I have fond memories of growing up on Johnson Avenue in a house directly behind the Henry Johnson School playground. When we moved there in 1950, my dad, eager to exercise his green thumb, turned our double lot into a mass of thick foliage with a variety of trees (including fruit), bushes, plants, vines, flowers and a vegetable garden.
Tarzan and his family could have felt right at home in the confines of our yard. A thick rose hedge, so thorny that rabbits had trouble infiltrating it, fittingly surrounded three sides of our property.
All of this came to mind recently when I read a March 24, 1940 Sunday edition of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle that dealt with the Security Feed and Seed Company. I recall going there with my dad on numerous occasions to purchase supplies. The $20,000 annual business opened in 1929 under the leadership of Earnest D. Johnson, a Knoxville businessman. Initially, it was located at 208 W. Main Street (two doors west of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle building).
Other competing firms operating during that era were Treadway Feed and Seed Co. (601 Spring), Barter Implement and Feed (Buffalo at Cherry), Johnson City Feed Co. and Hatchery (110-114 McClure) and Farmers’ Exchange (139 Commerce, later named London Hardware). The store became recognized as one of the leaders in its field. It was a division of Security Mills of Knoxville, one of the chief distributors of farm feeds and fertilizers in the South. Other area locations were Jonesborough, Bristol, Kingsport and Greeneville. In addition, nearly 40 additional stores were maintained inside the Southern territory. Within ten years, the firm was taking in a half-million dollars annually.
The store remained at its Main Street site until 1935 when it relocated to 117 Commerce. In 1940, new manager O.J. Jackson offered an encouraging sales outlook for the approaching year. He boasted of having 12 employees and an $18,000 annual payroll, equating to yearly wages of $1500 per worker. The business focused on feeds, fertilizer, grass seeds, heavy hardware and general farm supplies. The local store became sole distributor for John Deere farm machinery. An ad proclaimed, “John Deere farm implements are known the country over for their efficiency and stamina. We offer the complete company line of tractors and farm machinery and are prepared to give every farmer a liberal trade.”
Another ad that year referred to the business as “The Farmers Store” declaring, “Security carries almost everything needed in the operation of a farm. From planting to harvesting, (we) can supply you with the proper implements and material to do the job right. There is a Security feed for every feeding purpose. Properly balanced to give your stock and flock a scientifically correct diet, Security offers a feed of superior value. Try Security next time.”
A 1948 ad provided another indication of the company’s success – the formation of a new division identified as Security Tractor & Implement Company. It was located on the new Jonesborough Highway. Around 1950, Security Feed and Seed Co. moved to 135-137 Commerce. Three years later, the store moved again, this time to 929 W. Watauga (at the bottom of the hill adjacent to the railroad tracks near W. Walnut). The manager was Glen E. Mize.
A drive by my former Johnson Avenue home today offers little hint of the sprawling plant jungle proudly created by my father in the 1950s. Sadly, the yard no longer holds an appeal for Tarzan, Jane, Boy and Cheetah.