In 1888, a Johnson City newspaper correspondent wrote an article for the paper describing the condition of the city that year. “This ends the year in this locality and we will try to sum up the items of most interest. We had three elections, one in March to elect a mayor and aldermen, another in August to elect county officers and one in November to appoint state and national officials.”

The journalist went on to say that much energy had been expended about the upcoming of what he called the great and coming 3C's railroad than everything else put together.

The writer noted that two deaths had occurred in the city: the stabbing of a man and a train accident involving a young lady. The report included 22 serious but non-life threatening injuries from machinery, clubs, pistols, knifes, falling off logs, kicked by mules and the like. There were also 32 residents who died from sickness and old age.

The city had a July 4th celebration comprised of an unlimited number of opera and other public entertainment. A significant number of police were on hand to maintain order; several arrests were made on various unspecified charges. News surfaced that 21 persons were poisoned at area boarding houses. During the festivities, a riot occurred but without the shedding of a single drop of blood.

During that year, Johnson City boasted of having no destructive fires or any financial failures of businesses. The success of merchants was credited to the doubling of factories and an increase in population and buildings. The Watauga Bank opened and The Bank of Johnson City was turned into the First National Bank of Johnson City, with a telephone connection to Jonesboro. The city's two hotels, the Piedmont and the Watauga, did a sizable business under the management of Weiler and Dickinson.

Three Old Johnson City Advertisements from 1888

Horton, Yocum & Co. began to enlarge the city's Steam Tannery. A contract was awarded for extensive water works to be installed by J.J. Robinson and others. Electric lights were installed over most of the city. Wide streets and avenues were opened up and older ones greatly improved.

Although real estate sales bought in $130,000, more land was desired at even higher prices. Churches were well-supplied with pastors and small congregations. The six existing  schools did well despite the fact that the Board of Education did not appropriate public money for them that year. 

Another hot topic dealt with the making of money for Johnson Citians. How to make money was a problem well-studied by the folks. It was a question that everybody wanted solved. The paper offered some suggestions:

“So to begin with, we say that most people can make money, but how to save it after it is made is really the question that troubles most people. The real problem with all of us is how shall we accumulate this much coveted wealth rather than how shall we make it.

“So now, we suggest a few points. Don't try to keep up in style and appearance with your rich neighbor. Do not hire someone to do work for you if you have the time and strength to do it yourself. Do not ride or drive fast horses just because it is fashionable when you know your income's too small for you to afford the pleasure.

“Do not smoke 15-cent cigars when cheaper one would do, in fact when none at all would be better. Do not waste your means by any kind of extravagance, large or small. Pay for what you buy. Owe no man anything.”

The paper ended its counsel with a plug for a local business: “And, last but not least, trade with Christian Hoss and Hodge in 1889 and secure the best goods for the least money.” An examination of old newspapers from this era reveals that publishers frequently interspersed advertisements along with news. 

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The 1908-09 Johnson City Directory identified 60 streets within the confines of the city. Note in the list below that 10 parallel avenues bare the designation “Carnegie,” as part of The Carnegie Land Company (but that is another story).

These roads (and today’s names) were First (Millard/Railroad), Second (Fairview), Third (Myrtle), Fourth (Watauga), Fifth (Unaka), Sixth (Holston), Seventh (Chilhowie), Eighth, Ninth and Tenth. For whatever reason, the latter three were not renamed after the Carnegie empire collapsed.

The street locations in the list below are unique, generally specifying how many streets a particular one location lies from another major street. For instant, the first one, Afton, is south of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railway and also the fifth street east of Roan.

Glance over the list below to see if the streets where you reside or have lived were in existence in 1909. All designated roads are streets; avenues are so noted:

Two Old Advertisements in Johnson City in 1908

A: Afton (south from ET&WNC Railroad, 5th east of Roan), Ash (West from Roan, between Cherry and Walnut).

B: Baxter (north from So. Ry., 4th east of Roan), Boone (North from Main, 1st west of Roan), Buffalo (south from Main, 2nd west of Roan).

C: Carnegie (On South and Western Railroad east of the city), Cherokee Road (west from Buffalo, 1st south of Chestnut), Cherry (east and west of Roan, 2nd south of Main), Chestnut (east and west of Roan, 9th south of Main), Commerce Ave. (southeast from east end of Maple).

D: Division (south from East Main, 1st east of Roan).

E: Eighth Ave. (east and west from Roan, 2nd north of Holston Ave.), Elm (north from So. Railroad Depot, 2nd east of Roan), Elmo (west from W. Watauga Ave., 3rd north of Main), Ernest (south from Main, 3rd west of Roan.

F: Fairview Ave. (east and west from Roan, 4th north of Main), Fifth Ave. (Carnegie), Fourth Ave. (Carnegie), Fulton (west from Whitney, 1st south of Main).

