A History Mystery: Were There Two West Side Schools?

I received a handwritten letter from Geneva Feathers, offering some largely forgotten memories of West Side School in 1930.

In her letter, she mentioned two West Side Schools, one having been located at 812 W. Market Street and the other at 349 W. Main Street, the one she attended. Why would Johnson City have two grammar schools with identical names? Let me present some facts in the form of five exhibits to help clarify this enigma.

Exhibit 1 is a large metal plate mounted on the west side of the front doors to the old Henry Johnson School on W. Market Street school that reads: “West Side School – Erected 1930.”

Exhibit 2 is likewise a plate attached to the east side of the same entrance: “Renamed Henry Johnson 1934 – Erected AD 1930.” The school was indeed known as West Side School for those four years. 

Exhibit 3 is a photograph from The Overmountain Press publication, Johnson City – The Way We Were, a reprint of a 1909 compilation by J.O. Lewis, identifying the Main Street school as West End School. This building was most likely situated near what was the west end of town around the turn of the century.

Exhibit 4 is a quote from Mary Nell Rader, a local resident who once attended the Main Street school: “I remember when both schools were called West Side School until one was renamed Henry Johnson School.”

Finally, Exhibit 5 is the interesting letter I received from Mrs. Feathers:

“Your previous column brought back memories for me. My family moved from Erwin to Johnson City in June 1930 and I started at Old West Side School that fall. The school we later knew as Henry Johnson had just been completed and was being used for the first time – it was known then as New West Side. Mrs. W.B. Ellisor, whose husband was mayor of Johnson City, served as principal of both schools. Miss (Mildred) Taylor was teaching at Old West Side even then, but I did not have her for any classes. Miss Ruth Massengill was my homeroom teacher (fifth grade) and I had Miss Bethea for Music. My homeroom teacher in the sixth grade was Miss Mildred Adams. Miss Cora Mae Crockett taught Geography. I had never heard of Davy Crockett then, but I remember her telling us about her ancestor who had gone to Texas to fight (at the Alamo).

“Mr. Judson Carter taught Arithmetic and, although I never knew why, he always had a wooden yardstick with him, which he used as though it were a cane. Miss Frances Long was the music teacher that year. Most of us who lived close enough – for me four blocks – to walk home for lunch did so and we could easily get back within the allotted hour. The school had no lunch room facilities. Students were permitted to go across the street to a mini-grocery run by a Mrs. Laws. She sliced meat from her refrigerated meat case and made sandwiches for the kids. My favorite was boiled ham on a bun for a a nickel and a penny red licorice stick for 'dessert.'”

I believe we can accurately conclude that there were indeed two grammar schools sharing the same designation between 1930 and 1934.

Why did the second school not receive a different name at the onset, instead of four years later? When did West End School become West Side School? Perhaps other Press readers will respond to those two questions.