A Johnson City Staff-News writer, Carroll E. King, took an East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) Railroad pleasure trip on July 9, 1933 between Johnson City and Linville Gap, North Carolina to enjoy the stunning, rarely seen surroundings that were inaccessible by automobile.

King berated himself for not having enjoyed the trip many times before, describing the ride through the gorge and over the crest as being as beautiful as is possible over the ET&WNC Railroad. He urged his readers to avail themselves of the railroad’s special 50thanniversary July rates. Sights included the famous Doe River Gorge, Skyland, Grandfather (Mountain) and other points from the vantages of the railroad. To persuade people to ride the train, he published an alluring diary of the trip:

 “Leaving Johnson City, we secured a view of our own local industries not visible by any motor road. Then we climbed up and looked down over Happy Valley and its real beauties never before appreciated.

“Elizabethton followed, then Hampton and next the little newly painted and all shined up engine got right down to business. It was upgrade with a vengeance and within a short time we passed through the tunnel that led into the Gorge, a treat that no one who has not seen it can really appreciate.

“Tracks carved out rock walls, tumbling torrents at our feet, towering mountain walls of anticline rock formations and gorgeous vistas of mountain scenery elicited “oohs and aahs” from the passengers. Indeed the Gorge is a scenic gem that cannot be described. We tried in vain to get Kodak pictures to prove our claims, but the canyon is so deep and shadowy that pictures can hardly be taken because sunlight seldom reaches its depths. But it is wonderful and we unqualifiedly recommend it.

“Then up the hill and further up the hill (we went) until the bracing air and the bright sunshine cause one to dig into the lunch basket long before the anticipated time. Roan Mountain, with its beautiful resorts, high mountain peak and world-famous dahlia farms came next. Then Elk Park, bracing with its cool, clear air and invigorating climate, was closely followed by Cranberry, the home of famous Cranberry Iron Ore. There we dropped one passenger car in order to relieve the game little engine of the extra load on the upper reaches of the mountain.

“From then on, we climbed higher and higher until we reached the very crest of the Great Smoky Mountains and could look down on town after town and enjoy gorgeous vistas of mountain scenery in brilliant sunshine. Innumerable opportunities are afforded here for Kodak shots because the steep grades slow the train down to such an extent that “Kodaking” from the train becomes an interesting pastime.

“Next comes the famous summer resort, Linville, with its magnificent hotel, rustic cottages and nationally famous golf course. Several passengers alighted there to play a round on the noted course, but we felt that we could play golf any day and we wanted to see all there is to see. So we struck along and journeyed on Linville Gap some few miles further and it was well worth it.

“Linville Gap is nothing but a wild spot in the mountains, right at the foot of Grandfather Mountain and is the highest spot east of the Rocky Mountains that is reached by a railroad. Its elevation is 4,113 feet and you can look right up at another slope of several thousand feet between you and the top of Grandfather. But fortunately for physically weak city dwellers, lumbermen of that section have built a tram road or “log highway” to within a half-mile of the summit.

“These split logs have been laid with the smooth side up – one end embedded into the mountain side and the other resting on trestle work. Automobile trucks carrying acid and pulpwood logs dash recklessly up and down this road. We declined with thanks the opportunity to ride and insisted on walking. Although we might be termed a coward for not riding the trucks, we got a far bigger kick out of walking up the tram road studying the flora and fauna and picking gorgeous wildflowers and luxuriant ferns.

“Miles up, it seemed we came to a trickling waterfall and there we spread our picnic lunch. And were we hungry. The writer has as his guest a couple of youngsters and one young lady being an Ohio citizen was not very familiar with the high altitudes. Frankly, we were somewhat fearful of her capacity as she devoured sandwiches by the dozen not by the bite. Dyspeptics are urged to take this trip as a sure cure. If you cannot eat after climbing half of Grandfather Mountain, you are hopeless.

“Then, with the lunch baskets and the canteens much lighter, the climb was resumed with every widening vistas of beautiful scenery and awe-inspiring structures of nature. Realizing that the return trip must be started at 3 p.m., we reluctantly ceased our upward journey and retraced our steps with the pronounced conviction that we would return soon and this time go all the way to the top. And to our amazement, the return trip was equal if not the superior of the up-trip because all of the scenery was viewed from a different perspective. 

“Here and now, it becomes our pleasant duty to express our appreciation of the keen personal interest taken in the entertainment of the passengers by the members of the train crew and the officials accompanying the excursion. Nothing was left undone that would enhance the pleasure of the trip. Constantly crew members were busy pointing out interesting views and historical spots and every few minutes some member would make the rounds to see if everyone had everything he or she wanted.”

