Spurgeon’s Island Once a Popular Retreat

A post-WWI song of 1919 contains these old-fashioned courting lyrics: “Lovers’ lane is crowded again; Under ev'ry tree, loving pairs you see; Most ev'ry night lovers come there to woo; The boys teach the girlies how to parlez-vous.”

Melba Jones asked me to do a column about Spurgeon’s Island, a once popular 25-acre “lovers’ lane” hideout that was situated along the Holston River just below the present location of Boone Dam. Mrs. Jones has haunting memories of this idyllic piece of land when it was a popular attraction to the nearby youthful populace.

What made the island so attractive to the younger crowd was that it was situated in “no man’s land.” The area was located in Sullivan County, but there was no direct access to it from that county, requiring deputies to first cross into Washington County. The latter’s patrol force had no jurisdiction over the locale; thus, the region was essentially unsupervised.

Clint Isenberg offered some comments about the island: “Coming from Johnson City on old Kingsport Highway 36, you turned right onto Spurgeon’s Island Road just before you got to the Airport Road (Highway 75). The location of it was about a mile and a quarter down this road. You crossed over Cedar Creek on your way. Water from the upper point of Holston River flowed to the lower part, forming an island or sleuth. The island got its name from a Spurgeon family that once owned the property; a Gray family later acquired it. I remember people taking watermelons there for an outing. We put out trout lines and caught fish. The lower point was an ideal spot for swimming.”

Clint remembers one humorous incident. A boy decked in a suit and wearing a straw hat was showing off in front of a multitude of spectators by swinging on a grapevine over the river. The lad abruptly lost his grip and fell into the river. He quickly swam ashore while his hat floated down the river, all to the amusement of the crowd.

Dot Haugh and her sister, Jean Moore, expressed their fondness for the trendy area. Mrs. Haugh commented: “We would go there on Sunday afternoons for a picnic. Several of us packed a lunch of hot dogs or other food, spread a blanket on the ground and ate dinner there. It was such an enjoyable place. The island was a fun place to go with friends of your own age. I remember that there was a lot of courting going on most of the time. People went there so often that they began to become acquainted with one another.”

TVA had an option on the land, which was eventually exercised in about 1948 to build Boone Dam just above the island. A wastewater treatment facility is now  located where the popular recreational area once stood.

More words from the 1919 song: “Their hugs and their kisses thrill all the misses; As they never did before; Since the doughboys all came back from the trenches; There is not one bit of room on the benches.”

In another column, I will revisit Spurgeon’s Island and relate the “Miracle of 1901,” a highly publicized and long remembered dramatic flood and rescue operation that occurred there in May of that year.