In 1928, Johnson City’s government was housed inside City Hall at W. Main and Boone streets. Officials were W.J. Barton, Mayor and City Judge; T.H. McNeil, Recorder and Treasurer; Guy S. Chase, Attorney; Dr. J. T. McFadden, Physician; H.F. Anderson, Commissioner of Finance; S.O. Dyer, Commissioner of Streets; and C.E. Rogers, Superintendent of Schools.

Several items were on the City Commission’s agenda for June 22 that year. First, they signed a contract with the Appalachian District Fair Association for a five-year lease of Keystone Field on E. Main. Second, they signed a contract with Coile and Cardwell, local architects  (office located at 8 King Building, 255 E. Main, future Liggett’s Drug Store building) concerning a substantial public school building program. Third, they authorized the Commissioner of Finance to issue short-term notes amounting to about $65,000.

The approval of the contract with the Appalachian District Fair Association leasing Keystone Field for a period of five years completed all plans and negotiations for the fair location. The signing was not a superficial action; it was investigated thoroughly by all members of the Commission and City Attorney Guy S. Chase prior to the meeting.

The reaction to the signing by the town’s citizens was exceedingly favorable. Many people openly expressed their pleasure at the city’s efforts to provide an appropriate venue for the much-anticipated annual fair. The event was expected to attract thousands of people to Johnson City during its scheduled Oct. 16, 17, 18 and 19 run. The contract was perceived as producing a significant economic bonus for the city.

My Jan. 19, 2009 feature article offered some particulars about the school building program that included additions to several Johnson City schools and the building of three new ones: Columbus Powell, New Martha Wilder (renamed Stratton) and New West Side (renamed Henry Johnson).

Concerning the third matter, the Commissioner of Finance, Anderson, explained that the issuance of notes for $65,000 were for the purpose of paying interest of several notes which were due as well as providing funds for the regular monthly school payroll.

Another business matter concerned the placing of a streetlight at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Wall Street near the Carnegie section of town. Property owners in that sector of the city submitted the request because they desired better traffic control in their neighborhood.

The next item on the agenda presented a thorny issue to the commissioners. Representatives of the Johnson City fruit and vegetable concerns complained that the city was overrun with people peddling vegetables and other commodities on the downtown streets without a license. The established vendors argued that they were required to have a permit to sell their wares and this group should be also. They further stated that peddlers were causing unfair completion to downtown merchants and that this oversight robbed the city of needed revenue.

The matter was discussed at length with members of the commission. They vowed they would cooperate with the delegation in finding relief for the local storeowners. Their lively discussion prompted the formation of a committee of four commissioners, appointed by Mayor Barton, to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter and report their findings at the next meeting of the board.

After H.F. Anderson presented regular weekly bills and other routine matters of the commission, the meeting was summarily adjourned. 

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In June 1962, the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce kicked off its first “Tourist of the Week” program, aimed at making out-of-state tourists motoring through the city keenly aware of the many amenities offered to them. 

Each Thursday beginning in June and extending for 13 consecutive weeks, the Chamber surprised travelers by stopping them and inviting them to became guests of the city for 24 hours. Many of these sojourners thought they were about to receive a traffic citation. A committee determined in advance which state would be targeted each week. The members then solicited the help of one or two policemen to patrol the highways in quest of a vehicle bearing license tags from that state.

The seemingly simple plan was not without problems. Often those selected could not participate due to time constraints and had to decline the city’s bighearted offer. The C of C persisted in searching for candidates until they located people who had the time to stay over for a full day. It was common for police to flag down several dozen cars before finding a family who could participate in the offer. 

Those fortunate folks with time on their hands were rewarded with an eventful and interesting 24 hours at the expense of the Chamber. Those who had to decline the invitation were not summarily dismissed; instead, they were informed of the program, given literature about the city and region and invited to return to Johnson City at a future date.

 The day’s festivities began with newspaper, radio and television interviews. The guests of honor were then driven to a motel or hotel where they were presented with a complimentary room. After that, they were carted off for an enjoyable lunch at one of Johnson City’s fine restaurants.

After the meal, the agenda called for a tour of historical, recreational and scenic points of interest throughout the area. That evening, the honorees became guests of the city and were greeted by city and Chamber leaders. During this time, they received honorary certificates of citizenship and several gifts that were native to the area. After a full day of activities, the weary guests were escorted back to their hotel or motel for a night of rest. The following morning they were taken to breakfast and then sent on toward their destination.

In 1971, the Chamber made two significant changes to the “Tourist of the Week” program. The first was to modify the stay-over requirements from 24 hours to three or four hours. The second was to select from two to four carloads of people instead of just one. These adjustments allowed more people to participate in the program and significantly reduced the time and labor requirements by city personnel. At the end of the 13 weeks that year, the Chamber of Commerce had hosted an impressive 78 tourists from 13 different states.

As an added bonus, visitors were later mailed complete copies of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle that contained the article describing their selection and visit and a photograph of them in their automobile. A further benefit was that copies of the newspaper were sent to the tourists’ hometown newspaper, often resulting in additional interviews when they returned home.

Over the years, the response to the “Tourist” event was overwhelming. The files of the Chamber of Commerce became filled with letters of appreciation from grateful honorees. For these people, it was a never-to-be-forgotten once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After the 1973 season was concluded, the “Tourist of the Week” program was cancelled after an 11-year run and faded into yesteryear.

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Ray Reaves, a charter member of the Johnson City Rescue Squad, is proud of his approximately seven-year affiliation with the decisive organization.

“Our unit was about the first one established in these parts,” said Ray. “The squad was organized sometime in the mid-1940s with 15 to 20 of us. We wore distinctive looking white coveralls. The people whose names I remember were George Livingston, Bill Prevette, Elihu Widener and S.S. Jones, our unit head.”

Mr. Reaves went on to say that the squad met every two weeks upstairs at the Main Street fire station. This facility offered adequate room for them because they had very little equipment then. Ray continued: “Meetings usually consisted of a guest doctor who instructed us how to assist with various types of emergencies. Surprisingly, we had no prior formal training before joining the squad.” 

Primary services included dragging area lakes for drowning victims, responding to automobile wrecks and setting up oxygen tents in people’s homes. They were also required to respond to plane crashes, but Ray could not recall any such disasters. “We were a volunteer organization,” said Reaves, “even furnishing our own vehicles and gasoline. All of us had regular jobs. I worked for Mullins Hardware on Market Street near the Southern Train Depot at the time.”

Squad members’ work bosses had to agree to let them respond to emergencies with short notice. Also, their respective employers paid them while on serving with the Squad during normal work hours. That commitment took some very understanding business owners.

Ray went on to say: “When we got the call to go to an emergency, we went directly to the crisis location. We kept a list of each others’ phone numbers handy and would call whoever was available. We were often shorthanded. We averaged about two calls a week, although I can recall times when we were needed twice in one day.”

Ray noted the difficulty of dragging a lake: “The squad had three boats for use. One boat pulled as many as three lines at a time. Each line had a board at the end of it about 18 inches long containing ten hooks that were each 3-4 inches long. Each hook was attached to a small chain, giving it some leave way. On occasion, we were called into Virginia and North Carolina, especially around the French Broad River. We seemed to be about the only ones around who could perform this kind of work. Sometimes we hooked something only to find out it was a limb, log or stump.

“Sometimes, we had to break a hook to free the line. Hooking debris was a recurring aggravation for us. Sometimes we started dragging early in the morning and continued until late that night. The use of lights allowed us to work through the night. I recall one occasion when a man abandoned his car along an area lake and vanished. We dragged for about 40 days before learning that he had been spotted in Florida. Over time, nearby cities formed a rescue squad. Greeneville, Kingsport and Elizabethton soon had one. We began pooling our resources and assisting each other in a cooperative effort.”

Eventually, the members became more specialized and the work more complicated and regulated. The Johnson City squad eventually acquired a paid manager and a new office. Ray concluded with these words:

“I feel really good about my service with the Rescue Squad. It always gave me a good feeling to be able to assist people with emergencies. Even dragging operations usually brought closure to a tragic event.” 

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A 36-page booklet titled, “Monday Club, Johnson City, Tenn., 1914-1915,” contains a wealth of information about this longstanding impressive organization.  

The society’s roots can be traced to 1892, when 11 area women formed “The Ladies Reading Circle,” a club devoted to the reading and discussion of books. The members initially met in each other's homes. Within a year, this group became known as “The Monday Reading Club.” In 1895, the same year the Johnson City Public Library was established, they shortened their name to “The Monday Club.” The federation’s stated goal was “the upbuilding and support of the Mayne Williams Library.” Striving for “Unity of Purpose,” they adopted the motto: “In good things, unity; In small things, liberty; In all things, charity.”