Carroll King reminded his readers that another excursion would be offered by the railroad line the following Sunday at 8 a.m. and urged them to take advantage of the reduced rate opportunity. Based on his excellent write-up in the newspaper, the next excursion was likely full. 

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A trainload of 17 beautiful single ladies arrived in New York City on July 5, 1906 via the Southern and Pennsylvania Railroad. They were winners of a contest sponsored by the Chattanooga News.

The innovative newspaper limited those selected from the states of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. They subdivided the territory into 17 districts, allowing contestants to compete within their respective locations. The winners were those receiving the most votes based on the number and length of subscriptions to the paper.

Eight of the 17 young ladies were from Tennessee: Hattie Hunter (Johnson City), Flora Copeland (Soddy), Flossie Blackburn (Cleveland), Margaret Erwin (Lookout Mountain), Alice Magill (Dechard), Blanche Allison, Pauline Hancook and Catherine Robinson (all from Chattanooga).

The much sought-after plum was a two-week outing to the Big Apple, with two-day side-trips reserved for Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. After initially rendezvousing in Chattanooga, the group attended a ball and banquet in their honor at Lookout Inn, slept in the Pullman car that had been provided for the trip, left the city on Tuesday morning at 5:30 a.m. and arrived in Manhattan later that day. They were escorted to Hotel Flanders at 137 West 47thStreet where they lodged during their visit.

Before the train departed Chattanooga, the local merchants loaded it with “soda pop, ice cream, orangeade, and other frothy and harmless things for young ladies.” Mr. Hudiberg, the head chaperone, noted that there were 1,700 bottles of soft drinks on the train. The body of the Pullman was so full of drinks that the porters could hardly make up the berths. Consequently, the ice cream freezers were moved to the rear platform of the train to give more room. All members of the party were cheerful and in good spirits when they arrived in New York. Fortunately, not one suffered a mishap or experienced an illness. 

The party rode up 47thStreet until one of the girls exclaimed, “Stop. There is the hotel. It’s just like the picture we saw of it.” They all went into the lobby and settled in the parlor while they waited for their rooms to be assigned. They then took the elevator upstairs. The contest winners, chaperons and guards had intended to go to the New York Reef Garden the first night, but at dinner it was learned that their trunks hadn’t arrived from the train preventing them from putting on new dresses. The consensus was that they would not go to the theater.

During dinner, they were informed that a photographer was outside and wanted to take pictures of them. One girl made a hasty jaunt to her room where she quickly refreshed herself and returned in time for the group photo. The ladies decided not to go to the theatre. Instead they opted to walk up and down the Great White Way (Broadway, so named because of all of the white lights). Most of them had never seen it before, although not all were strangers to the Big Apple. One girl, it was learned, had won a prize offered by another afternoon paper in a previous contest. 


The next morning, the party observed the massive skyscrapers from the top of a large sightseeing automobile, followed by a shopping spree that afternoon. In the evening, they were treated to a theatre performance. Managers of the Proctor-Keith Vaudeville Company offered all their playhouses to the popular young women whenever they wanted to attend. The various Coney Island and other seaside attraction managers also asked to be hosts of the youthful beauties.

Two weeks came and went that included side trips, leaving the attention-getting beauties excited but fatigued and ready to return to their respective homes by train. They had something to dream about for the rest of their lives. 

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On Saturday, May 16, 1915, an entourage of 631 school children and other excursionists boarded a CC&O train in Spartanburg, South Carolina to make the approximately 130-mile mountainous rail trip to Johnson City.

A local newspaper described the weather all along the way as being ideal. Railroad travel in those days was a little more daunting as evidenced by the statement: “There was not the slightest semblance of an accident to mar the pleasure of the picnicking excursion.”

While not revealed, the fare for the special trip was based on two factors – the roundtrip distance traveled and the number of paying passengers. The company’s charge was slightly more than that for similar trips in previous years because of the longer distance and a drop in attendance. It is likely that some parents were uneasy about sending their youngsters on such a long train ride through remote mountains. 

The railway company, anticipating considerably more people than made the trip, provided 14 cars, which were more than ample for the expected crowd. The additional vehicles were to address past complaints that too many riders had been crammed into too few cars, making the journey a bit uncomfortable. With additional ones and fewer people, the experience was much more enjoyable.


