On Friday, May 25, 1894, the Johnson City Institute, a vocational school of sorts, closed another term of its most successful work. In the previous three years, the city had enjoyed having one of among the best institutes of the South. Prof. R. L. Couch initiated the school in the fall of 1891 with a modest beginning, but it soon became a school second to none.
On an early Tuesday morning that spring, the oral examinations had begun, being highly interesting and providing a source of entertainment. Half an hour was spent in reciting select readings, declamations, recitations and singing songs between each one. At the close of the exercises, the examinations proved how meticulous both teacher and student had been in teaching and learning.
Professor Couch, in a very touching and unexpected move, made an announcement that he would not be with them the following school year. This set off an emotional response as students, patrons, friends and teachers wept at the thought of his departing. Without doubt, ties of friendship had been formed with the professor that stood as sweet mementos of them long after their association with him had ended.
On Wednesday evening, the Crescent Society gave its last entertainment; the address to the Society was provided by Rev. William Couch, which was received with much gratification.
A most delightful entertainment was given on Thursday at 2 p.m. by the Alpha Society, which was highly enjoyed by those in attendance. The address of welcome by the President, H.P. Exum, was a masterpiece of eloquence and showed the effect of hard study. The lecture to the Society was delivered by Rev. W.M. Vines. At 8 p.m. on the same evening, musical entertainment was provided that fully illustrated how well the music teacher had performed her duties.
On Friday evening, an address was given by Professor Browning, editor of the Johnson City Staff newspaper. He was a fine talker and gifted entertainer. On Friday night, the people of Johnson City had the pleasure of listening to a drama performed at Jobe's Opera House, at the corner of Spring and E. Main streets, that was given by the students. It was deemed to be the best school entertainment given in Johnson City in several years.
When the commencement exercises were closed and all teachers and students had parted with the old institute with honor, it was decided to have a reunion and picnic of all the students who had been in attendance at the Institute at any time during the previous terms. The entourage was transferred to Lake Wataussee (later renamed Cox's Lake) by street cars. When they arrived and found quite a large crowd had assembled on the grounds, they were entertained by the Brass Band of the Johnson City Institute.
About 11:30 a.m., lunch was served and several people ate to fulfillment. One student, identified only as J.N.H., ate 27 pieces of chicken in addition to other victuals.
After the meal, the teachers dispensed a treat to all the students that consisted of such items as candies, nuts and bananas. Later in the evening, the crowd, after a delightful day of boat riding, swinging and “sparking,” departed with melancholy hearts as they realized that they probably would never meet in the capacity of a school again.
The teachers departed to return to their respective homes while Prof. Couch headed for Bell Buckle, Tennessee where he took charge of the high school there. The people of Johnson City lost a grand institution and a notable group of teachers. Their work that might have been soon forgotten, became the influence that exerted their youthful minds and went forward in life with them.
To prove the immense popularity of Mr. Couch, just prior to the school's closing, the teachers made a valiant effort to raise money to increase his salary. Although many donated cash, some as much as $100, the effort was too late. The much-admired principal had signed a contract with his new employer; the city had lost a valuable principal.
I will offer more detail about this largely forgotten institute in an upcoming feature story from a catalog I received from Bernie Gray.