Feb. 6, 1913 proved to be a pivotal day for Johnson City when the society received a letter from local attorney, Samuel Cole Williams, donating property adjacent to Munsey Memorial Church and a $10,000 contribution to help build a new public library. Fulfillment of the club’s dream for a permanent home occurred on Jan. 1, 1923 when Mayne Williams Library opened its doors to the public. Prior to this, the library had occupied ten separate locations. 

The club’s avowed pledge was to work toward better homes, schools, surroundings, scholarship and lives; to work together for civic health and civic righteousness; to preserve forests, and natural beauties of the land; To procure for children an education which fits them for life; to train the hand and heart as well as the head; to protect children who are deprived of the birthright of natural childhood; and to obtain right conditions and proper safeguards for women who toil.”

The officers for 1914-1915 were Mrs. Ferdinand Powell, President; Mrs. G.L. Smith, Vice-President; Mrs. O.E. Kizer, Second Vice-President; Mrs. R.W. Martin, Recording Secretary; Mrs. S.N. Hawes, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. W.J. Barton, Treasurer; and Mrs. E.A. Long, Federation Secretary.

The club was divided into 11 departments with a director over each: Art (Mrs. W.P. Harris), Civics (Mrs. E.M. Slack), Civil Service Reform (Mrs. E.W. Kennedy), Conservation (Mrs. W.J. Barton), “Education (Mrs. C.E. Rogers), Mountain Settlement Work (Mrs. O.E. Kizer), Industrial and Social Conditions (Mrs. F.B. St. John, Literature and Library Extension (Mrs. G.L. Smith), Legislation (Mrs. L.A. Pouder, Public Health (Mrs. E.T. West) and Home Economics (Mrs. P.M. Ward). Club membership in 1914-1915 was 69 (48 active, 5 associate and 16 honorary). Annual dues for active members were $3.00.

After the much-anticipated new learning facility became operational, it opened on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 1-4 pm between November 1 and March 31 and 1-5 pm from April 1 through October 31. The club met every Monday afternoon at 2:00 from the first Monday in October to the first Monday in April, the last one being their annual meeting. The following abridged departmental agendas for the meetings between Oct. 5, 1914 and Apr. 5, 1915 show an extraordinary diversity of scholarly subjects:

Oct. 5, 1914, Inauguration Day: Outgoing address by retiring president, Mrs. F.B. St. John; Talk – “Our Plan of Study.”  

Oct. 12, 1914, Conservation: The New Forest Reserves and Irrigation in the United States.

Oct. 19, Public Health: A Free Clinic in our Public Schools, The Value of an Open Air School and Free Lunches.

Oct. 26, Legislation: The Relationship Between National and State Legislation and Tennessee Laws Relating to Marriage and Divorce.

Nov. 2, Industrial and Social Conditions: Public Address by Ernestine Noa of Chattanooga. A tea social followed.

Nov. 9, Modern Literature: Reminiscent Stories of American Humorists; American Wit and Humor; Readings from James Whitcomb Riley and Eugene Field; and Readings from ‘Mark Twain.”

Nov. 16, Modern Literature: The Development of Drama; Brief Sketches of the Life and Works of Hendrick Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Maurice Maeterlinck and Edmond Rostand; and The Story of Chantecler.

Nov. 23, Modern Literature: The Social Message of the Modern Drama; The Children’s Theatre; Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Bjornstjerne Bjornson and James Matthew Barrie.

Nov. 30, Special Lecture: Edwin W. Kennedy, Professor of History, East Tennessee State Normal School.

Dec. 7, Home Economics: Modern Problems in the Home; Conservers and Destroyers of the Home; and A Balanced Dietary.

Dec. 14, Better Babies Day, Home Economic, Public Health and Conservation: The Community’s Responsibility Toward the Child as Regards to Birth, Environment and Instruction.

Dec. 20-28, No meetings due to the Holidays. (“Heap on more wood: the wind is chill; But let it whistle as it will, We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.” – Scott).

Jan. 11, Evening Reception with “The Play.” (“Tis the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial fire of charity in the heart.” – Irving).

 Jan. 25, Woman’s Day: The Contribution of Women to Science and Art; Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton and Jane Adams; and “What is the Ideal Life for Women?

Jan. 4, 1915, Art: No stated agenda. (“Art is the child of nature, yes, her darling child, in whom we trace the features of the mother's face.” – Longfellow).

Jan. 18, Civil Service Reform: Five-Minute Reports on Local Conditions in Public Schools (The Appointment of Teachers, To Whom Responsibility and How Removed and The Condition of School Buildings).

Jan. 25, Woman’s Day, Agenda: The Contribution of Women to Science and Art; Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton and Jane Addams;

Feb. 1, The Mayne Williams Library: Program by Library Directors.

Feb. 8, Mountain Settlement Work: Our Mountaineers.

Feb. 15, Modern Literature: The Development of the Short Story; The Place of the Short Story in Modern Literature; and Selected Readings from Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Nelson Page.

Feb. 22, Travel – Mexico: Historic Mexico and Mexico Today.

Mar. 1, Modern Literature: Modern Poets and Poetry; America’s Contribution to Poetry in the Last Half Century; and Readings from Representative Modern Poets – John Masefield and Alice Meynell.

Mar. 8, Modern Literature: Special Characteristics of Southern Poetry and Selected Readings from Poe, Lanier, Ryan, Hayne, Dunbar and Keller.

Mar. 15, Education: The New Education, What Shall We Keep?; Woman as an Educator; and Discussion – What May We Do As Mothers to Aid the Teaching of Our Children?

Mar. 22, Civics: Some Modern Methods of Making Living Conditions More Wholesome; The Origin and Benefits of the Organization of Housewives League; and Churches and Schools as Social Centers.

Mar. 29, Travel – Panama, Agenda: The Story of Panama and How It Came into the Possession of the U.S.; The Panama Canal and Its Economic Value to the World.

April 5, Final meeting of the term. (“Farewell! A word that must be, and hath been – A sound which makes us linger; – yet-farewell” – Byron).

According to Mrs. Mattie Mullins, former club president, the organization orchestrated numerous improvements throughout the years: “The beginning of garbage pickup in Johnson City, paying for boys and girls to go to the clinic at ETSU to have their tonsils removed, serving hot lunches in the public schools beginning at the old Columbus Powell Elementary School and planting flowers and bulbs in the city early each spring in such places as Fountain Square and churchyards and library.”

Some 115 years later, the Monday Club, Monday Club Auxiliary and Junior Monday Club continue their long established support of the beautifully designed and functional Johnson City Public Library. Today, the Monday Club, with approximately 240 members, meets the first and third Mondays of each month (excluding the summer months) at the library.    

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An old newspaper clipping of yesteryear refers to a dog by the name of Boss who was mascot of the Johnson City Fire Department between 1928 and 1936.

According to the article, Boss became so excited at the prospect of going to a fire that he would occasionally fall off the truck, continuing the journey on paw if he could keep up the pace. Sometimes the canine would “hitchhike” to the fire by turning around and around in the middle of the street until someone stopped and offered him a ride. Everybody knew Boss. Allegedly, the animal used his teeth to help firemen pull hose. The remarkable mutt could ascend a 50-foot ladder and return by coming down the ladder headfirst. The firemen’s best friend routinely trotted from Headquarters Station 3 at E. Main to old Station 4 at 238 W. Market, stopping at various meat markets in the downtown area for tasty morsels from the butchers.

The article alleges that the animal’s final resting place is at Station 3. Chief Paul Greene confirmed that Boss is buried on the east side of the facility at the end of a flagstone walk directly under a small white granite bench monument that bears his name. The chief referred me for further information to department historian, Mike Sagers. Mike’s familiarity and collection of material about this vital department’s colorful history was most impressive.

This column is limited to our discussion about Boss; additional information will be presented in future columns. Mike explained: “Boss is the only mascot that we know of in the history of the fire department since it began operation in 1891. He would either jump on the running board of the chief’s car or ride on the truck with the firemen to a fire.” The animal was not a Dalmatian, the dog most readily identified with fire departments. Sagers continued: “Boss was a pit bull, but he was mixed, having short dark spotty black hair and cropped tail. He was particular friendly to kids, but being of that breed, he had his own character.”

Mike added: “Some of the old timers recalled that Boss would grab a fireman’s pants and pull him away from the fire if he wasn’t properly dressed with coat and helmet.” Sagers described one of Boss’s favorite businesses: “Employees at a small grocery store (probably Samuel Wheelock Grocery) near the Johnson City Press would serve him ice cream on a metal bench outside the store.

