November 2016

The advertisement that accompanies today's column came from a Dec. 1, 1957 Johnson City Press-Chronicle. Note that the former “Johnson's Depot” carried the tag, “The Christmas Town,” stating that the city was ready with thousands of Yuletide delights!” Everywhere shoppers glanced, they saw dazzling, glittering arrays of gifts to put under their Christmas tree; toys to make a child's eyes grow wide with excitement; brilliant glowing lights and sparkling ornaments for decoration; Santa's Yule-tide pack overflowing with magic from all over the world to make Christmas the happiest, most thrilling they'd ever had; a need to hurry because time was a-wasting; join the holiday shopping throng now without delay.

Twenty-three downtown stores agreed to keep their businesses open until 8:00 p.m. on six nights between December 9 and December 23: Advance Store, Carder Hardware, Charles Store, Cooper's Office Equipment Co., Davis-Mottern Jewelers, Dosser's, Free Service Tire Stores, Gregg Electric Co., Hannah's, H.E. Hart Jewelers, Kyker Furniture Co., London Hardware, Masengill's, Parks-Belk Co., Penney's, Sears-Roebuck Co., Singer Sewing Machine Co., Sterchi's, The Jewel Box, The Music Mart, The Nettie Lee Ladies Shop, The Nettie Lee Boy & Girl Shop and Wallace's.

The Chamber of Commerce placed in the newspaper a message of thanks” to the hundreds of business firms and thousands of Johnson Citians whose support of the Chamber program had made this a most successful and joyous year.

George Kelly, in his editorial 12 months prior, challenged the local business and professional people to “come off the sidelines and get in the game.” He noted that the Chamber was the organization in which business men and others pool their experiences and talents for the economic good of the community.”

The results that year were quite impressive: “three new industries; an Industrial Park; called on 157 industrial prospects in 16 states; conducted a Dairy Institute; conducted two sales clinics; conducted “Business Education Day” and “Education Business Day”; approved $2 million Industrial Bond Issue, entertained college freshmen enrolled at ETSC, Milligan College and Steed College of Technology; and continuous activity in many areas of community development such as highways, fire prevention, health, sanitation, tourism, parking, retail, aviation, transportation, conservation, legislation, inter-city relations, traffic and safety and others.

The organization further stated that “It is our hope that 1958 will be another 'milestone year' in the annals of the progress of Johnson City.

The Chamber of Commerce concluded with “Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This message was sponsored by the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce by the following progressive, civil minded firms:

Browns Mill Company, Cash & Hall Wholesale Grocery Co., Diamond Cab Co., Gregg Electric Co., Hannah's, Holston Distributing Co., Home Federal Saving and Loan Association, Orange Crush Bottling Co., Harman Ice and Coal Co, Lodge Service Station, Mullins Hardware Co. Nave's Automotive Brakes, Wheel and Supply Co., Pet Dairy Products Co., Summers Hardware & Supply Co., Smith Higgins Co., Wofford Brothers, Radio Station WETB, Red Band Enriched Flour, Johnson City Press-Chronicle and Tennessee Motor Co.

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In my constant search of antique stores, flea markets and vintage book stores, I have acquired a sizable collection of artifacts. One, titled “Beautiful Linville Caverns,” is the subject of today's Yesteryear Column. Attached are excerpts of it along with three photos.

“Drive up beautiful scenic U.S. 221 to Linville Caverns, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the old Yonahlossee Trail, Grandfather Mountain and other scenic delights in the most exciting section of “The Land of the Sky.”

“Linville Caverns is at the head of the verdantly beautiful Linville Valley. Here the mountains rise abruptly from the Valley. Starting with Humpback Mountain, (under which Linville Caverns lie) and Linville Mountain, across the valley, the peaks rise successively higher, until they reached their majestic climax on Grandfather Mountain (5964) said by geologist to be the oldest mountain in the world

“Fine paved highways ascend in graceful curves to the Linville Falls, then on up for miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway, cross-over, then along the Parkway and the Yonahlossee Trail to the Gateway to the Grandfather Mountain road. younger Lucy trail to the gateway of all the grandfather Mountain Road, 15 miles from the Caverns.

“The mysterious beauty of Linville Caverns, the breathtaking panoramic views along the Parkway and the rugged grandeur of Grandfather makes this truly one of the most seemingly scenically exciting regions in America.”

Linville Caverns is one of the highlights of Western North Carolina scenic attractions. The brochure urged its readers to bring their clubs and conventions to the Caverns for a unique, impressive trip to Western North Carolina's subterranean wonderland – Linville Falls.

“Come and enjoy a scenic treat differently from any other in Western North Carolina. Whether you come only to explore and enjoy the Caverns themselves, or to stay a while and relax, and perhaps a picnic on the Capitol grounds, you will long remember your visit to Linville Falls is one of the highlights of Western North Carolina's scenic attractions.

“Why not entertain your visitors and guests with a unique impressive trip to Western North Carolina's subterranean Wonderland – Linville Caverns.

“Arrangements may be made for parties. Complete picnic grounds are available for groups wishing to bring their lunches.

“Western North Carolina on scenic Highway U.S. 221 is 18 miles north of Marion, N.C. and 14 miles south of Linville and grandfather Mountain. It is open your round.

“Linville Caverns are electrically lighted and a level smooth path takes visitors into the innermost recesses of the Caverns this passageway, for the most part, skirts a small crystal clear subterranean stream in which trout are seen.

“The stalactite and stalagmite formations in the Caverns have been developing for untold centuries into fascinating formations, such as the Frozen Waterfall, Natural Bridge, the Franciscan Monk and many other formations limited only by the imagination of the spectator. At one place in the Caverns, there is a bottomless pool of crystal-clear water.

“Courteous and experienced attendants accompany each party through the Caverns to point out the most interesting features and answer questions.

“The Linville Caverns entrance grounds are a delightful scenic retreat. The ample parking grounds, interesting rustic entrance lodge, and refreshment building accommodate the many investors who come to enjoy the Caverns daily Linville Caverns are beautifully illuminated to reveal to read the unique formations.”

The brochure was not dated, but several clues put it in the 1930s and 1940s. Noteworthy is the absence of interstate highways or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Roads include 321, 221, 64, 70, 19E, 19 and 23. 

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On March 15, 1884, Nathaniel C.T. Love published the first issue of the Comet newspaper in Johnson City, Tennessee. Attorneys Robert Burrow and Robert L. Taylor (later Tennessee governors) served as the newspaper’s editors. The paper’s salutatory piece affirmed its perspective: “In politics, we are democratic; in religion, we are orthodox.” At the time of the Comet’s first issue, the town had just one other newspaper, the politically independent Enterprise, established the previous year.

By July 1884, editorial control at the Comet had passed to Taylor and C.J. St. John, Jr. Just under a year later, an announcement was made that Cyrus “Cy” H. Lyle and Robert Burrow had purchased the paper, but Taylor would remain as editor.

The Comet covered political issues and local affairs and offered entertaining short stories and poems. In a town served by two railroad lines (later three), the paper unsurprisingly devoted much column space to train schedules and railroad news.

The Comet's Letterhead

On political issues, Taylor’s staunch support of the Democratic Party and his strong political ideology were clearly apparent. In the October issue before the 1884 presidential election, the Comet, which supported Grover Cleveland for president, featured a front-page story that included a sketched portrait of Taylor.

The article complimented Taylor’s speech condemning the Republican Party and sang his praises as a presidential elector. Taylor later ran for governor of Tennessee against his brother, Republican Alfred A. Taylor. This occasionally heated, but mostly cordial race later became known as the “War of the Roses.” Bob won the race and served as governor from 1887 to 1891 and again between 1897 and 1899.

In 1891, Robert Burrow retired from the Comet when the partnership between him and Lyle was dissolved, leaving Lyle as the sole proprietor. In the April 9, 1891 issue, Lyle announced his intention to publish the Daily Comet, beginning the following week.

