Today in Johnson City History: March 2

By Rebecca Henderson and Johnson City Press

March 2, 1899: The Comet reported that a bill allowing Johnson City to issue bonds for public improvements  had passed both houses of the state legislature. The bill permits an issue of $10,000, but it was proposed to issue only $3,500 at the time to be used in purchasing the Crandall Building and converting it to City Hall.

March 2, 1911: The Comet reported on the great fire that destroyed much of neighboring Elizabethton early that morning. Described as the biggest fire in the city’s history, it wiped out the last of the buildings erected by the cooperative Town Company 20 years earlier. The News block, on the corner of Elk avenue and Sycamore Street, was a total loss. The News block included a grocery store, a millinery, a furniture and broom factory, a photography studio and a roots and herbs shop. The First National Bank and the Collins and Tipton law offices were badly damaged, and the City Department Store and Smith & Co. clothiers were damaged by heat.

March 2, 1960: Charlie Ellis and Jim Bowman, two Science Hill High School students, won National Forensic League Awards at the District Congress. The Science Hill club had 35 members.

Sources: The Comet; