Most area residents are familiar with the Martha Washington Inn, located near Barter Theatre in downtown Abingdon, Virginia. General Francis Preston, hero of the War of 1812, had the building constructed in 1832 for his family of nine children. Over the years, it served as a women’s college, a Civil War hospital and barracks and as an inn for actors and guests of Barter Theatre.

The general built the brick residence at a cost of $15,000. It remained in the Preston family until 1858, when it was sold for $21,000 to the founders of Martha Washington College.

The school offered the following curricula: bookkeeping, shorthand, typewriting; English, history, expression, French, German, fine and industrial arts, home economics, mathematics, science; Latin and Spanish music for piano, pipe organ, violin and voice. Graduation from the standard 4-year high school admitted a student to the junior class, making graduation possible in two years. Completion of two high school years admitted them to the Freshman Class.

During the Civil War, the college served as a training ground for Confederate soldiers, known as the “Washington Mounted Rifles.” The building became affectingly known as “The Martha.” The college, devoted entirely to women, operated for 70 years until finally falling victim to the Great Depression.

In 1935 after passing through various hands, the Martha Washington Inn opened. It has operated ever since in the capacity of a hotel. In 1984, the United Group, an investment group of businessmen, purchased the inn and financed an 8 million dollar renovation. Eleven years later, the property was admitted to the Camberley Collection of historic places. Today, the inn is known as Martha Washington Hotel and Spa.

The architectural integrity of the Martha was preserved from the beginning. The original living room of the Preston family became the main lobby of the inn. One of the original items owned by the family was the Dutch-baroque grandfather clock, which stood over nine feet tall. This beautiful clock, which was shipped from England by one of the Preston daughters, took its rightful place in the East Parlor of the inn.

Some of the famous guests who lodged at the inn included Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Elizabeth Taylor. The hotel has also played host to actors performing at the Barter Theatre, which is across the street from the inn.

I located four advertisements promoting the long vanished school in some old newspapers dated from 1900 to 1911. For brevity, I have paraphrased the comments.

July 12, 1900: Martha Washington College is the oldest female college in Southwest Virginia and has made a glorious record in the education of the daughters of our immediate section and of the South. Last year was one of the most successful it has ever enjoyed, boasting the largest number of boarding pupils in its history.

August 24, 1905: Martha Washington College and Sullins College, located respectively in Abingdon, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee are 15 miles apart and are under the same management through courses in literature, music, art and elocution. The facilities have steam heat, electric lights and bathrooms on all floors with hot and cold water.

July 13, 1906: The Martha Washington College campus is on the Norfolk and Western Railway, being located 290 miles southwest of Richmond, 93 miles from Roanoke and 14 miles from Bristol.

August 20, 1911: The college opens September 13, 1911. For 50 years, this college has stood in the forefront of the colleges of the South with an ideal climate, altitude at 2,175 feet, delightful home life and a health record unsurpassed.

A drive by the Inn today reveals a facility as beautiful as it was then. 

Read more

When I graduated from Science Hill in 1961, the high school sold one annual, “The Wataugan,” that year for those seniors graduating in May. During 1927-34, the school discontinued the popular publication, later reestablishing it as two separate editions, one in January and the other in May.

The change was prompted by the advent of two separate graduations within the school year, allowing students who successfully completed graduation requirements to receive their sheepskin early. Each one had a commencement exercise and baccalaureate observance. Although my father, Robert Earl Cox, graduated from “The Hill” in May 1934, he left behind both editions from that year. 

The January Wataugan comprised 34 pages with 26 graduates while the May edition was 60 pages and had 101 seniors. The Wataugan explained the new concept of mid-year graduations: “For the first time in its history, Science Hill High School is graduating 26 seniors at the close of the first semester. This is of decided advantage both to the seniors and to the school. Heretofore, those students who completed in January the amount of work required for a diploma were forced to return to school in May in order to graduate. Now, by receiving diplomas in January, seniors may enter college for the winter quarter’s work, and the school can make room for sophomores sent from the Junior High.”

Roy Bigelow, Supervising Principal, offered his greeting: “May I offer my congratulations to you as you complete the requirements for graduation from Science Hill High School. I extend them to you first of all because you are inaugurating the plan of a mid-term commencement. Although your group is small, we shall probably see our mid-year graduating classes representing about half of the senior groups. I congratulate you also because you have undertaken to revive the school publication, The Wataugan. May these, along with the joyous experiences of your school career, be cherished memories to you.”

Mary Lee Taylor, a faculty member, provided an explanation of how the school publication received its name: “The name ‘Wataugan’ was officially given to the student publication of Science Hill High on February 9, 1921. Perhaps some word of explanation is necessary as to the reason for the selection of such a title.

“The word is an Indian Name and, early in the history of this section, was applied to a beautiful stream, which flows from mighty gorges, cutting its way through mountain ranges and uniting finally, with the Doe River at the head of Happy Valley. This river quite naturally gave its name to the lovely valley forming the heart of East Tennessee. At this spot, the mountain boys met, proceeding thence to King’s Mountain where they defeated the British regulars in a memorable battle.

“In this same Valley was located Fort Watauga, made famous by Bonnie Kate Sherrill’s thrilling escape from the Indians. The first home on Tennessee soil was erected on Boones’ Creek at the place where it empties into the Watauga River. Still another place of interest is that designated with a bronze tablet, making the famous trail of the pioneer, Daniel Boone.

“From the Watauga Valley came the beloved Bob and Alf Taylor who, in other years, figured largely in the life of the state and nation. In more recent times, the renowned valley of the Watauga sent to the front its quota of men who gave their lives gloriously with the famous Thirtieth Division during the World War.

“Wataugan, then, is a name replete with memories of the past and is a most dignified and appropriate title for the publication of a school, which occupies so prominently in the present life of this section.” 

Read more

Today’s column deals with the old North Side School that was built in 1922 at N. Roan Street, sandwiched between E. Eighth and E. Chilhowie avenues. In 1928, the city began a study for replacing, remodeling or expanding several area schools.

That same year, the Johnson City Chronicle initiated a review of existing schools in articles titled, “Inside the City School Houses.” This was likely done in an effort to draw attention to several schools that needed attention. A number of educational facilities were inspected over the course of several weeks and the results reported in the paper. The reviews ranged from deplorable to excellent; those receiving an unsatisfactory grade was due primarily to the building being crowded or aged.

A year later, the city made a decision to spend $300,000 to build new elementary schools for Columbus Powell, Martha Wilder (later renamed Stratton) and West Side (later became Henry Johnson). The appropriation also included additions to two schools, Science Hill and South Side. (My November 1, 2008 feature story dealt with that expansion program).

North Side School, which was only six years old at the time, received a glowing report. One comment stated, “Wherefore, let us give thanks that in our corporate midst on city-owned acreage there stands a public school building that appears to be well-suited to most of the crying needs of the day. It is modern in type and construction and ample of accommodation.”

The report went on to say that more tears had been shed over North Side than any other grammar school building, but they were from childhood heartbreak at being taken out of distant schools and being compelled to walk several miles every day to attend classes.

Many residents vividly recall that the school was a two-story brick building containing 20 classrooms. The six-year-old facility was described in the report as “cheery, well lighted and properly ventilated, with wide airy corridors whose ground floor doorway entrances had no ice coated steps to navigate to enter the building.”

That year, there were 800 students attending six grades of classes there. The floors were made of hardwood with tile floors in the boys’ and girls’ lavatories on both levels. The stairways, designed for emergency exit, were well placed throughout the building. Each classroom contained a wardrobe with doors that opened only into it. Tack strips adorned each classroom slate blackboard. Separate rest rooms were provided for teachers. Panic locks on all interior doors enabled classroom occupants to open the doors from the inside by turning the doorknob. On the outside, the knob could be locked if desired, but it could never be locked on the inside. Panic locks were also placed at each ground floor main entrance.

The article noted that the past decade had marked rapid changes in the building complexion of the city as a whole. Old structures were repaired, remodeled, enlarged or replaced to make room for new. The life of a building suited to swift progress was said to be relatively short. The Chronicle chided the school system for willful neglect of school buildings, allowing them to fall in such disrepair that the final solution was demolition.

Although some schools had occasional repairs made to them and even had additions built onto them, most had been woefully neglected. This was deemed shameful to the students who tried to get a good education there. 