“On one occasion, some mischievous boys ran a wire from a nearby power box to the bench and shocked Boss while he was eating. Afterwards, whenever he got within sight of the store, he crossed over to the other side of the street to avoid going by it. One of the few photos of Boss shows him in his familiar stance on top of the fire truck, wearing what appears to be a Maltese cross (symbol of Christian warriors) badge attached to his collar.”

The fireman acknowledged that Boss died in 1936 when he was eight years old: “He was shot and killed by an unknown assailant,” said Mike. “I believe it was when he was either going to or coming from a fire.” The fire crew, distraught over the loss of their faithful four-legged companion, preserved and kept him at the main station. After a few months, he was buried at the same location that had been his home and work.

Today, the little white granite bench at headquarters is a lasting memorial to the beloved mascot that once ruled the Johnson City Fire Department. 

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Five rustlers rode into downtown Johnson City on a late 1959 afternoon, firing their weapons carelessly into the air. The rein of terror ended abruptly when the alert local “sheriff” apprehended the gang, averting a potential tragic incident.

This event was not as ominous as it appeared. The bandits were not on horseback or in a car; they were traveling by “shank’s mare” (on foot). The guns they were toting contained water, not bullets. In reality, it was a harmless prank that went awry. The five outlaws were sophomores at Science Hill High School.

I must confess that I was one of those desperados; I will not disclose the identity of the others so as to protect their “innocence.” School dismissed at 3:15 each afternoon, the same time our bus left the city depot, making it impossible for us to get to the Boone Street bus stop on time. With idle time on our hands, we sought ways to entertain ourselves before catching the 4:15 bus.  Sometimes we snacked at one of the local downtown cafes or bowled at the Johnson City Bowling Alley on Spring Street.

On this memorable afternoon, we stopped at Kress's and purchased water guns, mine being a bright yellow one. After filling our pistols at their water fountain, we exited the store onto Main Street. Our escapade began as harmless fun; we starting spraying each other with water. Our walking soon escalated into running, as we dodged each other’s water barrage.

We began bumping into and wetting a few locals who happened to get in our way. We were having a refreshingly good time. As we rounded Fountain Square toward the depot, we ran smack dab into Rodney Rowlett, a city police officer, who was on patrol. Officer Rowlett sat us down on the curb in front of the bus depot and confiscated our weapons. He told us to bring our parents with us to police headquarters on King Street if we wanted them back.

The sheriff then advised us to start behaving as adults, cautioning us that any future occurrences would have dire consequences. We humbly apologized to him for our actions and abruptly boarded our bus for home, vowing to one another not to tell our parents about the sordid incident. The Johnson City Press-Chronicle carried the occurrence the next day as a front-page news story, praising the heroic efforts of “Sheriff” Rodney Rowlett.

Let me turn the clock ahead thirty-two years to April 1991, while I was working for Tennessee Eastman Company. The company newspaper printed a story about a security guard, Rodney Rowlett, pursuing some intruders inside the plant fence. I couldn’t believe my eyes; could this possibly be our Sheriff Rowlett?”

When I contacted him, he laughingly acknowledged that he was indeed the infamous sheriff, remembering the episode because of the humorous newspaper clipping. After I inquired about my water gun, he purchased and mailed me a new yellow one. I still have our letters of correspondence. I planned to bring my new water pistol to his retirement party in 1993, but that never occurred. Sadly, the good-natured “sheriff” passed away in May 2003.


Rodney’s yellow gun is now a cherished reminder of yesteryear when five mischievous high school students “terrorized” downtown Johnson City.


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My great uncle, Alfred Bowman, delivered mail in Johnson City between 1919 and 1946. Having been born in 1877 and raised in Gray, he witnessed firsthand the difficulties of receiving mail in a rural countryside prior to the turn of the century.

Unlike urban residents whose mail was delivered directly to their homes, country folks were not afforded this luxury, having to trek two or three times a month to a local post office, such as Gray’s Nellie facility, to receive their correspondence.

A significant change occurred in 1902. The new federally funded program, Rural Free Delivery (RFD), was ushered into America’s farmlands. Rural inhabitants began receiving mail at their dwellings, forcing the closings of most of the countryside post offices. Delivery to the numerous remote sprawling farms presented a formidable challenge for the carriers, attributed to unpaved potholed roads, unpredictable weather, elongated routes and the use of horse-drawn mail wagons.

