Gump – A Name Prominent in Johnson City’s Past

I mentioned in a previous column that M.I. (Martin Independence) Gump was assistant manager of Jobe’s Opera House and owner of Gump’s clothing emporium, both located at the southwest corner of E. Main and Spring streets. 

I received several inquiries from readers wanting to know more about Gumps, as it became known. According to Joyce and W. Eugene Cox’s History of Washington County Tennessee, A.S. Gump and D.B. Barr established the first store in 1880, four years before Jobe’s Opera House opened upstairs. On June 7, 1884, The Comet revealed that Martin had taken charge of the store that featured “a large stock of Gent's clothing made in the latest styles.”

Subsequent 1880 ads refer to the store as A.S. Gump & Co., Gump & Co. and Gumps. Lucy Gump surmises that Martin moved to town to manage a branch of first cousin Abraham Simon Gump’s Bristol business.

In the early 1890s, two younger Gump family members – Harry D. and Louis D. joined the enterprise. The business was renamed Gump Brothers by 1891 and operated until about 1921.

Big news in the July 8, 1909 Comet was the upcoming demolition of the front side of the Gumps and Opry House building, construction of a new one and remodeling of the interior. The stated reason for the project was “to make suitable background for the new fountain,” likely referring to the Lady of the Fountain statue across the street.

In that same edition, Gumps announced a “Re-Building Sale” that included furnishings, shoes, hats, trunks and bags: “Our business was established in Johnson City 29 years ago and this is our first sale.” Named brands included Hart, Schaffner and Marx; Schloss Bros. & Co. clothing; Hanan, Ralston & Bostonian shoes; John B Stetson & Young Bros hats. Carhartt overalls were excluded.

A July 16, 1903 Comet says that M.I. Gump established a wholesale grocery house in 1898 that served Tennessee and North Carolina. In 1903, the company moved into a new building on Roan Street; the Southern Railway constructed a sidetrack to it. Mrs. Louis D. Gump etched her name in local history by becoming a pioneer in the Parent-Teachers Association that originated in 1910, serving as first president of the Martha Wilder School PTA. 

A 1989 reprint of the 1909 J.O. Lewis book titled Johnson City, Tennessee (Overmountain Press) mentions two Gump stores located in the downtown district – Gump Brothers Clothing and Gump’s Wholesale Grocery. The book offered a flattering assessment of the clothing business: “Probably in the history of representative houses of Johnson City, no more worthy example can be found of what can be accomplished by energy, industry and well-directed efforts, than is so strikingly exemplified in the successful career of the big and influential house known as Gumps.”

Two members of the firm, H.D. Gump and L.D. Gump, were said to be “gentlemen of excellent high standing in business and social circles.” Later, the Gump name was attached to other Johnson City enterprises. About 1921, Louie, Harry and Jay Gump (Louie’s oldest son), formed Gump Investment Co. The younger son, Alan, soon joined the firm.

In 1927, Harry Gump filed plans in Jonesborough for a subdivision to be developed on Hillrise Farm, land he had owned since 1907. While the subdivision was officially called Hillrise Park, it was and is commonly called the Gump Addition