G: Grover (south from ET&WNCRR, 3rd east of Roan), Hamilton (west from Whitney, 2nd south of Main).

H: Harris Ave. (east and west from Roan, 6th north of Roan), Henry (south from ET&WNC, 4th east of Roan), Holston Ave. (east and west from Roan, 9th north of Main), Humboldt (south from W. Main, 1st west of railroad).

I: Ivy (west from Roan, north of Holston Ave.).

J: Jobe (east and west from Roan, 1st south of Main).

K: King  (east and west from Roan, 2nd north of Main). 

L: Lamont (west from Whitney, 3rd south of Main), Locust (east and west from Roan, 7th south of Main).

M: Main (east and west from public square, main business street of city), Maple (east and west from Roan, 5th south of Main), Market (east and west from public square, 1st north of Main), Maupin (south from So. Ry), Millard (east and west from Roan , 3rd north of Main), Montgomery (north from Main, 2nd west of Roan), Myrtle Ave. (east and west from Roan, 5th north of Main).

N: New (North of So. Ry., 6th east of Roan), Ninth Ave. (east and west from Roan, 3rd north of Holston Ave).

O: Oak (north from So. Ry., 3rd east of Roan).

P: Pine  (east and west from Roan, 6th south of Main), Poplar (east and west from Roan, 8th south of Main), Public Square  (along So. Ry. between Main and Market).

R: Railroad (parallel to So. Ry. tracks), Roan (north and south from Main, 1st east of Spring, the dividing line for most streets running east and west).

S: Second Ave. (Carnegie), Seventh Ave. (east from Roan, 1st north of Holston Ave.), Sixth Ave. (Carnegie), Spring (south from Main, 1st west of Roan), Stuart (north from So. Ry,), 5th east of Roan), Summer (south from west Main, 3rd west of Railroad).

T: Tenth Ave. (east and west from Roan, 4th north of Holston Ave.), Third Ave. (Carnegie).

U: Unaka Ave. (east and west from Roan, 8th north of Main), Walnut (east and west from Roan, 4th south of Main).

W: Watauga Ave. (east and west from Roan, 7th north of Main), Wellborn (Welbourne?) (north from So. Ry, 1st east of N. Roan), Whitney (south from 301 W. Main, 2nd west of Railroad), Willow  (west from Watauga Ave., 2nd north of W. Main), Winter (south from W. Main, 4th west of Railroad).

You probably noticed that several streets no long exist: Fulton, Humboldt, Stuart, Summer, Willow and Jobe. 

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Johnson City's mayor in 1908 was Guy L. Smith, who also worked for the Armbrust-Smith Co, a furniture store at 204-06 E. Main (much later the site of Nettie Lee's Boy and Girl Shop). If we could somehow ask Mr. Smith what Johnson City was like soon after the turn of the twentieth century, he would likely answer us like this:

“Johnson City is located in Washington County, the oldest and first settled in the state. It was in this county in 1771 that a colony set up and established the first free and independent government, known as the Watauga Association. It was also the home at one time of Andrew Jackson and of Davy Crockett.

“Johnson City is situated on the Southern Railway, 106 miles northeast of Knoxville and about 25 miles from both the Virginia and North Carolina state lines. Its growth in population in a single decade increased from 637 to 4,150 and the population in the last few years has more than doubled. As of today, we are the third largest town in East Tennessee and already being called “The Coming City of the South, a designation all of us love to hear.”

“Johnson City's altitude is 1,650 feet above sea level, it being located in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. These mountains with their subordinate ranges are in full view of the city. In both scenery and climate, it is very similar to Asheville, NC. A significant plus for this section of the country is its cool nights in the summer and its freedom from malaria, mosquitoes and epidemics.

Main Street Looking East in 1908 Johnson City

“Protected by the Allegheny Mountains on the east and the Cumberland Mountains on the west, this area is the least visited by destructive winds of any in the Union. Because of its altitude, summer temperatures are much lower than those recorded in the cities of the north.

“Near Johnson City, within an hour ride by train, are some of the most noted summer resorts in the country. The majestic Cloudland Hotel on the top of Roan Mountain, the highest habitable point east of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 6,300 feet, is a celebrated resort for sufferers of hay fever and malaria.

“Another notable resort is Linville, NC, located at the foot of Grandfather Mountain (elevation 5,000 feet). Unaka Springs, 20 miles distant, located at the foot of several towering peaks on the banks of the Nolachucky River, is resorted to for its medicinal spring. Not to be omitted are Austin and King springs whose healthful waters are principally Chalybeate and Lithia.

“Johnson City has five railroads:

“1. The line from the Southern Railway from Washington, DC to Knoxville, Memphis and New Orleans, passes through the city, putting us in direct contact with every municipality on that great system.

“2. The ET&WNC Railroad runs from Johnson City through Cranberry, NC, where is found the finest body of magnetic iron ore in America, and on to other points in North Carolina. The general offices are in Johnson City.

