Three Hotels Shared Common Bond of Downtown City Address

Throughout its magnificent history, Johnson City has had numerous hotels to serve the lodging needs of the downtown area, especially around bustling Fountain Square.

A few establishments maintained the same identity throughout most, if not all, of their existence; others were short lived, usually selling to a buyer with a new name for their enterprise.

Here is a trivia question for you devoted history buffs. Which three of the 20 hotels listed below occupied the same downtown location between 1928 and 1953?

The building in question was located at 103 E. Market adjacent to a very popular eatery from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s. Choices range from the highly publicized to the totally unfamiliar: Colonial, Dixie, Fountain Square, Grant, Grand, John Sevier, Franklin, Piedmont, Windsor, Belmont, Arlington, Gateway, Travelers Inn, Savoy, Ramona, Lee, Commercial, Brown, Western and Martha Washington. The answer is revealed below.

Norma Myers, curator of ETSU’s Archives of Appalachia, recently shared with me an old photo from their Hotel Windsor Collection. The accumulated works contain many interesting items, including an old floor plan of the Fountain Square Hotel that once stood at 109 W. Fountain Square (also known as Windsor Way).

My research shows that this hostelry was built sometime between 1929 and 1935 along the historic west side of the railroad tracks linking Main and Market. A floor plan map of the 29-room facility gives amazing details about this old lodge. The two-story 3904 square foot brick building stretched 32 feet along the front and 122 feet to the rear. Upon entering the left side of the lobby, the customer encountered a set of stairs on the far left and the office and service desk straight ahead. There was no elevator.

To the right of the lobby was a business, the World News Store, appearing to be a hotel-owned newsstand. Customers accessed the store without going through the lobby; a hallway along the far north side connected with the merchant. The ground floor contained 11 rooms for rent and two public toilets with baths. The ground floor had a 14¼-foot ceiling.

The second floor plan displayed a smaller lobby at the top of the stairs, 18 rooms and 4 public toilets with baths. A window at the rear west wall provided the only means for fire escape from the upper level. The upstairs ceiling was 10 foot. The six bathrooms and bath facilities were designated on the drawing as “public,” meaning the guests had to share these facilities.

It is almost unfathomable today to visualize patrons in 29 rooms sharing six bath amenities until we realize that many folks of that era were accustomed to outdoor facilities at home. The common use of indoor plumbing would have been a sheer luxury. As mentioned in my Windsor Hotel column, the Fountain Square Hotel was also razed in the summer of 1971 after serving the downtown’s guest housing needs for about 40 years. If anyone has any memories of this largely forgotten hotel, please let me hear from you.

Now let me answer the trivia question. The building was located adjacent to the popular Byrd’s Restaurant situated near the Southern Railway Depot. The three hotels once operating at 103 E. Market were the Commercial, Martha Washington and Gateway.