In 1953, Mrs. Nannie Snyder Murrell, 82, and her husband, N.L. Murrell, who managed the Cloudland Hotel atop Roan Mountain between 1896 and 1906, arrived in Elizabethton for a visit.

While there, the couple made a special trip to attend the sixth annual Rhododendron Festival and once again revel in the beauty of the rhododendron blossoms. Sadly, the hotel that she had loved so dearly was missing from its once prominent place on the hillside and was but a warmhearted memory.

Mrs. Murrell fondly recalled her days at the Cloudland Hotel, sharing many interesting facts about the resort with which she was so intimately connected for a decade.

A Beautiful Scenic View from Roan Mountain Is Shown On An Old Postcard

In the days she and her husband worked at Cloudland, hotel rooms rented for $2.50 per day, the cost of a medium sized steak in 1953. The charge included a nice room at the nearly inaccessible but highly popular hotel, three tasty meals a day and a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy throughout the long summer days.

Nannie recited, without hesitation, the menu items that were offered by the hotel. Breakfast included bacon, liver, steak, fried apples, fried potatoes, flannel cakes, biscuits, coffee and, of course, eggs. Grits were not on the bill of fare.

The big meal, which was served in the middle of the day, commenced with a choice of two soups, two meat entrees, six vegetables and a selection of four desserts.

Supper, a somewhat lighter fare, consisted of cereal, meats, eggs and funnel cakes, in addition to leftover portions of the luncheon menu.

The fortunate visitor at day's end had the option of reclining on one of the wide porches that ran the length of the south and east sides of the hotel or watching a magnificent sunset majestically bathe the mountaintop in  a diffused golden reddish glow. It was serenity at its finest.

Large quantities of flour, sugar and other staple groceries were hauled up the mountain in wagons. Vegetables, eggs and fresh fruits were brought more often to the hotel on horseback. According to Mrs. Murrell, a Mr. Gouge and a Mr. Burleson scoured the countryside around Roan Mountain for fresh meat: beef cattle, hogs and sheep. These were prepared on the mountaintop and safely stored in a house over the ice-cold spring.

Rhododendron Gardens and the Parking Lot Near the Former Cloudland Hotel Location

After all those years, the former worker could vividly remember some of the names of persons who vacationed there. Among the distinguished guests who frequented the hotel was the late Grafton Greene, who later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. He became a celebrated national figure when he wrote the Court's opinion for the famous Scopes Trial held at Dayton, Tennessee in which Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan were opposing attorneys.

Mrs. Murrell further remembered that Louisiana Governor Nichols and his family were guests of the hotel. Dr. Floyd McRae from Atlanta, Georgia came to Cloudland and inspected the hotel before allowing his family to vacation there. He found the place to his liking and visited it on numerous occasions. She also recalled that two of his sons once stayed on Roan Mountain.

The former resident provided a graphic description of the hotel rooms, which she said contained comfortable beds, strips of carpet on the floors, a washstand with a china pitcher and bowl, a dresser and chairs in each room. “We had plenty of cover and used it, too,” she said. “In all my 10 years up there, the temperature was never above 75 degrees and seldom ever dropped below 44 degrees at night.”

On unusually cold evenings, steam heat was turned on. The boiler was fired with wood that had been brought up 3,000 feet from the valley below by means of a cable car. Fireplaces in the main rooms were usually lighted on cool evenings.

The 50-foot great room had the most beautiful solid maple floor imaginable, which glistened when waxed to a high polish. There the hotel guests danced in the evening to the music of a piano, cornet and violin. The musicians, residents of Bristol, were Miss Lucy Kirby, Clyde DeVault and a Mr. Stull. The music was mainly focused on waltzes, square and ballroom dancing.

Rhododendrons Bloom on Top of Roan Mountain In Another Photo from a Postcard

Mrs. Murrell described nearby Profile Rock, which many folks believed bore a striking resemblance to President William McKinley. This site could be reached from Lyons Bluff by crawling between two rocks and traversing along a narrow ledge. Nannie, an avid outdoors person, escorted many guests there over time. Visitors were also accompanied to numerous scenic attractions in the area.

The visitor was especially impressed with the Rhododendron Gardens. She declared, “You have missed a never-to-be-forgotten sight if you have never been there.” She spoke of the 300-foot grassy slope on which the hotel was situated as “the most gorgeous place on earth.” When the wind blew, as it did most of the time, the soft thick carpet of grass resembled a wheat field majestically rippling in the breeze. One half-dozen rhododendron blossoms was enough to satisfy most anyone, but imagine 600 acres in full bloom at one time – that was almost too much magnificence for the body and soul to absorb.