“3. The Virginia and Southwestern is now a branch of the Southern Railway and reaches the city on the tracks of that system.

“4. The Johnson City Southern connects the city with the Embreeville furnaces.

“5. The CC&O Railway, still under construction, is correlated with the Seaboard Air Line and will extend from the coal fields of Southwest Virginia to the Atlantic Coast.

“A new Federal building has been erected in the city and plans have been drawn for the erection of a Union Passenger depot at a cost of $100,000. In addition to a recently installed modern sewer and water system, we have paved many streets and laid several blocks of sidewalks. Already in place are substantial business blocks, progressive banks, a thorough education system, elegant and costly church edifices, splendid retail stores and many beautiful modern homes.

“Johnson City is destined to become a manufacturing center because of a strong and steady inflow of population. The three competing trunk lines entering the city offer affordable rates to all points. It supplies coal, thus securing for manufactures a permanent and unfailing fuel supply. The Nolachucky, Watauga and Holston rivers, which are close at hand, afford power sites of immense value.

“The surrounding deposits of minerals, the great variety and supply of hardwoods, cheap and abundant labor make Johnson City 'The Coming City of the South.”'

I think most of us would concur that Johnson City has more than lived up to its 1908 expectations.

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An oft-repeated article in the 1891 edition of an early Johnson City newspaper, The Comet, promoted the town as being a great place to reside. According to a Dec. 1891 depiction, the city had several taglines: “Center of Trunk Lines and Terminal Roads,” “Gateway to the Mineral and Timber-Laden Alleghenies” and “In the Heart of the Celebrated Magnetic Ore District.”

The publication noted that Johnson City was located 106 miles northeast of Knoxville at the intersection of two great trunk lines, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad and the Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroads. It was also at the termini of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina and the Johnson City and Carolina Railroads.

The Johnson City and Greensboro Railroad, an extension of the Richmond and Danville line from Greensboro to Johnson City via Wilkesboro, had been chartered and a preliminary survey made. In addition, the Johnson City and Cumberland Gap Railroad Co. had been organized.

The Southern and Eastern Line was building from Shelby and Cranberry to connect with the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad. While Johnson City was not considered to be a speculative town, it was a substantial young city whose progress within the past two years bore favorable comparison with many other cities in the South. It was in the midst of an excellent agricultural section.

Cereals, tobacco, grasses and a variety of fruits grew to perfection. There was no better section for the stockman, the cattle breeder, or the fruit grower. Also, it had at its door an unlimited supply of the finest timber obtainable. Nearly all of the hardwood abounded in vast quantities, an excellent source for wood working plants of every description.

The town was literally hedged in by mountains of iron ores, with red and brown hematite abounding in seemingly inexhaustible quantities. It was situated near the base of the Cranberry Mountains, whose celebrated magnetic ores were its natural outlet. Its proximity to the magnetic ores of the east and coalfields on the west certainly made it the steel-making center of the South. Limestone was found here in quantities beyond estimation and of the best quality.

The city, with an altitude of 1650 feet above sea level, was noted to be very healthful and was growing in leaps and bounds. The population, according to the 1890 census, was 4160, an enormous 507% increase over the 1880 one, when it was only 685.

In December 1891, the following enterprises were either in operation or being constructed: Johnson City Tin and Stove Co. (manufacturers of tinware), W.C. Remine (marble yard), Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Johnson City Furniture Co., Watauga Electric Lighting and Power Company, Johnson City and Carnegie Street Railroad Co., Watauga Tanner, Carnegie Iron Company (with a 125-ton blast furnace), Brown and Biddle (125-barrel process flouring mill), Miller Brothers (machine shop and foundry), Crandall-Harris (tobacco factory), J.E. Harr (cigar factory), W.J. Graham & Co. (ice factory and bottling works), Johnson City Brick Works, S.F. Ivina & Co. (brick works), J.T. Hoss & Co. (brick works), Allison & Shafer (brick works), Campbell & Co. (brick works), Johnson City Canning Factory (A.B. Bowman), Watauga Lumber Company, Cooper Brothers (planing mill), J.M. Carr & Co. (planing mill), John Sanders (planing mill), Fishback & Weiger (bakery), City Steam Laundry, Browning & Co. (soap factory) and Watauga Water Co.

The Comet identified several city officials. The Johnson City Law Court, which convened the third Monday of April, August and December, was comprised of A.J. Brown (judge), S.H.L. Cooper (clerk) and P.H. Pouder (deputy clerk). The Johnson City Chancery Court, which met on the first Monday in June and December, consisted of the Honorary John P. Smith (judge), A.B. Bowman (c and m) and P.H. Pouder (deputy c and m).

Corporation offices convened on the First Thursday of each month. They were filled by Ike T. Jobe (mayor), George P. Crouch (recorder), Robert Ramine (chief of police), A.R. Johnson (city attorney), R.C. Hunter (city constable) and Dr. R.S. Bolton (city physician).

