesboro and Memphis were gratified at their triumph.  

Reasons For Choice

Individually the members of the Board expressed various reasons for their choice. In addition to making the most liberal offers, the three chosen cities were considered to be the best geographically for Normal School purposes.

An examination of a map of Tennessee revealed this fact. It was noted that if a ruler was placed on a map of the state with one end on Memphis and the other on Johnson City, it will fall directly over Murfreesboro. Of course, the board took into consideration the accessibility of all the towns and concluded that the three chosen could be the easiest reached from all points and sections.

Johnson City's Offer

According to the opinion of the Board, Johnson City made by far the most liberal offer of any other East Tennessee town. They considered the thriving Washington County city to be the most accessible and best for the state institution.

The location of the middle division became a bone of contention. It was the general opinion that Clarksville would be selected. It's offer was $185,000, a free site and free water. Murfreesboro offered $180,000 and a free site. But when the board selected Johnson City for the Eastern and Memphis for the Western division, they considered Murfreesboro the proper place for the Middle division from the standpoint of accessibility and geographical location.

In each case, the board reserved the right to reconsider its actions taken if the provisions of the bids were not fully carried out as promised. Many telegrams were received by the Board expressing appreciation at the selection. “God bless the State Board of Education” was wired from Murfreesboro and “Our stock is above normal” came from Johnson City.

Statement of the Board

The Board of Education issued the following statement concerning the normal schools and their location:

“Under the act of 1909, the state board of education was charged with the duty of selecting sites for three state normal schools, one to be established in each grand division of the state, and pursuant to House Bill No. 212, Chapter 261 of the acts of Tennessee and of State Bill No. 609, chapter 580, of the Acts of Tennessee, authorizing counties and municipalities to make donations of money for the purpose of establishing and equipping the normal schools. The board advertised for bids and received propositions from 22 counties and municipalities in the state.”

Board Reviews Applications for School

The Board followed up by visiting each location submitting a proposition with the exception of two, which withdrew their bid and heard the arguments of speakers advanced in favor of each locality and, in addition, examined the written briefs which were filed.

The interest manifested over the state in establishing these schools far exceeded expectations, and the arguments offered for each one were strongly presented. Each had its merits considered, and the responsibility of deciding between rival claimants was quite thorny. Every competing place possessed varying degrees of merit and all were intensely interested in obtaining the school.

There had been differences of opinion among the members of the Board as to where the normal schools should be located. The final decision was reached after full consultation and consideration, and after each member had expressed himself fully as to the merits of the places applying. This was necessary in order to reach an agreement. Members of the board acted in a spirit of harmony and compromise.

With a few difficulties and some embarrassments under which the committee labored and appreciating fully its responsibilities, the following decision was reached by a majority of the members:

East Tennessee's Bid Details

“The majority of the board had decided that Johnson City in Washington County was the proper place for the location of the East Tennessee Normal School. It offered the proceeds of $100,000 in bonds, free lights, free water and a free site to be selected by the board. The municipality of Johnson City further obligated itself to build a streetcar line to the site selected and to lay granite rock sidewalks to the school.

This bid was larger than the bid of any other place applying in East Tennessee, and a majority of the board had considered that it met, as fully as any other, the essential requirements of the act under which the normal schools were being created.

However, the selection of Johnson City as a site for the normal school for East Tennessee was conditioned, like the others, on the faithful performance of all the guarantees and offers made, and the selection of a site, which would be suitable for the purposes of the school. If any of these guarantees or offers were not carried out in full, the board reserved the right to reject the bid of Johnson City and select another site for the normal school if, in its discretion, it was deemed necessary.

The board regretted the disappointment that came to so many applicants for the state normal schools, but congratulates them upon the educational spirit which had been so manifested everywhere they visited. Out of the agitation and generous rivalry, much good resulted to the cause of education.

The personal acknowledgment of the board was hereby tendered to the people of all the places visited for their hospitality and kindness.

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