The newspaper ended by saying, “And if so, in light of what has already been written and anticipating the worst yet to come, let us be thankful that in at least one of our valuable public school properties everything is jake.”

I will feature the reports of some of the other schools in future columns. Three had very unflattering comments made against them and were targeted for replacement. 

Read more

I grew up in the 1940s about a block from West Side School that was once located at the southeast corner of Main Street and Watauga Avenue. I attended the first grade there in 1949-50 under the watchful eye of my teacher, Miss Mildred Taylor. A Johnson City Chronicle dated May 3, 1947 contained a news item that aroused my interest by mentioning several names that I recognize.

Miss Eleanor Robertson, teacher at Training School of East Tennessee State College, was the speaker at the May meeting of the school’s School Parent-Teacher Association. The educator chose as her theme, “Relation of the Child to the Parent,” listing love, respect for work, honesty and obedience as the four fundamental principles for training children. She stressed that youngsters need positive models rather than negative critics. 

The 4-F children, as she defined them, experienced “firmness, fondness, fun and fairness.” She concluded her talk by reading an interesting old poem that has been heavily quoted over the years titled, “The Child’s Appeal,” by Mamie Gene Cole:

“I am the child. All the world waits for my coming. All the earth watches with interest to see what I shall become. Civilization hangs in the balance. For what I am, the world of tomorrow will be.

“I am the child. I have come into your world, about which I know nothing. Why I came I know not. How I came I know not. I am curious; I am interested.

“I am the child. You hold in your hand my destiny. You determine, largely, whether I shall succeed or fail. Give me, I pray you, those things that make for happiness. Train me, I beg you, that I may be a blessing to the world.”

Following the speech, Mrs. Roy Webb gave the secretary’s report; Mrs. Joe Bettini, in the absence of Mrs. William Cox, read the treasurer’s report. During the devotional period, each member of the group read a Bible verse. Miss Georgia Tomlinson gave the membership information, stating that West Side had received the Gold Leaf Award for having 100 percent attendance.

Other chairpersons providing concise reports included Mrs. Earl Gentry (finance), Miss Ruth Martin (school lunch), Mrs. Lester Bowman (founder’s day, my aunt), Mrs. Maude Meek (music, spiritual education), J.H. Mahoney (principal, program chairman), Mrs. H.R. Deere (art), Miss Mildred Taylor (child welfare), Miss Carrie Lu Yoakley (building and grounds) and Miss Mildred Adams (procedure, by-laws).

Mrs. Primus Dees (wife of my former downtown barber, president of Central PTA council), conducted the installation ceremonies for the following new officers and positions: Mrs. Roy Webb, president; Mrs. Glen Maupin, vice president; Mrs. Ralph Hamley, secretary, and Mrs. Joe Bettini, treasurer; Mrs. Mildred Lawson, program; Mrs. Fred Deneen, publications; Mrs. D.V. Paradis, publicity and scrapbook; Mrs. H.W. Cassing, summer round-up; Miss Carrie Lu Yoakley, child welfare; Mrs. R.Y. Foster, school lunch; Mrs. Howard Hartsell, buildings and grounds; Mrs. Harry Johnson, finance; Mrs. Earl Gentry, hospitality; Mrs. Lester Bowman, founder’s day; Mrs. Harold Dyer, study course; Mrs. Harry Yeager, membership; and Mrs. H.R. Deere, spiritual education.

It was announced that the Central Council would meet on May 23 at 2:30 p.m. at Mayne Williams Library and that the Mother’s Day Arts and Crafts Club would convene in the Girl’s Club Room at the First Presbyterian Church on June 4 at 2 p.m.

Graduation exercises for the sixth grade class were scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 26 at the school followed by a class party. It was also reported that the luncheon for teachers would be held at noon on Wednesday, May 28.

The meeting concluded with Mrs. Nathan Holley winning the attendance prize and Miss Georgia Tomlinson’s third grade class receiving the room-count prize.

Read more

Glenn Stroup asked me if I would write a column about Warren Weddle, Science Hill High School’s former colorful band director. Since I was not in the band, Glenn became my primary source of information.

According to the former band member, Warren once played in a dance band in Chicago as a professional drummer, which explains why he was so successful in teaching percussion to local musicians such as George Buda, Gene Young, Jerry Doyle, Bob Byrd, Bobby Joe Tipton and others. Over the years, he retained his dexterity and coordination to the extent that he could play four different rhythms at the same time with his hands and feet.

Glenn remembered that Mr. Weddle was somewhat absent-minded, probably because he was usually thinking about the next thing he had to do. He taught Junior High School students in the morning and then cruised down the street to Science Hill High School in the afternoon. Since band instruments were so expensive, especially the more exotic ones like the oboe or bassoon, it became necessary for students to use school-owned instruments at both schools. Warren would routinely cram them into his car and transport them from one site to the other.

On one occasion, the bandleader left his car parked at Junior High and walked down Roan Street to “The Hill.” He usually asked several of the first boys to show up for band practice to carry in the instruments for him. His tendency to forget where he parked his car led to practical jokes by some of the male pranksters. They would drive his car around to the front of the school, leave it there and then fib to him that they couldn't find it. Obviously that was good for only a few times before the band director caught on to their revelry. He was subject to numerous other practical jokes primarily because he was such a good sport. His students loved him.

The Weddles never had children; perhaps Warren figured that his students were his kids. He was a good listener and became a friend as well as a mentor to his students. The Weddles owned a small dog that went everywhere with them. The animal rode in the front passenger seat, while Mrs. Weddle sat in the back. Her reason was that she didn't want to get dog hairs on her clothes.

The director always had a “show” band” versus a “drill band,” meaning that the band’s halftime performance had a theme and was new every week. He often used current popular tunes of that day, which required loads of work orchestrating the music. He wrote the music for all instruments and distributed it to his students at the beginning of the week. To make copies for them, he used the infamous “Ditto” machine (a “spirit duplicator) that many of us still recall. It used an odorous gel purple substance (not ink) with purple color.

Mr. Weddle also had a penchant for wooden batons (the type with a cork handle or similar substance). He had a less-than-desirable habit of chewing on them if things were not going well. One day someone dipped the tip of the baton in the Ditto colorant and by end of the class, Warren’s lips had turned lavender.

“I had tremendous respect and admiration for Mr. Weddle,” said Stroup, “and I still fondly remember him after 60 years since graduation. I respected him as a person, not just for the tremendous knowledge and skill he possessed as a teacher and musician.”

Let me conclude with my vivid memory of the bandleader. I rarely missed a downtown Johnson City parade. Warren had the curious habit of walking briskly on the sidewalk keeping up with his SHHS band and, at the same time, maneuvering carefully through the spectators without knocking anyone down. I suppose he saw this as a valuable opportunity to evaluate the marching and playing skills of his musicians.

Glenn is delighted that his memories of his favorite band director are appearing in the newspaper. I am sure others have fond recollections of Mr. Weddle.

Read more

Wednesday, Jan. 10, 1934 was tagged “Professor Walter Clement Wilson Day” by the city’s Kiwanis Club at a meeting at the John Sevier Hotel. he honored person was a 71-year-old State Teachers College instructor and senior member of the club.  

Kiwanians Harry Crigger and Clyde Culpepper were responsible for planning an appropriate program to honor the admired teacher. The speaker was Professor C. Hodge Mathes.

Mathes and Wilson were both employed at the State Teachers College. Wilson had the distinction of having been with the college since it was founded as the Normal School in 1911. “Professor Wilson is my ideal of a real everyday Christian gentleman,” said Mathes. “He has developed a very wholesome philosophy of life. I know he is fearless, despite the fact that he is built like Mahatma Gandhi.” This comment brought laughter from the membership, which included the guest of honor.

“When I met him when the faculty for the old State Normal School was being formed, our president referred to him as ‘a little package of dynamite.’ Professor Wilson receives the respect of all the students at the college. Everyone who knows the Professor respects him and loves him. He has never acquired a great fortune, but I personally know many instances where he has aided students in a financial way in their careers.”

Chairman Crigger then introduced Wilson to speak to the club, bringing the entire membership of the club to their feet in respect to their “youngest member.” Speaking in his distinctive manner, Wilson told Kiwanians that he never believed that he would live long enough to hear his own obituary.

Then switching to a serious mode, the professor expressed his appreciation for the confidence and feeling the members had demonstrated in the social program arranged in his behalf. He was given a standing ovation at the conclusion of the brief talk. At the end of the meeting, every club member extended him a hardy handshake and congratulations. At each place, members found a typewritten sheet copied from “Who’s Who” of 1930 that gave an impressive list of his education credentials, positions held and books authored.

The Kiwanis Club then conducted a brief business meeting before adjourning. Clyde C. Culpepper, general chairman of the safety campaign being sponsored in the public schools by the club, spoke briefly and announced the members assigned to the various public schools:

Keystone (Phil McAfee and Lonnie McCown), Columbus Powell (Dan Wexler and Frank Brogden), South Side (Mayor Ben Snipes and J.S. Holt), New Martha Wilder (later renamed Stratton), Howard Phillips and E.C. Bowers), New West Side (became Henry Johnson, Dr. Carroll Long and Dr. C.V. Morgan), Old West Side (Joe Brown and R.S. Edwards), Langston (Buddy Beckner and “Lefty” Lindsey), Science Hill (Jim Preas and T.E. Hollingsworth); Old Martha Wilder (Joe Summers and Ned Stacey), Junior High (Lee B. Harr and Frank Hannah), Old Columbus Powell (Carl Miller and Morgan Cox), Training School at State Teachers College (Prof. Walter C. Wilson and E.S. Coleman), Douglas (Glenn Elliott and Ralph Carr), Dunbar (Ray Harbison and Roy Bigelow), Piney Grove (John Massengill and Bert Gump) and Northside (Harry Crigger and Prof. N.E. Hodge).

Professor’ Wilson’s wife was named Sophronia and they resided at 813 Lake Street located between W. Maple and Lynn streets. If anyone remembers the professor or knows anything more about him, please drop me a note. He was obviously an outstanding citizen of yesteryear.

Read more

In June 1927, the Shredded Wheat Company of Niagara Falls, New York, conducted a nationwide essay contest that resulted in 20 grammar school students and their teacher being invited on an expense-paid railroad trip to visit their plant and take in all of the dazzling sights of the falls.

An estimated 200,000 school children submitted essays in the competition; winners were chosen based on their cleverness, originality and knowledge of the subject. Needless to say, the object of all this was advertising, believing that the most important feature of their ad campaign was the education of children to the food value of whole wheat and Shredded Wheat.

One student selected was George Cox. Although his address was listed as Morristown, Tennessee, he was shown as attending school in Johnson City, residing at the home of Mrs. W.N. Clamon. His teacher was John McCullough of 405 E. Maple Street in the city. Unfortunately, the school was not identified.

 A Niagara Falls news release revealed that while a multitude of organizations visited the falls that year none drew more attention than the public school students and their proud teachers.

The entourage, wearing white badges bearing the words, “Guest of The Shredded Wheat Company,” arrived at Niagara Falls on July 14 for a 2-day stay. They were promptly escorted to The Niagara Hotel where the choicest rooms reserved for them overlooked the swift flowing rapids of the Niagara River.

The youngsters were thrilled at the sights of the American and Canadian cataracts. One reporter captured some of the words expressing their excitement: “Gee whiz.” “Ain’t it wonderful, Bill?” “Hully gee.” “I’d hate to ride over the Falls in a boat, wouldn’t you?” “Certainly beats the old swimmin’ hole, doesn’t it?”

After breakfast, the children and their teachers were taken through the plant of the Niagara Falls PowerCompany where they learned how the falls had been harnessed and electric current sent to nearby cities.

At 12:30 p.m., the officers and executives of the company gave a luncheon for their special guests in the company’s private dining room where they were greeted. The president of the company and the director of publicity made short speeches of welcome.

Following the luncheon was a trip through “The Home of Shredded Wheat” where the students witnessed their favorite cereal being made. At 3:00 p.m., an excursion was made to the American Falls. After enjoying a nice dinner at the hotel in the evening, the visitors were escorted across the International Bridge to see the colorful illumination of the falls at night. Afterward, the fatigued group returned to the hotel for a night’s rest.

The program on the following day included a trip around Goat Island, a visit to Luna Island and Three Sisters Island for a view of the stunning Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. For lunch, they dined at the Clifton Hotel, followed by a ride down the Great Gorge Railway to Lewiston and their return home.

Shredded Wheat was my favorite cereal in my younger days. Brands of cereals were limited then to a few selections on store shelves. There were no bite size or frosted biscuits available then. My standard breakfast fare consisted of two large size biscuits that I crushed with my hands, sprinkled with sugar, covered with cold milk and consumed.

The product was once advertised as “A Warm Nourishing Meal for a Cold Day – Shredded Wheat with Hot Milk and a Little Cream … 100 percent whole wheat and so thoroughly cooked that every particle of each crisp, tasty flavory baked wheat is digested.” I do not recall ever eating it hot.

The company was in operation from 1904 until 1928 when it became Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) in late 1928.

Read more

Since I wrote a column in August 2006 about Atlanta’s Montag Brothers Paper Company’s clever Blue Horse awards marketing promotion, I have received a steady flow of flow of comments. My column noted that literally millions of Blue Horse heads were exchanged for cash and prizes, making Montag one of the largest paper companies in the industry by 1950.

One lady sent me two photos of a Blue Horse pocketknife that her mother had owned. It is shown in my column photo. I decided to excerpt from several letters:

“I have several hundred Blue Horse trademarks. Is there a market for these trademarks?”

“I have every Blue Horse Trademark that I collected from the first to the twelfth grade. I never traded them in for any prizes, instead choosing to keep all 1161 of them.”

“I have access to a Blue Horse bicycle, purchased with Blue Horse heads back in the early 1950s. As a student in the sixth grade, I saved them and won one of the bikes.”

“My Father sent in several of the Blue Horse heads and received one of the bicycles. Before he passed away, he gave me the bike and told me to get it fixed. I don't know how many of them are actually left, but I have one and plan to have it restored in his memory.

“I have a complete 42 model bike that has been painted silver, but it has original tires and all.”

“I have a considerable number of trademarks. My older sister gave some to me and I collected others. There is not much information out there about them.”

“I have a Blue Horse spiral notebook in a relic's collection that I started several years ago. I saved enough labels and enough change, 25 cents as I recall, for a Blue Horse Beanie. In fact, I did it twice and was the talk of my grammar school class.”

“Recently while I was working as a substitute at our local library, a gentleman brought in some old books to donate. As he was flipping through the pages, he came across about a dozen Blue Horse emblems. They brought back a lot of memories to this man who, as a child, had apparently clipped and saved them for a gift that he wanted.”

“My son was cleaning out our attic and ran across two small boxes of Blue Horses that really brought back memories of my school days. I was wondering if you know of anyone, such as a history museum, that would be interested in them.”

“My husband has an old pearl handle pocket knife with the Blue Horse symbol on the end of it. We were wondering if it was a prize awarded by collecting the horse coupons.”

“While we were cleaning out my deceased mother’s belongings, we discovered 29 Blue Horse coupons. Mama had saved them for her sons. Printed under the horse’s head are the words, ‘counts as two trade-marks.’ We were wondering if Montag Brothers' Paper Company would honor them now. I would love to have a beanie cap.”

“Do you happen to have the words to the Blue Horse jingle that was popular at that time? I have a friend who is obsessed with finding the words to it.”

Another reader remembered the tune and took a stab at the lyrics: “… paper so white and lines so true (or blue), Blue Horse is …   Stamped on the back is one … (additional) proof, Blue Horse, Blue Horse ….” 

“I found a Blue Horse bracelet in my late sister’s old jewelry box and believe it is a prize from the Blue Horse redemption of horse heads for the 1950’s.  I was wondering if the company gave bracelets as one of the prizes. It has the dark blue horse and two little horseshoe charms. Also, my grandmother ran an old country store that I remember sold Blue Horse paper.”

The once popular old sapphire steed has long vanished from the scene but our memories of him continue to tug at our heartstrings.

Read more

My History/Heritage page feature last week dealt with the opening of a new Science Hill High School at N. Roan Street and John Exum Parkway. A different location was proposed in 1946 when C. Howard McCorkle, then principal of the school, sent a letter to the Johnson City Planning Commission proposing a 4-part program:

1. Construct a new senior high school building for grades 9-12 on property surrounded by E. Main, E. Market and Bert streets, adjacent to the Central Fire Hall. The main entrance would face south toward Roosevelt (later renamed Memorial) Stadium. Except for a small physical education gym included in the new design, the old gymnasium on “The Hill,” built in 1939, would continue to be used for sporting events.

2. Designate one large wing of the new facility for a combination school and civic auditorium capable of seating 1500 to 2000 people, thereby replacing the existing City Hall auditorium at Boone and W. Main streets.

3. Convert the old downtown senior high facility (N. Roan Street) to junior high for seventh and eighth grades. 

4. Remodel the existing junior high building constructed in 1922 at N. Roan and Fairview for a medical arts center. This would allow ample space and parking for most of the city doctors to have office suites there. Another advantage was its close proximity to the new Memorial Hospital next door. McCorkle and the School Board believed that this would greatly enhance the possibility of Johnson City becoming a future medical center.  

The new grade arrangement was known as the “6-2-4 Plan” (grammar schools, 1-6; junior high, 7-8; and senior high, 9-12), replacing the present “6-3-3 Plan” (grammar schools, 1-6; junior high, 7-9; and senior high, 10-12). Another bonus was that it would reduce congestion at the new hospital. The new high school would be near its designated athletic and drill fields. Further, the new junior high would be slightly closer to its athletic fields. An attractive feature of the new proposal was that none of the existing facilities would be abandoned or razed.

In spite of McCorkle’s petition, the Board of Education issued a resolution requesting that the city refrain from using the proposed strip of land for a new high school. Mayor Welsford P. Artz stated that the city had been approached by a manufacturing firm and was quoted a price for 600 feet of the 1000-foot frontage property in question. The type of building the company proposed was what the commission wanted to see there. It was to be a low one-story building, occupying only a comparatively small portion of the lot. The firm further intended to beautify the grounds, making it an attractive addition to the town. However, the city set aside a portion of the land adjacent to the fire station for future use.

The School Board immediately countered with another letter to the commissioners: “In the near future, the normal growth in the city’s population and the growing obsoleteness of Science Hill High School will make the erection of a new (school) imperative and that the land in question is an ideal site for a modern high school. It is adjacent to the stadium and ballpark, away from the congestion and noise of the downtown section, on the side of town toward where future growth will likely occur, level with ample parking space, abundant space for a modern high school building with a auditorium and room for a large recreation center in addition to a high school campus.”  

McCorkle’s proposal was rejected and the offer for the company to build there fell through. The land was essentially not used until years later when the city relocated its municipal and safety offices on the site. It would be another 15 years before a new high school would be constructed in North Johnson City.  

Read more

Monday, March 6, 1961 was a much-anticipated day for Science Hill High School students. On that date, the majestic old downtown high school building that was razed and rebuilt in 1910 on what students referred to as “The Hill,” ceased to be the city’s main high school.

Workmen take a break while building the “Old” Downtown Science Hill High School in 1910

A great deal attention was drawn a few miles to the north where the baton of progress passed forward to a new long-awaited modern, expansive facility. Linda Moore Hodge, who graduated in the first class from the new facility, saved and shared the opening day Johnson City Press Chronicle with this writer. Local advertisers flooded the paper with congratulatory remarks.

The “new” Science Hill High School as it appeared just prior to occupancy in 1961. Many businesses congratulated city officials for the accomplishment.

The new innovative $2.5 million campus-style school was a dream come true, brought about by a growing student population and a cramped aged facility situated in the congested business district. The new structure did not materialize overnight; serious discussions for it originated in 1957. During November of that year, Johnson Citians went to the polls and voted to issue $2.6 million worth of bonds, which were offered to the public the following March.

Thus began a flurry of activity. Board members and city officials visited selected campuses in several southern cities to formulate ideas for the new Science Hill. It became readily apparent that multiple campus-style buildings offered the most economical option that would satisfy existing and future needs.

A 40-acre site was selected at the intersection of John Exum Parkway and N. Roan Street. A sizable quantity of land was needed, far in excess of the 2.5 acres that the downtown school occupied. The acreage was sufficient to provide for six separate interconnected buildings with covered walkways, a gymnasium, ample parking space and plenty of outside practice fields for athletics.

Although official groundbreaking began in December 1958, actual construction did not start until the following July. Even then, a steel shortage halted work for a period of time. Further, a large hill that originally occupied the new site had to be leveled. In an almost unanimous decision, school officials retained the same name as the old one. Leland Cardwell was selected as the architect and J.E. Green and Company was awarded the construction contract.

Science Hill was declared to be the largest electrically heated school in the world. Most rooms had hookups for future air-conditioning needs. In all, the sprawling complex occupied 104,500 square feet of floor space.

The auditorium/theater complex sported an impressive foyer with terrazzo floors and colorful tile walls. A steeply inclined floor made it easy for 800 seat occupiers to see the stage. There was space overhead for 25 sets of lights plus a required fireproof curtain. Skylights over the stage could be darkened by simply regulating shades that covered each section. In front of the stage was room for a good-sized orchestra.

The acoustical ceiling band room had ample storage space for instruments, a recording room and sheet music space. A soundproof choral room was designed to handle large and small groups of singers.

The nerve center of the new campus was the Administration Building, which was centrally located among the other buildings. It contained a 2-way public address system connected to all rooms along with closed circuit telephones (internal house phones limited to the campus with no incoming or outgoing call capability), a public address system and a radio hookup. An emergency bright red “hot phone” was available that allowed the caller who picked up the receiver to be automatically connected with every speaker in the school. 

The Classroom Building contained 24 rooms that were described as being “light, bright, spacious and attractive, and it may be some time before the first students can stop admiring it long enough to concentrate on studies.” In it were the science laboratories consisting of a combined chemistry and physics laboratory, one dedicated chemistry lab and a third one for biology. A special projects room allowed students working on long-range projects to leave them set up for days or weeks.

The library had two separate reading rooms, with each surrounded by easy-to-reach books on head-level shelves. The rooms were separated by the librarian’s office, the check out counter and a conference room that allowed groups of students to work on common projects. The library lobby was furnished informally, thereby inviting students to relax at free times and enjoy literary gems. A feature not usually found in other schools was a night depository, permitting students to return books after hours.

The Useful Arts Building contained the home economics department, which consisted of two rooms with three complete kitchen units, stoves, refrigerators, storage space and counter workspace. In these two rooms were sewing machines, cutting tables and fitting rooms. Here young ladies learned to sew a fine seam on sewing machines of all types, be it making pajamas or an evening gown. Another section of the building contained the well-lighted art department.

Entering the gymnasium, one encountered a foyer that was large enough to serve as the ROTC drill hall during the day and accommodate 2,500 basketball fans at night. A floor-to-ceiling partition could be activated to quietly and quickly expand across the entire length of the gym, separating two full size basketball courts. Another button allowed 2,000 rollaway seats to come out from the sides. Using folding chairs on each end of the gym provided accommodations for an additional 500 people.

The cafeteria’s main dining room seated 350 students utilizing four food lines with two designated for students desiring a hot lunch and two for those wanting a cold snack. The lobby contained informal furniture where students who had caught up with their studies could go for relaxation. The dining hall could be cleared of tables and chairs for school socials. Also, a terrace with southern exposure allowed students to bring along their charcoal burners and have a cookout for class, school or special group events. The kitchen was 100% stainless steel throughout ranging from a walk-in refrigerator to a shining commercial type dishwasher.

The new Science Hill High School was dedicated and opened to the public on Sunday, March 5 at 2:30 p.m. in the gymnasium. The Education Committee of the Chamber of Commerce handled arrangements for the important event. On hand were current board members: R.T. Haemsch (chairman), William Sells (vice chairman), Forrest Morris, George Speed, Dr. E.T. Brading, Viola Mathes and Mrs. N.T. Sizemore. Former board members who had a hand in the project were Gerald Goode, L. Cecil Gray, John Howren and Ray Humphreys.

City Manager David Burkhalter presided over the ceremonies: The school band played the National Anthem. Rev. Ferguson Wood, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, gave the invocation. Mr. Burkhalter introduced special guests. Mayor Ross Spears made the building presentation, which was accepted by R.T. Haemsch, chairman of the Johnson City Board of Education. Thomas Boles directed the high school choir, after which Frances Harman, a senior, sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Howard McCorkle, superintendent of city schools, then introduced Dr. Andrew Holt, president of the University of Tennessee, who gave the keynote address. Rev. James Canady, pastor of Central Baptist Church, offered a prayer of dedication and benediction. The dedication service was concluded after Mayor Spears and the audience provided the litany for the dedication.   

Read more