J.M. Martin was postmaster. The post office was open weekday from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. It was closed on Saturdays but open on Sunday 7:00 a.m. to 8:20 a.m., 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Money Order Department conducted business on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The Board of Trade consisted of William G. Mathes (president) and Cy H. Lyle (secretary, publisher of The Comet). They met each Monday evening at an unspecified location on E. Main Street.  

Three train schedules were posted in the newspaper. The first was the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad. One of four westward/eastward routes showed it leaving Johnson City at 7:45 a.m., traveling to Milligan College, Watauga Point, Gladeland (flag station), Elizabethton, Valley Forge (flag station), Hampton, Pardee Point (flag station), Blevins, White Rock, Crab Orchard (flag station), Roan Mountain, Shell Creek, Elk Park, Hotel and arriving in Cranberry at 11:15 a.m.

The second schedule was for the Charleston. Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad. One of the four north routes timetables had it leaving Ranges at 4:00 p.m., going to Harrisburg, Austin Springs and arriving at Carnegie at 4:50 pm. After a two-hour stopover, it continued on to Main Street in Johnson City, Okalona (Okolona), Fagans, Marbleton, Unicoi and Erwin at Unaka Springs.

The third schedule showed the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. Three times a day, the train left Johnson City going west for Knoxville, Cleveland and Chattanooga. In addition, three trains left Johnson City heading toward Bristol and points east.    

Finally, ten churches were listed: M.E. Church South (K.C. Atkins), Watauga Sunday School at Lusk’s Institute (J.W. Crumley), M.E. Church (G.W. Coleman), Presbyterian Church (J.C. Cowan), Baptist Church (East Carnegie Baptist Church (J.H. Snow), Christian Church  (D.T. Buck), Carnegie Mission Methodist Church (T.S. Russell), Episcopal Mission (W.C. Wells) and Cumberland Presbyterian Mission Church (T.B. McAmis).

The Comet was a quality publication offering a glimpse of mostly long-forgotten history from yesteryear. 

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When I was about 10 years old, my friends and I often walked from our Henry Johnson School neighborhood on the west side of town along Market Street to the downtown district. We occasionally stopped at Fire Station #4 adjacent to the Leon Ferenbach plant to chat with our fire fighting heroes. These courageous men took time to befriend us rather than shoo us away as pests (which we were).

During one visit, we met a young nice looking fireman, whose name I would later learn was Clarence Eades. I believe he worked at the Walnut Street station. Over the years, I followed his climb up the advancement ladder to driver, captain, assistant chief and fire training instructor for the Vocational School before being named to the top job. He succeeded Ed Seaton in 1972 and held that position for 13 years.

Clarence’s accolades included being appointed by Governor Winfield Dunn to the state’s first Commission on Firefighting Personnel Standards and Education in 1974, honored as the “Most Dedicated City Employee” in 1975, established the local Public Safety Officer Program and had the public safety station at the corner of Cherokee Road and University Parkway named for him in 1980.

On the occasion of his retirement on December 14, 1985, Robin Cochran, a Johnson City Press-Chronicle staff writer, interviewed the fire chief concerning his thoughts on retirement after a highly successful 44-year career. “One of the hardest things for me to do is every time that the telephone rings at home, I expect the worst,” he said. “They call me when there’s a problem.”

The Bristol native was emphatic that he would remain in touch with his profession that occupied a major part of his life for more than four decades. “If you spend two-thirds of your life in it, you’re bound to miss it,” he said.

Eades began his career with the department as a volunteer for several months before being hired as a fireman. In the 1920s, his father worked as a volunteer fireman in the city. “I guess (watching my father) running to fires rubbed off on me,” said Clarence.

During Eades’ tenure with the fire department, he saw it become fully equipped. When he was a young fireman, the department’s trucks carried about 65 gallons of water as compared to the 750-gallon newer ones. “We didn’t have masks and you were lucky if you could find a helmet to wear,” he said. He firmly believed that before he left, Johnson City was as well equipped as any in the country.

Framed and hanging on the wall of Eades’ office were two signs that epitomized his life: “A great deal of talent is lost in this world from the want of a little courage.” “The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.” He said that he always tried to keep these two things in mind as he performed his job.

Eades had plenty of ideas about what he would do with his retirement time. He hoped to continue working with area volunteer fire departments, something he had done for years. “I thank the world of volunteer firemen for the dedication and loyalty they have to the community,” he said. “I admire them. I hope to be able to get in more time working with them after I retire.

Although Eades enjoyed his career in firefighting, he said he might have missed his calling by not being a truck driver. “I can get behind the wheel and drive and drive,” he said. But unlike the routes truck drivers travel, Eades preferred not to drive on the main highways.