On the north side of the hotel on  a little rise, a platform provided a splendid view of the entire area. From this vantage point, the lights of Greeneville, Tennessee were clearly visible and one could even get a view of Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. Many mountains 5,000 feet high and more could also be seen. Mrs. Murrell grudgingly admitted that Mount Mitchell was higher than Roan Mountain but in a spirited manner because Mitchell was uninhabited.

Roan Mountain Hotel and Restaurant as It Appeared in the 1960s

The former employee and guest of honor adequately described an orchid-like flower which she saw in bloom only once on the mountaintop. The blossoms came out around the stem like a double hyacinth, but the fragrance was akin to that of the carnation family. She remembered Gray's lily, a lovely flower resembling the snapdragon called “Painted Lady” and a plant known as “Indian Pipe,” belonging to the mushroom family with a perfect pipe hanging from its stem.

A Mr. Young, who was past 80, had journeyed from Greenwood, Mississippi for relief from asthma and who, upon reaching the mountaintop, was able to breathe freely and enjoy the season there.

Mrs. Mupcrell, daughter of the Snyder family who ran the old Snyder House on North Street, a favorite hotel of that era, knew General Wilder from whom they leased the hotel in their first years on the mountain. She first visited the mountaintop with a party while lumber was being sawed for the large hotel. She recalled they walked from Carver's Gap to the summit.

During the 1953 visit, Mrs. Murrell was looking forward to the day when another hotel might be built on Roan Mountain to ensure that more people would become acquainted with and love the natural beauty which abounded on its majestic peak. She recalled that, for days at a time, low hanging clouds would envelope the hotel in a ghostly white mist, wholly obstructing the view. But as the fog lifted and the sun made its welcome approach, the lodge again became an absolute paradise.

Mrs. Murrell's adoration of the Cloudland Hotel and Roan Mountain allowed her to leave many footprints on her favorite mountain, which she said still remain there in spirit.

Read more

A select party of the beauty and chivalry of our city gathered in the parlors of the City Hotel on the evening of June 10, 1886. The occasion was to honor Miss Eunice Robinson, a sprightly young beauty of Greeneville, TN and niece of Mrs. W.A. Dickinson, the charming hostess of the City Hotel.

City Hotel (right) from the 1870s (Clifford Maxwell Collection, Archives of Appalachia, ETSU)

Miss Robinson, chaperoned by Mrs. Dickinson and Mrs. S. Simcox, received her guests in royal style, possessing a smile and a pleasant word for all. She was dressed in a superb black brocaded satin with white satin vest front.

Streamers of white ribbon fell gracefully from her shoulders to the waist and was looped up and held in place by a large corsage bouquet of lilies. She also wore lilies in her hair. Flowers were her only ornaments. The other ladies were elegantly dressed, but no description was offered of their attire. The gentlemen were “costume de rigueur” (current fashion standards).

At eleven o'clock, supper was announced and all made their way to the dining room where one of those elegant main meals that was peculiar to the City Hotel was prepared.

“Fairy Land”

The dining room represented “Fairy Land,” and the mellow light of the numerous chandeliers falling upon the flower bedecked walls and tables made one forget for the duration of the evening about this stressful world. They imagined they were in the “Fairy Queen's” own palatial residence, until they were rudely awakened from their dream by some rascals who inquired if anyone would like strawberries.

After supper, music, instrumental and vocal, was furnished by Miss Robinson and her sister. Both were fine musicians with remarkably sweet voices. The vocal duet, “Come Where the Lillies Grow” was admirably rendered and elicited a hearty encore. The pleasure of the evening was continued into the “wee small hours.”

The following couples were present: Mr. and Mrs. C.N. Estes, Miss Eunice Robinson and Curt Simmons, Miss Ida Folsom and Dr. G.H. Berry, Miss Jennie Crumley and Dr. C.J. Broyles, Miss Hattie Faw and J.F. Crumley, Miss Stacy Crumley and Ed Clark, Miss Jessie Wylie and Martin Gump, Miss Sallie Faw and C. Bayless, Miss Pearl Barnes and D.W. Victor, Miss Minnie Berkley and Harry Lyle, Miss Emma DeGroat and Cy Lyle, Miss Keff Robinson and S.S. Crumley.

City Hotel became Piedmont House before the property was offered to the public for sale. Its glamorous “Fairy Land” days had come to a finale.