The Daily Comet was “a morning paper with full Associated Press Service.” He continued to publish the weekly every Thursday. However, a couple of years later an article in the June 29, 1893 issue of the weekly Comet, announced that the daily would cease publication, declaring that, “The Daily Comet is simply off its orbit” and that “Publishing a daily paper in Johnson City is like running a free lunch counter in Washington, DC. It is well patronized, but not profitable.”

To compensate for the closure of the daily paper, the weekly one was increased to eight pages. An elaborately illustrated masthead, which is what people generally remember about it, was introduced featuring a comet descending over industrial and rural landscapes with a train at the center, pulling a car labeled “progress.”

The weekly Comet built up a large circulation in its first decade. By 1895, the paper had 1,000 active subscribers in a town whose total population was approximately 4,000.

Over the first decade, the Comet employed inventive means to increase subscriptions. In 1885, the paper ran a promotion offering new and renewing subscribers the chance to win one of the several prizes such as a silver watch, a sewing machine, and the grand prize, a parlor organ from the Chicago Cottage Organ Company. An ornate illustration of the organ accompanied several of the promotional announcements.

The Comet remained in publication at least through 1918, but surprisingly the exact date of its demise apparently was never recorded.

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In September 1899, reports circulated about the discovery of caves in the mountains of Claiborne County, located about 100 miles from Johnson City. Reportedly, the caves, if true, would rival the famous Mammoth Cave of Kentucky or the Luray Caverns in Virginia.

Map of the State of Tennessee Showing the Three Divisions of the State. Claibourne County Is In East Tennessee at the top. See Asterisk.

It had been known for many years that a cave existed in the mountains and the residents of that county developed a superstitious awe of the place and would rarely venture into the locality, even in broad daylight, owing to the peculiar wind which issued from the narrow mouth of the caverns.

During that era, Mr. James Housely, owner of the lands on which the caves were located, organized an exploration party. Guides were obtained by the owner and preparations made for a thorough examination of the area. Upon reaching the mouth of the cave that was located in a deep mountain gorge several miles from any residence, it was found that the stories told by the natives appeared to be accurate.

The opening was small, barely large enough to admit a normal sized person. From it blew a constant strong current of warm air with sufficient force to cause a handkerchief or other light substance to flutter in the breeze. The natives once stated that as soon as cold weather set in and throughout the winter, the current was reversed and was drawn into the cave with sufficient force to suck in dried leaves and other forest debris that came within its radius.

Upon entering the cave, the party encountered a narrow passageway, extending into the heart of the mountain for several hundred feet. At the end of this passage, the cave suddenly widened into an immense chamber, the end of which could not be seen with the light of the torches carried by members of the party. The chamber had a level, dry floor and from it hundreds of passages branched off.

Through one of these passages blew a strong current of air. This option was selected for further exploration. It sloped downward and was pursued over a half mile. Suddenly, a peculiar organ-like roaring and ringing began to be heard, causing the explorers to panic. The guides insisted on turning back, but the owner of the property pushed on for half a mile farther, with the noise constantly swelling in volume. Suddenly, another immense chamber was found at the end of which a gigantic formation of stalactites and stalagmites was found.

Through these rushed a current of air, producing the peculiar music which had frightened the guides and caused the whole party considerable wonderment. The explorations were not continued beyond this second large chamber, but it became evident that the caves were immerse, and plans were made to systematically explore them as soon as possible.

A series of similar caves had previously been partly explored a number of years prior in Cumberland County in a deep mountain gorge, known by locals as “The Gulf.” The natives shunned this locality like they did in Claiborne County and no one would reside near the caves for any quantity of money.

In the Cumberland County caves, there were three separate entrances. At two of them, the same peculiar currents of air were noticed, one of them being warm and balmy and the other strangely felt as if it came from a frozen subterranean lake. Inside two of the caves, which were penetrated for several miles, were found immense stalagmites and stalactites, while through another a large subterranean river flowed.

This same stream came out the other side of the Cumberland plateau in White County, where it was known as the Caney Fork of the Cumberland River and was deep enough for navigation within a few miles from the point at which it issued from the mountain.

That was in 1899. If any of my readers can furnish more recent information about these caves, I would appreciate hearing from you.

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