Clarence Eads was granted a little over seven years to accomplish his retirement aspirations. Although the former fire chief passed away on Feb. 14, 1992 at age 72, he left behind a rich heritage to the city.  

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Older residents likely recall when City Hall (a.k.a. the Municipal Building) was situated adjacent to three downtown streets: W. Market, W. Main and Boone.

The massive structure operated as a civic, social and governmental centerfrom 1920 until about 1974 when a new location was selected on E. Main adjacent to Fire Station #3. The 3-story brick facility was historic because it represented the first time that city business was conducted in a municipally owned building. Prior to that, offices were rented in the business district. After it opened, the ground floor along Boone Street became City Market House with meat and produce stalls. Merchants and local farmers rented table space to vend their products to a grateful public. Early vendors included D.F. Clark’s Meat Stall (later renamed Clark’s Cash & Carry Meat Stall), Quality Service and Prices (Will Meet with Your Approval, Phone 401) and Keller’s Meat Stall (meat, vegetables and cannery products – “We Sell for Cash. Buy Here and Save the Difference”). Other tenants from that era were Associated Charities, City Fish Market and additional meat sellers: Hart and Clark, J.M. Range, J.M. Smith, John Webb and Hart and Thompson Sausage Company. The market was bustling with shoppers on Saturdays.

City Hall evolved into a heavily traveled venue to countless individuals seeking private meetings and public inquiries, thereby requiring a host of municipal employees to satisfy public needs. Much of the fate of Johnson City was determined when the mayor and other city officials dealt with thorny issues. The second floor contained a large auditorium and balcony on the W. Main Street side that accommodated about 480 people on the floor and another roughly 170 in a narrow balcony that extended along three sides. The stage became the setting for remote radio broadcasts, weddings, plays, prize contests, high school commencements, lectures, musicals and community functions. It also offered programs of local interest such as a popular cooking school that was sponsored by the local newspaper together with electric and gas companies. To stimulate attendance, the backers awarded door prizes that included baskets of food and gas or electrical appliances. The big frequently used room was often filled to capacity.

During a show in 1940, Jake Taylor’s Railsplitters Jamboree, Chuck Swain and his Radio Roundup from WROL Knoxville and a 71-year-old from Nebraska were featured. During the show, three fiddlers participated in a contest. The “loser” had to sit on a designated person’s lap and drink milk from a baby bottle. The crowd loved it.

In early 1946, Fiddlin’ Charlie Bowman, Gray Station’s North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame 2005 inductee and his second oldest daughter, Jenny, also performed at City Hall on the Smoky Mountain Jamboree. An ad from Saturday, April 13, 1946 reveals a typical performance: “The Biggest Show Ever to Come to Johnson City – 2 Big Shows – Smoky Mountain Jamboree and Circus for the Price of One – Saturday, April 13th, City Hall – First Show 6:30, Second Show 8:30 and Third Show at 9:30 – Entertainers: Speedy Clark and the Lonesome Pine Boys with Shorty Shehan and Tom ‘Pappy’ Slagle, Tennessee Pals – Eight Piece Hillbilly Band Direct from 14 years Engagement at Sunset Park, Maryland – J.E. Mainer and the Famous Mainer Mountaineers – Bob Christian and His Rhythm Boys – Charlie Bowman and Jennie, famous comedy, yodeling, fiddle and accordion team.” 

During the 1950s, Lowell Blanchard, the popular host of Midday Merry-go-Round and Tennessee Barn Dance over Knoxville’s WNOX radio, brought his country music show to the stage. One Press reader recalls winning a dollar bill from the emcee after successfully throwing a dart into the center of a bull’s-eye target. J. Norton Arney routinely sponsored fund raising shows in the auditorium. The stately building once served as a starting point for the annual Thanksgiving Burley Bowl Parade with colorful floats, tuneful bands and comical clowns lining up several blocks to the west on Main.

After 54 years of faithful service, City Hall began to feel its advancing age. Changes were made to the inside offices to accommodate the shifting times of city government. While some offices underwent significant renovations, others were simply closed and locked, perhaps serving as storage rooms. Eventually, the first floor of the building was the only part in use for city government business, an occasional rummage sale and headquarters for the Red Cross.

Former Johnson City Press-Chronicle writer, Bill Tigue, who covered the demise of the old structure said it best: “Some thought of her as an old dowager run down, a little musty, dilapidated, shop worn and neglected. Others fancied her a nostalgic relic, full of fine memories, proud and strong in the center of ‘The Old City Growing Young,’ stately, refined and dignified.” 

Whatever thoughts people had of City Hall, it was to no avail because on that fateful day with prior arrangements with Bradley Brothers Crane Service, she took her final bow and encountered the grim reaper, a massive 1800-pound wrecking ball. Demolition began on the south and west sides and moved inward. Gracefully, but not with absolute ease, the insolent old building stubbornly and defiantly surrendered to the big ball that cracked, bent and eventually toppled exterior and interior walls that had been standing since Model T cars roamed the streets. 