City Hotel Sold

“In the Chancery Court at Jonesboro, Washington County, Tennessee. J.C. Hardin, Executor of Samuel W. Williams, dec'd, et al. vs. J.J. Weiler. Pursuant to the decree of said court at its July special term, 1889, in the above cause, I will on Friday, the 22d day of November, 1889, sell at public outcry to the highest bidder, in front of the City Hotel, now Piedmont House, in Johnson City, Washington County Tennessee, the property mentioned and described in the pleadings and said decree, and ordered to be sold, to wit: The House and Lot known as the City Hotel, now Piedmont House, property situated in the said town of Johnson City, 9th civil district of Washington County, Tennessee, adjoining the property of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway Company and ET&WNC railway depot grounds and a lot formerly owned by (?) O'Brien to satisfy the judgments in favor of complainants and the costs of said cause unless said debts and costs of are sooner paid.”

Terms of Sale

“Said property will be sold on a credit of six and 12 months time in bar of the equity of redemption. Notes with approved security required of the purchaser for the purchase money in two equal installments bearing interest from date and a lien retained on the land therefore, until fully paid. This October 16, 1889. A.B. Bowman, C&M, by W.F. Young, D.C. & M. Oct 17th.”

Read more

In August 1889, several newspaper employees from The Comet engaged in a journey that caused them to soar thousands of feet above the clouds… with their feet on the ground. The fortunate few were said to be one of the happiest parties to visit the Cloudland Hotel that summer.

Their names were James A. Martin, Miss Lena St. John, Ralph Boyd, Miss Fannie Blair, Mrs. G.W. St. John, Mrs. Cy. H. Lyle (publisher's wife), Miss Lucy Blair and Frank St. John.

The workers made the journey on that Friday and the newspaper printed their exploits in the paper the following day. There had been so much written about the beauty of Roan Mountain and the Cloudland Hotel that they confined their remarks principally to facts that concerned anyone who might be contemplating a trip there.

After reaching the Roan Mountain Depot on the ET&WNC railroad, the second phase of the journey was traveling 12 miles to the Cloudland Hotel, which was made in a stagecoach. Their vehicle left the depot about noon and, after passing four miles of comparatively level road, they reached the base of the mountain and the balance of the way was spent climbing the zigzag road to the summit.

A Cloudland Hotel Envelope Dated 1891

In some places, the road turned so abruptly that it looked almost impossible for a hack to make the sharp turns. Nervous passengers felt queasy as they peered down the rocky bluffs below, but there was no real cause for alarm.

The road was safe and only careful and experienced drivers were permitted to handle the ribbons (reins for driving horses). The trip up the mountain afforded many magnificent views of the countryside below, which made passengers forget their concerns while riding the hack. One of the striking features of the trip was that all the chestnut trees along the line were dead.

As the travelers neared the summit, they tried to formulate a mental image of how the world would look from above, but it was not until they arrived at the hotel that they witnessed fully what the imagination could not supply.

The hotel was 6,394 feet above sea level and was reported to be the highest human habitation east of the Rocky Mountains. It was readily understood that the view from this location extended as far as the eye could reach in all directions.

Standing on Sunset Rock and looking out over the tops of mountains miles away and thousands of feet below, with clouds resting on them, a peculiar sensation creped over them and they felt like they were being lifted and instinctively looked around for something substantial for which to take hold.

It was a grand sight for the visitors and a trip that would never be forgotten. They realized that space and the English language would not allow a fuller description of the surroundings.

The hotel was leased by Mr. W.S. Ayers of Richmond, VA who was described as being a hotel man in every respect. The gentleman had been in the business for 30 years and knew the wants of guests who graced his lodge. Experienced and attentive waiters and porters were employed and nothing was left undone that would add to the comfort and pleasure of the guests. A very important feature of the hotel was the cuisine. The table was supplied bountifully with a variety of seasonable vegetables and delicacies, which were palatably prepared. This fact was remarkable owing to its distance from markets.

The universal remarks that guests made when they arrived displayed one of surprise and complete satisfaction at the variety of dishes set before them. The public was strongly urged to go to Roan Mountain and the Cloudland Hotel and become acquainted with the hundreds of guests there and they would enjoy the trip as much as did the newspaper party that visited there in 1889. 

Read more

Today's column shines the big yesteryear spotlight on the long deceased Austin Spring Hotel. It became one of Johnson City's premier resort and vacation hostelry. The East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad once tabbed it as one of the finest vacation spots that could be reached by their railroad.

In 1897, a meeting was held in the office of Dr. J.W. Cox by a number of citizens who took an interest in raising fine stock and poultry. A decision was made to hold a three-day fair at Austin Springs for July 28, 29 and 30.

This was the first fair by this association ever held in the county. The officers were Cox, president; M. Jackson and E.C. Baldwin, vice presidents; Harry D. Gump, secretary and treasurer; and Henry George, general manager.

Directors included several well-known public spirited businessmen: Paul Wofford, Weldon DeVault, Tate L. Earnest, W.C. Snapp, Walter Faw and Shade Harris. These gentlemen injected a heavy dose of backbone into the enterprise.

Premiums were offered in several rings: Best saddle gelding, best saddle mare, best harness mare, best harness gelding, best saddle stallion, best brood mare, best sucking colt, best pair of mare mules, best pair of horse mules, best Jersey milch cow, best short horn milch cow, best boy rider under 15 years old, best lady rider and best pair of goats attached to a wagon.

The first premium of each ring consisted of 80 per cent of the entries for that ring; the remaining 20 percent was  awarded as a second premium. General Manager Henry George prepared a premium list and other information regarding the fair.

Poultry displays were conducted daily with the popular baby show being held on the last day of the three-day spectacle. A special track was constructed at the site to allow a daily bicycle race; merchants and others provided premiums for the winners.

Austin Springs was described as being one of the loveliest places in all the country (yes country). It further was said to have the best assortment of entertainment ever offered to the public. The hotel at the springs was open, which included the immaculately cultivated grounds. Mr. George provided dinner to everybody attending the event for a nominal fee. Also, hotel accommodations were available for those desiring an extended stay.

Two Old Advertisements for the Austin Springs Hotel

In 1903, Austin Springs was ready for “the good old summer time.” The opening ball was successfully launched, being received by an appreciative public. The weather man could have been a bit kinder but dancing could not have been more pleasant. To the music of McLeod's Orchestra, the devotees of Terpsichore (dancing and choral singing) tripped the light fantastic toe until the wee hours of morning. The new dancing pavilion and the elegant refreshments were entirely satisfactory and much enjoyed by many well-known society people.

One year later, E.G. Earnest became the new manager of the popular facility. He was described as being in good health and fine spirits. He noted how successful the business was. Unfortunately, some over-scrupulous individual circulated a phony report that he was bedridden with typhoid fever and the resort was closed. Earnest posted an ad (see my photo column) in the newspaper stating that the lodge was open and planned to stay that way.

Mr. Earnest had a closed contract for the lease of the property. His plans called for enlarging the mineral springs surrounding the hotel and installing additional baths in the hotel. Vacationers then often shared common bathroom facilities.    

In 1905, Mr. and Mrs. W.B. Johnson posted an unusual rhyme in the newspaper, inviting the public to attend a party honoring two special guests at the springs:

“On Wednesday night, the twenty-third, About the hour of eight, Will Johnson and the Mrs. Too. Now don't forget the date, To a country party will welcome you, At Austin Springs Hotel. Come dressed in calico or jeans, Work clothes will do as well. The good will find amusement there, And the dancers watch with awe. Miss Scarborough is one honored guest, Another is Mrs. Faw.” 

Read more

In September 1928, the Johnson City Chronicle announced that there were plans to proceed with the second of three expansions of the John Sevier Hotel. The first one, having 130 beds, was completed in 1924 on property adjacent to the Southern Depot. The second unit was to be appended to the south side of the first.

The first one, having 130 beds, was completed in 1924 on property adjacent to the Southern Depot. The second unit was to be appended to the south side of the first.

Altered Photo Showing the Three Proposed Expansions as Envisioned in the Early 1920s.

A third and final one was planned that would extend the building to Market Street, but it never materialized, blamed largely on an adverse economy caused by the Great Depression. Today, the missing section is noticeable when you view the hotel at the intersection of Roan and Market streets. My column photo is a trick photography depiction of way the building was supposed to look had it been finished.

The property once belonged to Harry Lee Faw whose family was prominent in Johnson City’s early history. It was serving as a boarding house when the hotel committee became attracted to the site. The land was once an asset because a spring located there supplied water at no cost to weary travelers and their animals traveling through the downtown area. It also served as a water source for Science Hill Male and Female Institute on the hill across the street. After the hotel was opened, the spring became a liability as the water had to be channeled to a sump in the basement and pumped out regularly to prevent flooding.

In 1928, contractors bidding on the second phase included M.L. Beeler and Co. (Johnson City), Hughes-Foulkrod and Co. (Philadelphia), Good Construction Co. (Charlotte), E.S. Glover (Bristol), Pyle Brothers (Kingsport), Walter Kidde Co. (Greensboro) and Burleson and Laws (Johnson City). Beeler submitted the lowest and most attractive proposal totaling $150,000. In addition to the firms competing for the complete job, several companies placed bids for specific work, such as heating, plumbing, electric wiring and installation of certain materials.

At a meeting in the assembly room at the hotel with representatives of the companies and other interested personnel present, the bids were opened and read. Following the reading, the information was tabulated by members of the executive committee. Afterward, the architects stated that final results would be announced the following Monday. Mr. Beeler, the successful bidder, acknowledged that he was anxious to begin work immediately.

The initial task was to clear the lot where the second addition would be located. Previously, it had been used as parking space. Also, land adjacent to the hotel was leased to allow ample storage and working space for the various crews involved. This necessitated delaying a proposed motor building and garage on the property until the new wing was finished.

As with the initial hotel, the new wing was to be 10 stories high and became the central part of the three completed buildings. The middle section was slightly offset toward the west. This added 100 additional beds bringing the total to 230 in addition to offices and storerooms.

After a meeting with the stockholders, authorization was given to proceed because the financing arrangements were in place and D.R. Beeson, the architect, of Johnson City had his plans and specifications ready.

The work was placed under the supervision of the hotel’s Executive Committee, which included notables S.R. Jennings, (president), James A. Summers, Sam R. Sells, Lee F. Miller and J.W. Ring.

Almost 90 years later, Johnson City’s big 2-section “skyscraper” is still proudly standing and serving as a reminder of its storied yesteryears. It became a favorite lodge for Southern Railway travelers and hosted many dignitaries over the years.

Read more

The subject of the Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was brought to light several weeks ago when Frank Campbell found three identical vintage postcards of it and sent one to the Press asking for information about the business.

Research shows that the motel had three sets of owners before it closed and was ultimately demolished. Information sources come from the late Dorothy Hamill and Kenny Johnson.

Older area residents may recall the triangular complex that was located at what is now identified as 2115 Kingsport-Bristol Boulevard (N. Roan at Sunset Drive). Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was built in 1945 soon after Robert Johnson returned from military service. Several years prior, he purchased Marion’s Camp, renamed it Broadway Camp before selling it to Cecil Crowe who changed it to Broadway Court.

Johnson’s new business enterprise was located in a sparsely developed area in North Johnson City about a mile from the city limits (located near what is now John Exum Parkway). While listening to the radio, Robert heard the announcer speak of Beverly Hills. He liked the sound of the name and decided to call his motel, Beverly Court. People frequently asked him if Beverly was his wife’s name, but he informed them that her name was Dorothy.

Robert and Dorothy started with 25 units. In those days, the highway to Kingsport and Bristol was two-lane. The D. (Doxie) D. Marable Gift Shop was located directly across the highway from them. Within a year, the Johnsons bought a lot across Sunset Drive and built a house for their residence. The couple found the motel business very interesting with never a dull moment.

The back of an old postcard from that era states: “One mile north of city limits; U.S. 11E, 19W, 23 and 41; 25 units, Tub and shower, radios, fans, steam and electric heat; Phones 2166 and 9175; Member of United Motor Courts.”

On one occasion, Robert found a billfold in the motel driveway soon after he rented a cabin to a family. Since he was sure the man had dropped it, he put it in his office without looking in it until the family returned from dinner. When they got back, the man corrected identified the wallet. Robert learned that it contained $8,000. People often placed their wallets and other valuables in pillowcases and slept on them during their stays. Diamond rings and valuables were frequently left on washstands, causing the unfortunate traveler to drive many miles to retrieve them.   


In 1962, the Johnsons sold Beverly Court to businessman Robert Dennis and moved to Florida. They also sold their home and a nearby farm they owned. Dennis got his start in the diner business in Newport, Tennessee where he owned the Coffee Pot Restaurant. Later, he acquired the Peggy Ann Restaurant in Kingsport as well as the Beverly Court and Coffee Shop in Johnson City. The successful entrepreneur was also co-owner of several enterprises in Johnson City, including the TPI Corporation, manufactur­ers of electrical heating and air ventilation products.

Facts about the third owners who took over the reins of the Court in the 1960s came from Kenny Johnson, a resident of Newport, Tennessee. They were Ed and Lexie Leonard Reedy, Kenny’s great aunt and uncle. The couple lived in Boones Creek near the train trestle while the Leonards ran the Boone Station General Store. Kenny spent many pleasant hours at his relative’s business in the 1960s while growing up.

Since the Reedys did not have any children of their own, many of the younger clan became their “adopted grandchildren.” The youngsters loved to go to the coffee shop and grill to eat anytime they could convince their parents to take then.

According to Kenny: “Every Christmas Eve, the entire extended family and many of our friends would gather there for a fabulous Christmas party.  We all exchanged gifts with Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed. The scene looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Santa Claus would always make an appearance.”

Kenny recalled some specifics of the motel. “It was a standard motel room common for the 1950s and ‘60s. It had a bed, desk, chair, television with rabbit ears and a small bathroom containing a tub and a shower. There was nothing fancy about it. I ate in the restaurant many times. It was a real treat back then. There were booths lined along three walls with several tables in the middle. A soda fountain type bar was close to the kitchen. The furnishings were Art Deco. They served traditional plate lunches with food items that included chicken, green beans, potatoes, roast beef, corn, pork chops, hamburgers, fries, hot dogs and club sandwiches.

“Behind the motel on Sunset Drive was a white house. I am not sure if the motel owned it.  Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed lived in the house across from the Court on Sunset. There were also a few rental rooms there. Traveling salesmen occupied a large number of rentals for two or three days at a time. My cousin, Don Leonard, told me that another great uncle and aunt, J.M. and Beatrice Leonard, co-owned the motel for a while. J.M. and Lexie were brother and sister.

“The swimming pool, located south of the office and coffee shop, was added in the early 1960s. It was probably the first real swimming pool that I ever swam in. On hot summer Saturdays, all of the extended family would drop by for a swim. With so few pools back then, it was a real treat. Aunt Lexie and Uncle Ed were the most gracious hosts.”

Kenny remembered when his aunt and uncle decided to retire: “They sold the property to First Federal and built one of their branches there. The Beverly Court and Coffee Shop was much more than a motel; it was a family business that was enjoyed by the whole family.” 

Read more

Around the end of the 19thcentury, northerners beat summer heat and annoying flies by vacationing in the relaxing pristine southern mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, known as the “Land of the Sky.”

In early July 1898, H. T. Finck, a New York resident, traveled to Roan Mountain on a mountain railroad that traveled over what he deemed the “Cranberry Road.” The 40-mile long million-dollar endeavor was fabricated to transport steel. It picked up Mr. Finck at the Southern Railroad in Johnson City and chugged along toward his anxiously awaited destination.

After disembarking at Roan Mountain Station, he took a 12-mile stagecoach ride that was often used in tandem with trains to the top of the mountain at 6894 feet above sea level. Had Finck made the journey a couple of weeks earlier, he would have witnessed the stunning Catawba rhododendrons in full bloom.

The Cloudland Hotel was the tallest building east of the Rocky Mountains. The state line, dividing North Carolina from Tennessee, passed through the dining room where guests could cut their steak with a knife in one state and eat it with a fork in the other. Also, the rooms were situated such that guests could sleep with their head in Tennessee and their feet in North Carolina.

The building, capable of handling several hundred guests, exposed its broad sides gallantly to the violent winds without using chains anchored to stones like other mountaintop hotels. However, the roof of the Cloudland Hotel collapsed during high winds on two occasions forcing the owners to moor it with heavy rocks. A supreme test of strength occurred in July that year when a violent storm raged for three days nonstop. Although it was the fiercest squall the proprietor remembered in several years, the hotel remained firm on its foundation.

Weather was ideal in summer months with the thermometer dropping to 40 degrees at night, prompting the staff to burn huge logs in all the chimneys. The fires were kept lit day and night for those who desired extra warmth. During the day, the temperature varied between 58 and 64.  The hotel was perfect for authors who could work at their trade and simultaneously enjoy the spectacular surroundings. Food in the dining room was not only reasonably priced but also quite succulent.

The hotel was aptly named because clouds afforded the best entertainment when they were not so close as to obstruct the view, as was often the case. The frequent rain that bathed the area usually vanished as quickly as it arrived. Air dampness was exhilarating, not depressing. Just below and behind the hotel was a ravine from which mists formed perfect circular rainbows by the setting sun. Sunsets were magnificently varied and beautiful, painting the majestic sky in all directions.

On some of the mountaintop balds, farmhouses of local residents could be observed. A few curious visitors became acquainted with some of them, whom they described as being perfectly “civil and safe,” except for their curious habit of feuding with nearby families like the stereotyped Hatfield-McCoy feud 20 years prior.

The inhabitants owned sheep, cattle, horses and pigs. Mr. Finck interestingly noted that, while the razorback pig was not an attractive animal, it lived a fresh air life, was fed on unspoiled grass and was bathed daily by unpolluted rains. He reasoned that this was why the animals yielded such well-flavored hams, humorously noting that the critters would stampede down the hill at the mere mention of salt.

A Cloudland Hotel, Roan Mountain stay over around 1900 was truly a wilderness paradise for visitors wanting a break from life’s demanding routines.  

Read more

My August 14, 2006 column dealt with a vicious storm that smacked Johnson City around 1913, causing significant damage to the surrounding area including the Lee Hotel on Spring Street.

Quoting from the article: “The front door transom was blown out striking manager, Mr. W.I. Ray, in the head causing ‘an ugly wound, which though painful, is not serious.’”

I received a note from John Doe (who asked not to be identified) sharing added information about the largely forgotten hostelry of yesteryear. We compared notes and pieced together today’s column. According to John: “Captain William C. Lee, CSA veteran for whom the hotel was named, married Unicoi native Mary Ellen Anderson Ray in 1889. She was previously married to Captain John Henry Ray, a USA Veteran. After John died in 1887, Mary Ellen wedded Captain Lee. Four years later, William, his wife and her one surviving son, William I. Ray, took up residency in Johnson City. Lee became owner of the Lee Hotel in 1894.”

Other businesses along Spring Street during the turn-of-the-century were Summers-Parrott Hardware, Johnson City Water Co., Congress Shaving Parlor, City Grocery & Feed Co., C.W. Seaver Harness Co. and The Staff (newspaper).

John indicated that, while he was never in the hotel, he acquired some little-known information about it from William Ray prior to his death in 1962: “The hotel was a two-story brick structure, which may have had a partial third story in the rear. The backside had a wooden porch covered with vines that also spread across the adjacent wall. The entrance was rather plain with a small porch over the door. Radiators heated the building with steam supplied from a coal-fired furnace. A sign on the second floor advertised ‘Steam Heat.’ In addition to about 20 hotel guest rooms, the building provided accommodations for the Lees and Rays. Later, the Ray family moved adjacent to the hotel at 204 W. Walnut and then to nearby 506 W. Pine.”  

Ray, who became hotel manager, met his wife-to-be, Mabel Essensa, when she and her father roomed at the inn. The couple married in 1910. Ray held the job until 1917 when he accepted employment with the ET&WNC Railroad.

When Captain Lee died on April 4, 1914, Mrs. Lee assumed ownership of the business. By then, she was receiving a $12 per month Union Army widow's pension resulting from her first husband. John did not believe that Ray at any time owned the hotel. He was fairly certain that Mrs. Lee possessed it during the three years between her husband’s death and her son’s departure. She possibly owned it until her death in 1924, perhaps hiring a new manager to replace William. Records show that Hugh L. Boring became the hotel’s new owner. The Lees were interred in Oak Hill Cemetery.

City directories confusingly list the Lee Hotel between 1909 and 1923 as being located at 113 Buffalo; Spring and Walnut; and 904, 310 and 704 Spring. The five addresses likely identify the same property since streets and house numbers were occasionally renamed. Frank Tannewitz once told me that he made deliveries to the Lee Hotel on numerous occasions and stated emphatically that it was located in the northwest intersection of Spring and Walnut.

Directories list the hotel between 1909 (the city’s first one) and 1937. No mention is made of it in 1939, but it reappears in 1941 as the Travellers Inn. It retains the name until 1950 when it disappears from the record. By 1953, the Salvation Army had occupied the former hotel site.

Mr. Doe and I hope readers will respond with ancillary information including photos and advertisements.  

Read more

The three-story Colonial Hotel that once stood at 215 E. Market Street had six large distinctive white pillars in front, a red brick edifice, a red tiled roof and an open porch at each level on the south end. The large back (north) portion of the complex was built perpendicular to the front section, giving it a “T” shape. In time, 213 E. Market became Colonial Hotel Annex and the property directly across the street turned into the Colonial Hotel Laundry.

The business that opened in 1910 was described in a 1915 Chamber of Commerce report as being “liberally patronized by the best class of the traveling public.” J.L. Murrell was shown as the proprietor. The publication further declared: “The hotel contains 60 rooms, all of which have hot and cold running water, private telephone, private bath connections, electric lights, steam heat and other necessary conveniences of the modern hotel of today.”

An undated penny postcard of the facility described the majestic looking lodge as “Your Home in Our Town.” It showed “Ike Garland – Colonial Hotel – H.C. Seaton, Johnson City, Tenn., in operation for more than 50 years, noted for comfort and hospitality, in the heart of the business district but away from the noise of the railroad.” The latter remark was an obvious jab at the John Sevier, Windsor Hotel and other such establishments that were situated in close proximity to the downtown railroad tracks.

