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.