A Brief Journey Back to 1929’s “Golden Days of Yesteryear”

I am blessed with readers who send me old newspapers. In my voluminous collection of old papter, I recently came across a Saturday, August 17, 1929 edition of the Johnson City Chronicle, which was yellowed and brittle with age, requiring delicate handling. As I skinned through the edition, I noted several things that were unique to that era.:

The newspaper that called itself, “A Newspaper of Character,” sold for three cents with a yearly subscription of $7.00 (Sunday and daily except Monday). According to the paper, Johnson City’s population that year was 35,690.

The front page contained national and international news; you had to turn the pages to find local news. One article dealt with the dirigible, Los Angeles, touring New England. The blimp was to leave Lakehurst, NJ, which was eight years prior and at the same location as the Hindenberg Dirigible disaster of 1937.

The attention-grabbing item on the sports page was under the subtitle, “Yanks Trounce Tigers for 12 to 2 Triumph.” Babe Ruth (left field) got his 32nd homer of the season, while Lou Gehrig (1st base) accounted for two runs. In local sports news, the Troupers from Soldiers' Home and the Mountaineers from Bristol were scheduled to play on Sunday in at Soldier’s Home.

The importance of local farming in 1929 was noted in a section titled, “Weekly Farm Number,” with two strong messages: “Don’t Raise Products You Can’t Sell” and “Give the Land a Chance to Work For You by Rotating Crops.” Another ad on page 11 proclaimed, “Erosion takes 20 times as much fertility from the soil as the growing of crops. Tis better to leave the farm than let it leave you. Permanent pasture is the answer.”

The article, “Fire Alarm Caused By Flying Sparks,” caught my eye because it described a fire at the American Cigar Box Company. My interest was fueled because my grandfather, Earl Blaine Cox, worked at this company in 1929. The plant was situated on Cherry Street, conveniently located near the railroad tracks and east of the large parking lot on South Roan Street.

Typical of this newspaper was the Austin Springs social calendar of events with people going on vacation, receiving friends in their home and “motoring” to a nearby city. When is the last time you heard that word used?

An amusing article dealt with the destruction of a local 75-gallon moonshine still from someone referred to as “King of the Moonshiners.” Allegedly, half of the moonshine was poured out while the rest was hauled in as evidence.

It is surprising how many businesses were in the 1929 paper that were still around when I was growing up in Johnson City such as Parks Belk, Kings, and Dosser's.

Lucy Pouder was mentioned in the social section. The Pouders were highly successful businessmen of that era. My Grandfather Cox once worked for Mr. Pouder when he owned a combination furniture store and funeral parlor located in the same location as the Charles Store in downtown Johnson City. He would sell furniture one minute and then assist in a funeral the next minute.

Reference is made to the John Robinson’s Circus coming to Johnson City for two shows. I was a frequent visitor to the area circuses in my youth but don’t remember this one. 

The Johnson City Chronicle gave away two free swimming tickets to two people to patronize the Sur Joi Swimming pool located near the corner of Watauga Avenue and W. Market Street. They would hide the names of the two winners among the classified ads. If you looked on page 33, second column, under “Apartments For Rent,” you will see the name, “Miss Lillian Hodges.” If you look over in the fourth column, under “Houses For Sale”, you would find, “Mr. Ralph Young.”

My great uncle, Fiddlin’ Charlie Bowman and His Brothers routinely played old-time music to attract customers there when it was called the Watauga Swimming Pool. I would be interested in knowing from my readers how the Sur-Joi acquired its name. I grew up during World War II in the Gardner Apartments, which overlooked this popular pool. It later became the  Carver Pool.

The A&P grocery store stood for “The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.” I would love to sink my teeth into one of their advertised large, cold, ripe watermelon for 55 cents. Remember how we use to “plug” watermelons to sample them before purchasing them? That is a thing of the past; today we take “pot luck.”

As a former employee of Eastman Kodak Company, I took interest in the $.98 Hawkeye Camera which, when developed, were 2.25 by 3.25 inch black and white photos. I also remember buying two-quart hot water bottles for $.98, same price as the camera. We filled those rubber bags with water so hot that you would almost burn yourself, until they had lost enough heat to become quite cozy in bed.

The local bus schedule from ET&WNC Motor Transportation Company was quite interesting with trips to Asheville, Cranberry, Elizabethton, Bristol, and Erwin. Also, the Seals Coach Line offered trips between Johnson City and Appalachia with stops in between.

I was delighted to see my old friends Jiggs and Maggie again. I loved that comic strip “Bringing Up Father.”

Three downtown movie theatres were advertised: the Criterion, the Majestic and the Liberty. The Deluxe Theatre (later called the Tennessee) was not shown. The Majestic featured both a movie and a variety of vaudeville acts. Over time, theatres made the transition from being completely vaudeville to offering a combination of movie and vaudeville entertainment before becoming movie theatres.

I spent many a pleasant Saturday afternoon at the Liberty Theatre watching my favorite western heroes on the screen that included a cartoon and the next thrilling chapter of my favorite serial, “Thunda, King of the Congo,” starring Buster Crabbe (of Flash Gordon fame). What fantastic memories!

As previously noted, this newspaper came out about ten weeks before the stock market crash. When I read the financial page, I searched for clues of the impending crash. Perhaps the title of the article, “Bulls Advance Many Issues To Record Levels,” was the best hint. People were in a buying frenzy, driving up stock prices to artificially highs and paying for them on credit. Stock volume that day was quite high. The problem came when the stocks dropped so dramatically and people had to pay with money they didn’t have.

Today's excursion is a brief journey back to the golden days of yesteryear. I hope you enjoyed it. I can't get my mind off that 55-cent plugged tasty watermelon and summer is a long way off.