To conclude with Bill Tigue’s words, “Whatever school of thought you prefer, we hope you enjoyed your position while it lasted – she is no more. Neither dowager nor stately lady remains at the corner of Boone and Main streets this morning – just a pile of rubble.” Those who witnessed the heartrending destruction noted that she passed away gracefully and with dignity. After the debris was cleared and the dust settled, City Hall was only a memory. The site was sold to the Johnson City Press-Chronicle for a visitor parking lot.


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An advertisement from a 1930 Johnson City Chronicle and Staff News stated, “If it takes heat to do it, you can always do it cheaper with gas.”

The business paying for that ad was the Washington County Gas Company, which began operation in 1914 in Johnson City. It ushered in the first gas to the city, which then was manufactured from coal. The firm constructed a coal-gas manufacturing plant along the south end of Tennessee Street near Walnut adjacent to the Southern Railway tracks.

A 1917 Johnson City directory shows the business office located at 240 E. Main (future site of the Nettie Lee Ladies Shop). Initially, service was available only to Johnson City residents, but a growing demand for gas prompted management to enlarge the plant in 1922, doubling capacity and allowing gas lines to be extended to serve nearby Elizabethton. The growth of the company resulted in the company changing its name to Watauga Valley Gas Company.

By 1923, the office was relocated just up the street to 329 E. Main where it shared the location with the National Life and Accident Insurance Co., Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and National Mortgage Co. It was sandwiched between the Wofford Building on the west and the businesses of Security Investment Co. and G.W. Toncray and R.P. Eaton (notary publics) on the east. The location would later become the site of the Home Federal Savings and Loan Association. In 1928, the general manager of the operation was E.J. Wagner.

During 1946, there was a shift in technology. The manufacture of gas from coal was discontinued and replaced with gas made from liquefied petroleum (propane). The company’s new facility had an output of one million cubic feet a day, which more than doubled the capacity of the discontinued coal-gas facility.

One year later, the business was sporting a new name – the Watauga Valley Gas Co. located at 331 E. Main. Three years later, the address was shown to be at 334 E. Main. The officers were H.W. Gee, president; T.F. Dooley, secretary/treasurer; and L.L. “Skinny” Hyder, salesman. The new business logo was “Gas Has Got It.”

Beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the early 1959s, officials of the local gas company and another firm, the East Tennessee Natural Gas Company (ETNGC), worked diligently with the Federal Power Commission to bring natural gas into East Tennessee. After several long frustrating delays, the FPC granted a certificate in November 1952 to ETNGC for construction of a 100-mile pipeline from Knoxville to Bristol.

Work began on the project in August 1953, the same month the board of directors of the gas company adopted a new name, the Volunteer National Gas Company, which was indicative of the expanded territory to which service was to be rendered. The arrival of natural gas into the Tri-Cities area was a welcomed and significant event. A ceremony was held on January 16, 1954 at Tri-Cities Airport with Senator Albert Gore, Sr. lighting the long-awaited flame. In attendance were more than 200 area leaders.

With the availability of natural gas in the surrounding area, the company increased sales by more than 300% and added 500 additional customers during 1954. By 1976, the company had 8,000 customers in Johnson City, Elizabethton, Kingsport and Greeneville.

From its humble beginnings in 1914, gas became a true success story. 

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Charles W. Marshall, who worked for the Johnson City Police Department between December 1957 and October 1982, shared some prized photos and a Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police Magazine dated April 1966. 

The 118-page publication focused on police departments in six Tennessee cities: Chattanooga, Clarksville, Elizabethton, Cookeville, Murfreesboro and Johnson City. The JC section occupied 23 pages that included five locally written articles and 220 advertisements of businesses from that era.

The most striking item was titled, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes for the Unwary and the Policeman.” Former Johnson City Press-Chronicle staffer, Jim Turner, teamed up with on-duty police officers working the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift for a research project to gain firsthand experience of after-dark city crime.

Turner quickly learned that protection of approximately 35,000 city residents from attack, intrusion and other serious crimes rested that night with just nine officers. Lt. Tom Helton (future chief) commanded the night unit assisted by Sgt. George Adams, second-in-command and Sgt. Mickey Auer, desk sergeant and radio dispatcher. Jim recalled one incident on the first night of his assignment that was typical of the life of a police officer.

“My right hand grabbed for support,” said Jim, “as the police cruiser jumped from 20 to 50 miles an hour, then 60 and 70. As the driver jammed the accelerator to the floorboard, he thrust his left hand toward a toggle switch and the light atop the cruiser slashed its red warning signal through the after-midnight darkness. ‘Ten–four,’ he uttered into the microphone, acknowledging the radio call to rush to the aid of a gas station attendant who was in danger of being beaten by four toughs”

The news reporter, after realizing that he and the officer beside him were the only ones being dispatched to the scene, nervously began to contemplate what role, if any, he would play when they arrived at their destination. He knew that if the circumstances became combative he would have to offer his assistance. Fortunately, when they arrived only the attendant was present. After getting a description of the car and the suspects, the office and Jim attempted to locate them but to no avail.

Most police calls are centered on a troublesome situation that quickly spreads to one or more officers. A common dilemma for the dispatch is when someone reports another person’s actions to the police. Sometimes the desk sergeant has to wade through a barrage of irate verbiage before determining and courteously informing the person that no law had been broken.

 Turner learned that occasionally an officer found himself the target of vengeful acts by the person being arrested or by his family or friends. Another ploy was for influential individuals to contact the arresting officer to persuade or intimidate him into lowering or dropping the charge before the case reached court. Some influential violators threatened to have the officer fired for doing his job.

Jim related another difficult situation for police. “An officer stops a car in connection with a traffic violation or because it resembles an auto for which the police are searching, even if it is a partial description. As the officer approaches the seated driver of the car, he seldom has any hint of the driver’s identity or situation. He may be an innocent citizen who has unintentionally exceeded the speed limit or he may be a wanted man who knows his best chance for freedom is to shoot or disarm the officer making him especially vulnerable as he approaches the stopped vehicle.

The staff writer noted how one officer reduced the risk of a potentially dangerous situation after pulling a car over to the side of the road. “He focused the cruiser’s spotlight on the driver before getting out,” said Jim, “and he kept close to the side of the stopped car as he walked up to check the driver. The spotlight momentarily blinded him should he try to fire at the officer, but did not hinder him during the moment the officer stood beside the door.

One of the greatest disadvantages in police work was said to be the nervous strain to which policemen are subjected. The article indicated that three city policemen had undergone stomach surgery attributed to job strain within the past two to three years. The malady was not confined to those who walked beats or patrolled in cruisers; it even applied to what appeared to be a stress-free job – the desk sergeant and radio dispatcher. A man promoted to this job soon asked to return to his former job that caused him to incur a reduction in rank from sergeant to patrolman.

The newsman summarized his experience with the Police Department by saying, “Before beginning this project, I had thought of day-to-day police work as requiring no special attributes other than an unusual amount of physical courage. In addition to possessing an abundance of courage and strength, the good officer must have a sharp knowledge of psychology, skill in diplomacy, infinite patience and a devotion to duty. And, if he is to retain his sanity in the face of all the frustrations that police work entails, he must also have a well-developed sense of humor.”

The ten-photo collage of the Johnson City Police Department taken in November 1962 shows (left to right, top to bottom):

Top Left: (front) John Senn, Wanda Lewis, Paul Odom, Judy Barnett, (back) Carroll Tranbarger, Johnny Howell, Earl Byrd, L.P. Auer, Bill Collins.

 Top Right: (front) Ben Treadway, Paul Laws, D.C. Laws, Cecil Clark, George Murray, (back) Tom Helton, Fleenor Masengill, Albert Wood, Ed Friesland, George Adams.

Middle: Bufford Tunnel, Louis Auer, Allen Chandler, Chief C.E. Mullenix, Imogene Bright, Catherine Laughren.

Bottom Left: (front) Wendell Snapp, John Robinson, Charles Miller, Charles Marshall, (back) Garland Musick, Wayne McKeeham, Bobby Greer, D.H. Byrd, Leland Dalton.

Bottom Right: (front) Rodney Rowlett, Harry Reed, Bill Butler, Raymond Conner, Sheelor Norris, (back) Frank Hicks, John Hughes, David Yates, Euel Painter, George Hicks. 

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Joann Cress sent me a letter and a photograph pertaining to the career of her father, Wendell D. Snapp, who once worked for the Johnson City Police Department.

According to Joann: “Dad was born in Limestone, Tennessee in 1929 near the banks of the Nolichuckey River. After farming for several years, in 1949 he headed out for Johnson City looking for work. He was employed about seven months as a fireman before taking a job with the Police Department.”

Joann indicated her dad was ideal for police work because he was easygoing and was good at jumping in and diffusing a potentially dangerous situation. In 1950, the department had but two police cruisers – one for the chief and the other one usually in the shop for repairs. That meant the 10-12 city police officers had to patrol on foot.

Ms. Cress remembered one route that her father traversed twice each shift. He began at Boone and Main at the old Tennessee Theatre and made his way east toward Fountain Square and the Windsor Hotel area. His job required that he stop and meander through the many shops, cafes and other businesses along Main Street, conversing with citizens and storeowners. Over time, he became so familiar with people that he began calling them by their first name.

Wendell enjoyed stopping by John Buda’s “hole in the wall” eatery on Buffalo across from the City Bus Station and chatting with him. He then made his way up E. Main, crossed Roan at King’s Department Store and on to the old Post Office (now WJHL-TV) where he took a short break on the steps.

The officer continued his beat by going east on Main Street, passing Nance Lanes, the Spot Steakhouse and the Dixie Drive-In. Those restaurants were the real “hot spots” in Johnson City. Patrons usually had to wait for a table or booth but it was well worth it. After a walk through one of the restaurants and circling both parking areas, he headed to Legion Street, the halfway point on his beat. Snapp next circled back to his point of origin by walking west on Market, passing St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Munsey Memorial Church, John Sevier Hotel and Fountain Square before ending back on Boone. Again, he circulated his personality frequently.

Joann recently came across some old notepads that were used to jot down shift information and later transfer to the main police journal. They are dated 1949 to 1953. A sampling of the entries is as follows: “White male, age 21, theft of a radio and an electric iron from London’s Hardware (106 W. Market), breaking and entering at Williams’ Restaurant (“Y” section), two men arrested at the Franklin Apartments (360 E. Main) for possession of 16 quarts of white whiskey, theft of three suits of clothing from Woods’ Second Hand Store  (Market), report of a break-in at Cochran’s Jewelry Store (109.5 W. Market), white male arrested at Curtis Beer Parlor (308 W. Market) for being drunk and disorderly, two males arrested for shoplifting at Hopkins’ Store (1500 Buffalo), theft of a bolt of cloth from Parks Belk (207 E. Main, valued at $18.62), female assaulted at railroad tracks near the brickyard and drunk and disorderly conduct at M & L Café  (109 W. Main) and at Earl’s Grill (907 W. Market) and White male, age 23, charged with highway robbery near Walnut and Buffalo on June 12, 1951.”

Joann explained that “highway robbery” was a term meaning a mugging that took place outside in a public place such as on a sidewalk, street or parking lot. 

Joann concluded her letter to me by saying, “It was a different world back then but one that Dad thrived in and survived for 32 wonderful years. Dad passed away in 1993.”  

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In 1989, area resident, Bill Reece, shared with Press writer, Tom Hodge, a 1921 combined Johnson City and Elizabethton telephone directory issued by the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company. A city directory from that era shows the business was located at 116.5 E. Market Street.

Tom noted that a person could have called everyone in Elizabethton in about an hour because the register contained only 41 names. Phone number “1” belonged to E.C. Alexander. The listing for Johnson City was somewhat longer with just over four pages of names, addresses and phone numbers. The first listee, residence and phone number was A.H. Abernathy, Buffalo Street, “207”; the last one was F. Zulante, Eighth Avenue, “56”. The Fire Department could be reached at “400” and the Police Department at “57.” Unlike today’s fully automated system, the caller had to deal with an operator to make a phone call. She would open with her familiar “number please.”

The directory contained a page on “How Do You Use the Telephone?” It showed two ways to use the device – a right and a wrong one. The correct procedure revealed a man holding the earpiece to his ear and leaning forward to talk into an upright phone. The incorrect position had the same man leaning back in his chair, cradling the telephone in front of him. The instructions said, ”When you place your lips close to the transmitter and speak clearly and distinctly in an even tone of voice, the operator can hear you plainly and understand the number you request. When you are inattentive and speak ‘at’ the telephone instead of ‘into’ it, the operator is liable to misunderstand your order and the called party cannot hear you distinctly. This makes the operator’s work more arduous and creates unnecessary difficulties for all parties concerned.”

The book advertised that a customer could have a phone with either individual or party line service for a $3.50 installation charge. Under “Rules and Regulations,” the directory declared, “The use of a subscriber’s telephone is limited to the subscriber, his family or employees in his interest.” That surprising strict requirement implies that a neighbor or friend could not use the family’s telephone for any reason – casual or emergency. Imagine that. The directory further warned that unauthorized agents were offering telephone aids to the phone company’s customers. It cautioned subscribers against the purchase of such illegal devices and warned them that their use was strictly prohibited.

The directory contained considerable advertising including Free Service Tire Company that purchased an ad on the front cover touting its Kelly Springfield Racine and Firestone tires. J.A. Vines, president of The Peoples Bank, boasted of resources of more than $300,000 at its location at Spring and Tipton streets. Unaka & City National Bank and City Savings & Trust Company, in what later became the Hamilton Bank building, had much larger resources – $5 million.

Tennessee National Bank, located on Spring Street in the Elk Building (later site of the Sevier Theatre), had nearly $2 million in resources after just five months subsequent to opening for business. The directors were S.C. Williams, C.E. Cargille, Adam B. Crouch, George T. Wofford, J.E. Brading, J.A. Summers, H.G. Morrison, Evan S. Rees, B.W. Horner, Hammond Prosser, T.F. Dooley, L.R. Driver and Lee F. Miller.

Thanks to Bill and Tom, we are treated to another reflective glimpse into the nostalgic world of yesteryear. 

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