In 1989, Press-Chronicle writer, Tom Hodge, received a letter from Pauline Stone who fondly remembered living in the Colonial Hotel. She recalled seeing the fire wagon coming down Market Street pulled by horses, not powered by a Model A Ford. Likewise, she was living there when the city acquired its first motor driven fire engine.

“I lived in the Colonial Hotel with its stately columns,” said Ms. Stone. “The Boxwood Inn was on the site that is now the John Sevier Hotel. Farther down Market Street was Teilmann’s Greenhouse. I saved newspapers until I had a bundle and took them there and exchanged them for cut flowers. There was a grocery store at the corner across from the Boxwood Inn run by a Mr. Brown.” My April 30, 2007 column contained a photo from Lewis Brown of E.W. Brown standing in front of his 144 E. Market establishment.

Pauline said the manager of the Majestic Theatre lived at the Colonial Hotel and gave her passes to stage shows when the productions came to town. She had recollections of well-known actors staying at the lodge. This was when a person could walk out of the Majestic Theatre, cross Main Street and enter the Edisonia Theatre. 

Ms. Stone further recalled that the big social events of winter were Charity Balls that took place at the hotel. Since it did not have a ballroom, tables were removed from the dining room and the maple floor polished. There was an alcove where the orchestra played.”

A humorous incident transpired when the proprietor, Jim Buck, became dissatisfied with his orchestra. Since another orchestral show was performing in town, he went to their hotel and signed them to play a gig at the Colonial. He returned dressed in white tie, tails, tuxedo and wearing an opera coat (ankle length loose-fitting cloak comprised of velvet, brocade or satin). The musicians literally marched through the front door, down the corridor, into the dining room and began playing music for the gala ball.

By the late 1960s, the once grandiose inn, after becoming fragile and aged, fell victim to a wrecking ball to make room for parking space. Another notable downtown landmark became a vanishing memory of yesteryear.  

Read more

Several months ago, I featured a column from Bobby Harrell about his memories of the John Sevier Hotel. I received two reader responses. The first was from Skip Oldham whose father was president of George Oldham Associates: “Oh what memories that article brought back,” said Skip. “For many years, our family business was in the hotel from the lobby to Roan Street. It was a beehive of activity virtually all the time.

“The various civic clubs met on the mezzanine level daily. The article comments about the dining rooms and ballroom were oh so true. I remember going to my first dance there. I was all dressed up in my first suit that came from King’s Department Store. There was a group of men who regularly had lunch in the hotel dining room. It was known as the roundtable because of the table shape and very large size. City and would-be leaders always frequented it. The tales of the antics of that bunch are far too numerous to tell; they were all pranksters and loved to tease one another.  

“The mention of Monroe McArthur was of particular interest to me. I always heard him called Mr. Mac or Tank. Now I know his full name was Monroe Tankherstly McArthur. “In addition to the hotel, his raison d’etre was a campaign to rid downtown of the rail tracks which caused all sorts of trouble when parked at the station. He proposed that the tracks be buried right where they were. The fact that Brush Creek would have flooded them was something he felt would take care of itself. That situation was greatly ameliorated when the Clinchfield built the “High Line” in the late sixties.”

Skip noted that Adelaide Richardson, Mr. McArthur’s sister, was a widow who resided in a big home on one of the tree streets. She too had a big car and Obie Belton was also her chauffeur.  In her later life, after Obie and Mr. Mac had passed away, she spent most of her days sitting in the lobby of the John Sevier. I clearly recall,” said Skip, “her coming into our travel agency office just to say hello; then she would sit down and go to sleep in the chair. My father would awaken her, and escort her to one of the overstuffed chairs in the lobby, saying that our hard chairs were not good for her back. It was quite common for hotel tenants to drive her home and almost before they got back to their office in the hotel, Mrs. Richardson was back in the lobby. I have witnessed this as many as three times in a day. She would get out on Maple Street and hail a car or cab by waving her cane in the air.

“I do recall a very nice young man who was a student at ETSU who was retained, by what family members were living, to live in her home and try to keep her in check. I could ramble on for hours with stories of the John Sevier Hotel and the people around there. I look forward to the Monday Press so that I can read the articles.”

I received a second e-mail from Lester Roberts II who wrote: “I read with interest the old John Sevier Hotel piece in the Monday paper. The older stories my father-in-law, Crawford Rogers, tells is of cleaning frogs for the hotel when he was a young boy. He was paid 25 cents per frog and, yes, frog legs were on the menu. He sold the frogs from the early to mid 1930s.”

Today, it is nice to look south over the downtown area and see the tall John Sevier Hotel building still majestically standing guard over the city against the outline of the beautiful Buffalo Mountain range. 

Read more