October 2016

A 1969 promotional brochure, produced by the Jonesboro (earlier spelling) Kiwanis Club, Washington County and the Town of Jonesboro, impressively described the historic borough as the “Mother of Tennessee.”

The Chester Inn in Jonesboro

The publication offered a succinct history of Jonesboro: “A mirror of Colonial America history, it is the oldest town in Tennessee chartered by the North Carolina assembly in 1779 and founded the following year. Jonesboro was named in honor of Willie Jones, patriot and prominent citizen of Halifax, NC, who sponsored legislation favoring and aiding the western settlements.”

One interesting statement in the write-up says, “Washington County, of which Jonesboro is the County Seat when created was said to embrace all of what is now Tennessee. Also, it was the first political sub-division in America to be named in honor of George Washington.”

The first courthouse west of the Blue Ridge, a crude log structure, was completed there in 1778, and it became the judicial capital of East Tennessee.

Jonesboro was designated as the capital of the short-lived State of Franklin that was organized in 1784. Andrew Jackson traveled over the rugged mountains from North Carolina and was admitted to the bar in Jonesboro in 1788. Later, as the seventh president of the United States, he rode through Jonesboro many times en route to Washington, once holding a reception for his friends on the porch of the historic Chester Inn.

Mention was made of the Battle of Kings Mountain where riflemen from the city followed John Sevier to probably the most celebrated battle of the Revolutionary War. After the conflict, these brave men followed their leader on many victorious Indian campaigns.

Later, old Jonesboro offered many amenities: Southern Railway Company provided rail service to and from the community; a major carrier provided bus transportation through Jonesboro, including semi-hourly interurban trips to Johnson City; and motor freight carriers were well represented throughout the region.

TVA received high accolades for its abundant, consistent and inexpensive supply of power to the community. Another benefit for residents was receiving the purest freestone water supply available that was piped in from nearby pristine mountain streams.

Jonesboro, perched 1700 feet above sea level with a population of about 7500 inhabitants, was said to enjoy a year-round ideal moderate climate with few extremes of hot or cold.

The informative brochure boasted of the town being within 15 miles of the Unaka Game Management Area, which was stocked with deer, bear, turkey and grouse. Streams and TVA lakes, including the stunning Watauga Lake, were within easy driving distance, offering the angler with trout, bass, crappie, pike and other game fish.

The county regularly distributed milk, other dairy products, tobacco, poultry, eggs, beef cattle and grain. Thousands of tons of sweet peppers were produced annually in Washington County, both for seed and the canned food industry.”

A noteworthy attraction for the town was the growing of millions of tulip bulbs for the seed market. Endless rows of brilliant multicolored tulips grew between Jonesboro and Erwin along the Nolichucky River bringing to the area a flood of visitors each spring. My Cox family photo albums have several pictures of my folks enjoying those herbaceous flowers (having little or no wood).

The brochure made a brief comment about area homes: “Scattered among the modern residences are scores of beautiful century-old homes of quaint and interesting architecture.” Today, 47 years later, the “Mother of Tennessee” has retained that same delightful charm.

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Today's column is an 11-year cornucopia of “newsy news,” from around the state, ranging from July 1874 to January 1885. Several items deal with the latest newspapers coming to the area and the status of railroad projects.”

July 1874: “Ex-president (Andrew) Johnson, Gov. McMullin, Mr. C. S. Bekem of Abingdon and Mr. Peltier of the Johnson City Journal were all in Bristol last Thursday.” (Note: The former president would die in July one year later in Elizabethton, TN.)

July 1874: “Mr. J. W. Peltier was again in town and says he has achieved success in getting up a subscription list for his new paper, known as The Johnson City Times.”

July 1874: “Gale's School in Blountville closed with entertainment last Friday evening. The concert was accompanied with charades with all of the pupils participating. The admission fee was ten cents and the highest degree of satisfaction was given. We are glad to learn that the school is large and is doing well. Prof. Gale is one of the best teachers in the country.”

July 1874: “The citizens of Johnson City have made a purse and have purchased a complete outfit for a newspaper to be edited and conducted by Mr. Peltier, lately of the Jonesboro Echo. The power press, lately used in the office of the Knoxville Chronicle, has been purchased and has already been set up in the office of the 'Peoples Advocate' at Johnson City, and we presume that the first number of the paper will appear within a few weeks. We are gratified that the people of that prosperous and very pleasant town are to have a paper.”

Sept. 1874: “The Johnson City Times is edited by Mr. Peltier. It is produced on the “patent outside” plan (not printed locally but obtained from another publisher who furnishes the same general paper to other cities.). It presents a neat appearance and is conservative in politics. We hope it will have an abundant appetite for its work and abundant success at it.”

Area Newspaper Advertisement Music Emporium in Knoxville, Tennessee

Sept. 1874: “Austin's Springs (a new summer resort, this being the second season since commencing the enterprise here) is situated on a high height perch overlooking the beautiful Watauga River, a point 3.5 miles below Carter's Station, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad and kept by the Austin Bros., who strive to make it a place of genuine comfort and pleasure for those who stop with them for rest and recreation.”