Carriers received less than $50 a month and had to supply their own transportation. They had very little of the romantic aura that their distant cousins, the short-lived Pony Express riders, enjoyed in 1860 and 1861. Arrival of the semi-reliable automobile was an improvement to mail delivery, but it too had limitations. These newfangled vehicles frequently got stuck in mud, snow, ice and manure.

Local residents often beckoned their trusty old mules to assist some stranded mailman, after sliding into a ditch while trying to navigate along a narrow winding country road. These unserviceable and inaccessible roads caused many rural customers to be rejected for mail delivery, prompting local governments to orchestrate road improvements to meet RFD requirements. The post office attempted to standardize mailboxes, which consisted of anything from cigar boxes to lard cans and nail crates to feed containers. Residents were reluctant to spend their hard earned cash on something as frivolous as a mailbox.

The ongoing plight of these country mail carriers very likely prompted Alfred to seek an urban postal occupation in 1919. Johnson City hired him and assigned him route #4 from among eight choices. 

Alfred Bowman Standing Beside His Postal Truck

Bowman was featured in an October 11, 1941 Johnson City Press-Chronicle newspaper article titled, “Get Acquainted with Your Mailman,” summarizing his career and relating a humorous event: About 1924, two postal employees, Joe Britt and C.G. Campbell, stopped in downtown Johnson City (probably at Fountain Square) to rest and water their horse. As a prank, C.G. offered Joe a ten-dollar bill to assume the role of the horse and pull him along Main Street, while he sat on the wagon.   

About that time, Alfred came walking down the street and encountered his two coworkers. Joe upped the ante by asking Alfred to sit on the wagon with him for one dollar of his prize money. Joe released the horse from the wagon, put the two wooden shafts under his arms and slowly pulled the big wagon, containing the two men, along Main Street.

Their bizarre antics drew a sizable crowd of curious onlookers. Alfred accepted his eight-bit compensation from Joe and, without hesitation, handed it to a nearby blind beggar. Those were “the good old days” of yesteryear when people were more concerned with what was lying on the street than what was coming down it.

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A favorite program from radio’s golden age was Lum and Abner, originating in 1931 with this opening dialog: (Three telephone rings): “By grannies, Abner, I believe that’s our ring.”… “I doggies Lum, I believe you’re right.”… “I’ll see. Hello, Jot’ Em Down Store, this is Lum and Abner.” Lum’s comment, “I believe that’s our ring,” vividly illustrates the improvements made in phone service since Alexander Graham Bell invented this unique contrivance in March 1876.

In the 1940s, my family’s telephone number was 1417J. Our family physician, Dr. Ray Mettetal, could be reached at 504, the Police Department at 57, and the Fire Department at 576. Even as late as 1953, the two lowest numbers in the city phone directory were 1J (G.D. Hardin) and 1W (G.M. Robertson). Not having rotary dials or push buttons on our phones, we simply placed the receiver to our ear until the operator (always a lady) responded with “number please.” After obtaining our number, she responded with a courteous “thank you,” that being the full extent of our “conversation.”

World War II imposed restrictions on phone usage as noted in a 1944 magazine: “When long distance lines are crowded and the operator asks you to please limit your calls to five minutes, it’s nice to hear you say, ‘I’ll be glad to.’” Phone service in the 1940s and 1950s seems antiquated by today’s standards, but was quite advanced compared to that of prior decades. Initially, telephones were beautiful wall mounted hardwood cabinets, containing a large black metal crank on the right side, and powered by large heavy batteries.


Telephone Operator Provided Valuable Service in the Early Days of Yesteryear

The shortage of cables in many areas required up to as many as nine families to share the same party line. The annoying fact was that all phones on a party line rang simultaneously, no matter who was being called. A combination of long and short rings was used to identify for which family the call was intended. A typical two-part “number” was 2512: circuit 25, one long and two short rings or 2521: circuit 25, two long and one short ring. Anybody on the party line could listen to the conversation of others. People learned to be cautious of the words uttered over the phone, lest the gossip mill start turning. A fundamental rule was to be cognizant of others’ phone needs and limit your call time. Failure to do so usually meant swift payback for the offending party.  

To call someone on another party line, people rang the “central” operator by turning the crank with the receiver still on the hook.” The caller then gave her the number so she could ring the desired circuit. Lady Central kept a list of family names, circuit numbers, and ring sequences within eyesight of her workstation. I suppose this helps explain a Science Hill High School cheer of yesteryear: “Hello central, give us a line. We can beat Kingsport any old time.” Somehow, that doesn’t fit with a cellular phone. (

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