The train departed Spartanburg at 6:35 a.m. and arrived at Johnson City at 1:00 p.m. It did not stop at the usual downtown station, but instead went straight through the city and deposited visitors near the gateway to the National Soldiers Home. At that time, the facility was about one mile outside the city limits. The home opened its arms to its South Carolina guests for three hours. Hunger pangs immediately drove the travelers all along the beautiful grounds seeking shaded spots close to the lake in order to eat their lunches, assuming they had not already wolfed it down along the way.

The visitors wandered about the grounds enjoying its amenities, eventually gathering at the bandstand where a military band played several selections. Soldiers Home was described as being a beautiful facility worth an estimated $7 million dollars, having 700 acres of land and containing numerous barracks for use by 1560 soldiers. The buildings were described as being both plentiful and magnificent in design. The sightseers were exceptionally impressed, noting that the soldiers residing there enjoyed the best that life could afford them. They were described as being “an object of envy.”

At 4 p.m., it was time to embark the train for the return trip to Spartanburg, which included a 30-minute rest stop for supper at nearby Linville Falls. The vehicle arrived at its final destination shortly after 10 p.m., concluding a 15.5-hour tiring yet highly enjoyable trip.

Most Spartanburg people were familiar with the scenic pleasures of making such a journey through the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They knew for themselves “the beauty and grandeur of the mountain ranges, the laughing grace of the clear mountain torrents, which so lightly leap from rock to rock and the sweet smell of spring that comes from the virgin forests which cover the range.” The writer felt that all the attributes of the beautiful mountainous scenery had been glowingly set forth in previous years so that it was only necessary to state one fact – the weather was absolute ideal.

In an effort to obtain an unbiased impression of the trip from a lady who was not a native of the area and who had not previously traveled through it before, she was asked about her feelings of the trip. She responded: “The scenery was simply grand. It was one of just vastness.” This was an appropriate comment for 1915 when Johnson City’s population was 11,865.  

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At the turn of the nineteenth century, residents and tourists had a wide variety of options for spending restful vacation time in the statuesque hills of East Tennessee. They ranged from pricey upscale hotels to affordable rustic lodgings.

In the latter category was Unaka Springs, a natural, peaceful paradise located about 18 miles from Johnson City in Unicoi County, a few miles past Erwin along a mountainous portion of the Nolichucky River. The river was originally named Nolachucky, meaning “Rushing Water”.

In August 1899, The Comet advised vacationers who couldn’t afford a high-priced summer resort but wanted to circumvent a hot city atmosphere to choose Unaka Springs. It was a setting where travelers could keep cool, drink chalybeate water, fish, hunt, boat, hike, mountain climb, swim, dance and consume plenty of scrumptious food.

If the vacationer was seeking relaxation, clean air, good butter, pure milk and fresh fish, Unaka Springs was the place to be. Added benefits included viewing nature in all its glory, listening to soothing rippling river waters and forgetting about life’s displeasures while being surrounded by towering peaks that rise all around you.

Unaka Springs was considered one of the finest mineral springs in the south. Chalybeate water became popular with folks who believed in its health enhancing qualities. A physician from early times gave a unique description of it: “The colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; it made the lean fat, the fat lean; it killed flat worms in the belly; loosened the clammy humours of the body; and dried the over-moist brain.” He further stated in rhyme: “These waters youth in age renew, Strength to the weak and sickly add, Give the pale cheek a rosy hue, And cheerful spirits to the sad.”

The springs could be reached by hack (a horse for hire that could be used for riding or driving) easily in half a day. A regular hack line ran from Jonesboro to the hotel. After passing Erwin, the road followed the Nolichucky River the last two miles of the journey. The scenery along the route was more than worth the cost of the trip.

Some people preferred to make the journey by train. A timecard from 1893 shows CC&C Railroad’s “No. 1 Daily” leaving Johnson City’s Carnegie Depot (Fairview Avenue) at 7:30 a.m.; traveling to Okolona, Fagans, Marbleton, Rose Hill, Unicoi, Erwin; and arriving at Unaka Springs at 8:45 a.m., a journey of an hour and a quarter.

After crossing the river and entering the hotel grounds, guests were completely and wonderfully isolated from the outside world. The pristine river was full of perch, waiting for guests to come and catch them (if they could). Surrounding the hotel were mountains so close that all guests had to do was step off the porch and begin ascending them. The Comet advised people, upon arrival at the quaint hotel, to stop and converse with the landlord, Mr. A.V. Deaderick, a noted photographer who operated his studio there.

James A. Goforth (former Clinchfield Railroad engineer and Erwin historian) noted in his book, Erwin, Tennessee: A Pictorial History (Overmountain Press, 2004) that the hotel was a three-story frame structure with modern plumbing and a full porch along the front. Rental rates were $2/day, $10/week and $30/month. An ad from that era firmly stated, “no consumptives.”

The highlight of the evening was when Uncle “Dot” blew his dinner horn signaling guests that the evening meal was being served. This brought people scampering to the table for a sampling of tasty cuisine. The enterprising Comet was so certain that visitors to Unaka Springs would be satisfied with their trip there that they cleverly agreed to refund the cost of having their newspapers mailed to them while on vacation if they were not happy with the stopover.  

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During my years at Henry Johnson School in the early to mid 1950s, I played numerous outdoor games at recess and at home, several of which would be deemed too rough for schools to engage in today.

Let me escort us down memory lane by recalling a few of my favorites. As with most childhood activities, the rules varied considerably.

Dodgeball: This was my favorite. We divided into two teams of equal number of players. Team A formed two parallel lines several feet apart. Team B positioned themselves inside the two lines. The contest began when alternately each side of Team A began throwing a large ball toward Team B players. If the ball struck a person below the shoulders (a requirement), he or she came out of the contest. The last person standing was declared the winner of that team. The circumstances were then reversed with Team B forming two lines and Team A moving to the middle. This was good exercise and a lot of fun.

Red Rover: Two teams were selected and formed parallel lines a few feet apart facing one another and holding hands firmly. One side selected a person on the opposing team and shouted: “Red Rover, Red Rover, send (Bobby Cox) right over.” Bobby then left his post and ran as hard as he could toward some perceived weak spot in the opposing team’s line. If he succeeded in breaking through the human chain, he picked one person from that team to go back with him to his team. If he failed to break through the line, he joined that squad. This pastime had no losers because ultimately everyone ended up on the same team or they quit.  

Red Light, Green Light: One individual served as a human traffic light. Game players stood side by side about 25 feet away. The challenge began when the “light” shouted “green light” and immediately turned his/her back to the others. Everyone ran toward the “light.” Then, the “light” shouted “red light” and immediately wheeled around toward the challengers. Anyone caught moving even slightly after the “light” turned red was ejected. The signaler alternately said “green light” and “red light” allowing the pursuers to advance. Players had to pace themselves in order to freeze when the light changed. The first player to touch the “light” while it was green became the “light” for the next game. The “red light” was declared the winner if all pursuers were ejected. 

Crack the Whip: Six or more people formed a straight line by holding hands. The head person was the leader and the rear person was the caboose. The game commenced when the leader began running like crazy pulling his/her human train first in one direction and then in another. The leader and caboose were the only ones permitted to use both hands. The leader’s goal was to sling people off the train. Those who lost their grip were evicted from the train and the others then regrouped and continued their wild journey. The game’s fun was two-fold: trying to hold on to the train and making a noticeable spectacle of yourself when you were slung off.

King of the Hill: This was typically a boy’s game that was played on a mound of dirt or on a small hill. One person was chosen to be “king of the hill” by utilizing the “one potato, two-potato” method of selection. Then, one at a time, each player climbed the mound to physically dethrone the ruler by hurling him off the hill within a prescribed amount of time. If the attacker was successful, he became the new ruler. If not, the game continued until someone claimed the honor. There was no ultimate winner in this game, just a bunch of dirty, fatigued youngsters trying to demonstrate their wrestling might.

Today, we aging “youngsters” of yesteryear can only lament about those carefree days of our youth when we engaged in robust outdoor pastimes, rarely getting hurt.  

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About 1955, my dad sparked my interest in a unique leisure pursuit when he brought home a “Paint by Number” kit, consisting of two French city scenes. Each canvas was solid white and subdivided into numerous small areas, each containing a light blue handwritten number. In order to bring the picture to life, the artist had to paint it. The product was cleverly advertised as “Every Man a Rembrandt.” (Sorry ladies.)

The instructions said to match the paint color number with the pallet area number and apply the coat evenly without crossing lines. Over the next several weeks, I watched Dad meticulously transform both white canvas boards into beautiful works of art. He was proud of his creation and so was I, as evidenced by my displaying them on my bedroom wall for several years. 

Completion of a kit was not a frivolous overnight undertaking; it took weeks to finish one, especially if you planned to frame and hang it on a wall or use it as a gift. In actuality, its true value was measured by the person who painted it. Unlike watercolors that we became accustomed to as children, PBN kits utilized oil-based paint requiring the user to exercise caution so as not to get paint on everything. Brushes had to be kept in mineral spirits when not in use to prevent them from becoming dry.  

One trick was to chose a color and paint all the sections on the canvas that contained that number. Properly done, the beautifully dried painting was a testimony to the painter’s patient efforts. My first two paintings as I recall were “Blue Boy” and “Pinky,” popular subjects of that era. Neither of them ever graced anyone’s walls.

PBN kits did not enthrall everyone. Some critics viewed them as a form of mindless compliance of the masses by going through the motions of rote and expressionless labor that totally removed the painter’s creativity from the equation. However, others found the projects as intriguing introductions to painting for people not familiar with using oil-based paint.

In reality, the kits offered a sliding scale compromise between total creativity of painting freehand and having the security of a template. Many people deliberately altered the instructions and purposely painted over lines, removed specific objects from scenes and even changed color schemes, thus injecting a bit of imagination into the project.

The love affair with numbered paintings extended to the Eisenhower White House when then secretary Thomas Stephens collected PBN paintings from staff members and friends and displayed them in a West Wing corridor. 

The Paint By Number phenomenon originated in 1950 when a Palmer Paint Company employee, Dan Robbins, devised a clever way to help his business sell more paint. It came at an opportune time because postwar America was experiencing a sweet taste of the good life – free time, increased wages and a thirst for recreation.

After a rocky beginning fraught with numerous problems, the product experienced a meteoric climb in popularity, selling more than 12 million kits between 1951 and 1954. It was estimated that during this time American homes contained more PBN pictures than original works of art.

In the early 1990s, after several years of decline, the product came full circle and showed signs of popularity once again. Today, the do-it-yourself kits can be found in the craft section of some stores. Vintage paintings frequently are displayed in antique stores, rummage sales, flea markets and auctions thus demonstrating their longevity.  

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Most area folks are probably unaware that a record was made in New York City on Oct. 21, 1926 that told of an alleged fox chase on beautiful Buffalo Mountain. Jointly owned Vocalion and Brunswick record company released the classic song, “Governor Alf Taylor’s Fox Chase,” by the Hill Billies (a.k.a. Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters).

The humorous tale on a 78-rpm breakable disc begins with these words: “Gov. Alf Taylor of Tennessee and his sons, Alf, Nat, Dave and Blaine, own a kennel of foxhounds, from 50 to 100 famous dogs.”

On the recording, Alf, his boys and their favorite Walker hound dog, Old Limber, join Gray Station resident, Ben Jenkins, and his canine buddy, Old Zeke, for a hunting expedition on Buffalo Mountain.

Alf first turns Old Limber, “the best foxhound that ever went in the woods,” loose to see what he can do. Soon thereafter, Ben releases Old Zeke.

The song flip-flops between Al’s narrative of the hunting event and my great uncle, Charlie Bowman, imitating the dogs on his fiddle cleverly giving each dog a different sounding “bark.” Whenever the animals go out of hearing range, Al asks his fiddler to “play a little tune.”

The record concludes with Old Limber snagging a red fox and Old Zeke grabbing a rabbit. Such comedic routines were very popular in the 1920s.

Mack Houston of Piney Flats recalls when his father, John, took his nine-year-old son on hunting trips to Buffalo Mountain. The year was 1934, just five years after the road from Johnson City to Erwin was paved.

According to Mack, these events usually centered on a nearby popular attraction along the Johnson City side of the mountain, a little over halfway below the top and west of White Rock:  

“There was a tap on the main water supply line from Limestone Cove to Johnson City on property owned by the Gifford family. This arrangement provided them with a free water source. These nice folks allowed people to freely access their waterspout.”

John Houston remembered occasionally talking with Bob and Alf Taylor and members of their family as they embarked on hunting expeditions. Their outings usually transcended two or three nights.

The elder Houston said that the Taylor family employed a man by the name of Andy Trent as caretaker of the dogs. If one got lost during the hunt and couldn’t be located, the family offered a reward for its return.

“The waterspout area became a popular hangout for people of all ages.” said Mack. “They brought guitars, fiddles and mandolins with them to sing and play music.

 “Some folks rode horses there and set up camp, staying for several days. Hunters brought their dogs with them and tied them nearby.

“When the dogs were eventually turned loose (like in the song), they made the awfulest noise you ever heard. Those critters ran wildly all over the mountain, sometimes lasting into the wee hours of the morning. This was music to our ears.”

Mack recalled that people filled glass jugs with water before returning home and used it for washing, bathing, drinking and occasionally pouring into a cistern.

Mack concluded: “Another favorite sport on Buffalo Mountain was hunting chestnuts, usually done on Sunday afternoons. This occurred before the terrible blight destroyed all the chestnut trees.”

If anyone has memories or photographs of the Buffalo Mountain waterspout area, I would love to hear from you. 

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