Aug. 1876: “Mr. J.W. Peltier who has been known in connection with the Jonesboro Echo, the Johnson City Times and the Clinton (Tennessee) Tribune has issued a prospectus for an evening paper to appear soon on the Tennessee side of Bristol. In addition, he plans to produce an eight-page weekly, which he says will strive to become the leading organ of the Democratic Party in the First Congressional District. Peltier has exhibited more nerve in this respect than we (The Bristol News) possess and it is now up to Bristol to show whether it will support such an enterprise. We wish to satisfy and fulfill the hopes of Mr. Peltier.”

July 1874: “Those attending the Bristol Fair that year were Mr. C.X. Mathews of the Wytheville Enterprise, Maj. W.P. Elliott of the Press and Herald, C.C.A. Heermans of the Virginia People, George W. Ward of the Abingdon Virginian, J.W. Peltier of the Johnson City Times and M. S. Mahoney of the Jonesboro Herald and Tribune.”

Jan. 1885: “A number of railway projects are being initiated. A survey of the proposed line from Gaffney City, South Carolina, via Rutherfordton, Marion and Bakersville to Johnson City, Tennessee has been completed as far as Rutherfordton and is progressing towards Marion.”

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The fifth annual convention of the Southern Appalachian Good Roads Association, held in Roanoke, Virginia for two days in 1911, was highly successful toward accomplishing the purpose for which the organization was created.

Deep interest in improved roads was manifested throughout the sessions. Especially noticeable was the enthusiasm of local men present who were overly interested in improved conditions of the country's highways and doing so right away.

The economic side of good roads was the basis of one speaker from Columbia, SC who noted that it was too late in the world's history for him or any other man to tell how highways formed the basis of all commerce. In the early days of barter and trade, good roads were the essential means of transportation and communication between those who had things to sell and those who wished to buy.

All of the glory of Rome, he said, had faded and had crumbled into dust, except her highways, which yet remained to show how true was the expression that “all roads lead to Rome.”

The speaker spoke of the manner in which the great cotton crop of the South was marketed and how, with good roads, thousands of dollars would be saved each year to the grower. He noted that 99 percent of all the crops in the country were hauled over country roads and that from two to three hundred million dollars was practically thrown away each year by hauling them over dreadfully maintained  highways.

The people must see that their representatives in Congress and in the State legislatures redeem the promises made before the election, regarding good road legislation and State and Federal aid. They must keep their word.

The next speaker was a representative of the Southern Railway Company, who mentioned the pioneer work in the good road cause, which his railway had done and was yet doing by means of good roads for trains, which traveled throughout the South.

Another attendant addressed the practicability of using sand-clay roads in this section of the country. He said that this would depend largely upon the proximity of the products. He had not thoroughly traveled in this section of this country, but thought that a limestone option would likely be more advantageous.

The life of a sand-clay road, the speaker said, depended largely upon the kind of traffic over it. The automobile, he noted, was its best friend and it was the cheapest of all roads to maintain. He further pointed out a number of cautions to be observed in building a road of this kind.

Another interesting discussion was the manner of securing rights of way and it was shown that, in Virginia, the method pursued was tedious and often resulted in delays. In North Carolina, the roads would be first built and the land condemned afterward. In Tennessee, condemnation proceedings could be instituted either before or after the road had been built.

The editor of The Carriers' Messenger, the Southern publication of rural carriers, introduced a suggestion at the Thursday afternoon session that had as its purpose the co-operation of the association with rural mail carriers in the improvement of the post roads and thus the securing of Federal aid for such highways.

Eight resolutions were adopted at the meeting before it adjourned. One expressed to the people of Roanoke through the Chamber of Commerce, its sincere appreciation of the many courtesies extended the delegates to the convention and the enthusiastic co-operation given the convention in all it had planned to accomplish.

The association further desired to thank Roanoke's YMCA for its kindness and consideration in allowing the convention the use of its splendid hall and other conveniences.

True to form, a vigorous discussion ensued concerning where to hold the 1912 convention. Although representatives from Atlanta, Asheville and Nashville made a strong bid, they decided to let the Executive Committee handle the task. With that, the convention adjourned.

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During Sept. 20-25, 1909, an impressive exhibit pitted Tennessee against the world. When you put together an exhibition that displays Tennessee’s resources in miniature, you have a sight that is worth observing and an inspiration to return home and take better advantage of the natural opportunities afforded by the South. The purpose of Nashville's Tennessee State Fair was to make the people of the South realize that it's not so much the number of acres they possess but the production output from them that truly counts.

The state planned to take over the management of the fair beginning January 1, 1910. The association the prior year made preparations to ensure its final effort produced the very best State Fair that had ever been held south of the Mason and Dixon line (or for that matter, anybody else’s line).

The premium appropriation that year exceeded $35,000, promising that the rewards offered would be a great deal more money with trophies more elaborate than those previously offered by outside individuals and numerous organizations. The premium list for the great annual show of the American Berkshire Congress, for instance, amounted to several hundred dollars in addition to the handsome championship cups offered.

1909 Tennessee State Fair Advertisement #1

The Fair was held in connection with the regular show of the State Fair’s Swine Department, but it was so big that several additional judges were required. It was a matter to be proud of that the present world champion Berkshires were bred in Tennessee and were still residents of the Volunteer State.

Tennessee’s exposition, which had come into the front ranks of the big state fairs and in actual money value to the people of the South, had established a great record since its modest beginnings.

The fair had a membership in the American Association of Fairs and Expositions, which made a showing for championship honors. The exhibition was recognized by Northern breeders as “The Fair” for winning good will in the South and it was the only Southern fair visited by a great many of them, though most of the best strings were shown at Memphis, which immediately followed the Tennessee State Fair and preceded the Illinois State Fair.

No event of the kind ever held in the South had been so helpful and interesting to the farmer, the stockman, the fruit grower and the public in general as was the 1909 Tennessee State Fair. 

1909 Tennessee State Fair Advertisement #2

While the educational features gave the fair its primary purpose in exhibiting, the management, realizing the importance of amusement attractions, appropriated over $10,000 for free features alone. These included the great Weber Band of Cincinnati, the same band that played for years with spectacular fireworks every night.

The Tennessee State Fair purposed to help teach the methods by which the agricultural worker could get the maximum output from every acre of land under cultivation. This applied not only to the products of the fields, but to the improvement of livestock and the teaching of modern methods of home-making by the Woman's Department.

In reality, the mission of the State Fair was to help the people of Tennessee and of the South to greater happiness and prosperity, which included more of the comforts of home.

As noted, the management of the event was spending heavily for free amusements. With this amount of money, the Amendment Committee was able to get the very best in entertainment available for any fair. What the South needed was the increase of the farmers' average income by $500.

It was generally agreed that this would be more quickly accomplished by the adoption of the principles taught at the state fairs than in any other way thus far devised. The fair was eagerly awaited by its public. Indeed, the 1909 Tennessee State Fair was a “Mighty Modern Exhibition.”

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Did you ever wonder what it was like to travel through East Tennessee around the late 1800s? Today’s column will afford you that opportunity based on a document written by someone known only as ODT, who traveled to the area in 1877. Overall, the trip details are glowing with only a hint of negativity.

The writer’s stated purpose for the trip was to make a case for people living in the crowded north to come to the unpopulated pristine mountains of the South. He or she traversed the region through Virginia and Tennessee with a particular focus on the Cumberland Plateau region of East Tennessee. 

Clean invigorating air, pure water, mild healthful climate and especially low-priced land quickly captured his attention, but he was shocked to hear valley people describe land in the mountains as worthless for agricultural purposes. But it was possibly of great value for its plentiful coal and iron deposits across the plateau.

Vintage Photo of the Cumberland Plateau

Surprisingly, Mr. ODT learned that many of the inhabitants had migrated there from the north. Properly cultivated land was very fertile and yielded abundant and consistent crops. Nearly all the produce grown in the north grew equally well in a Southern climate. He was astonished at how good apples and potatoes grown in the region tasted. Delicious pears, quinces (hard apple-like seeded fruit edible only when cooked), grapes and berries all grew rapidly. 

Mr. T found out that wild grass abundantly thrived everywhere among the timber and all over the plateau. The raising of cattle and sheep was the most profitable business for farmers. There was a great abundance of fine timber available, which at that time had little market value except for sporadic house building and putting up or repairing fencing along property lines.

However, the mysterious writer from yesteryear felt it would ultimately become important for manufacturing purposes, especially with a variety of oak, chestnut, hickory, maple, poplar and white and Southern pine. The land’s elevation had a stabilizing effect on the temperature, making winters mild and short and summer heat less severe than those in Northern states.

A cool breeze made summer nights highly comfortable, especially with windows partially open. Medical statistics from that era showed that the area was one of the healthiest sections of the country with its abundant springs of untainted water, many of them believed to be medicinal. Everywhere were creeks, branches and running streams. The 1877 traveler indicated that he walked several miles through forest after forest without encountering a single pool of tainted water. It was not to be found.

O’s words about the native population were equally interesting; he judged them to have an easy, kindly disposition, but indicated they were uneducated and a bit laid back. They appeared fully satisfied with their diminutive crudely-built log house and a small patch of potatoes out back. The residents supplemented their diet with fresh deer meat that was easily obtained on the plateau. The friendly inhabitants readily embraced immigration from their Northern settlers.

The mountaineer’s biggest drawbacks were a lack of schools to educate children and no effort to maintain a definitive culture. This deficiency resulted in a tendency for each family to live in isolation. On the plus side, an abundance of choice land was located near the railroad and adjacent to the river, which could be purchased for prices ranging from $2 to $5 an acre.

The writer concluded his comments by summarizing his feeling for the potential of the sparsely settled East Tennessee area: “I believe this to be the true idea of settling a new country. If a number of families, agreeable to one another, would locate close together where they could have a school and society and mutually assist and encourage each other, they would with proper management very soon build up comfortable and independent homes.”

Thank you Mr. ODT for sharing your nostalgic document with us. You made me want to turn an old antique clock back to the golden days of yesteryear.

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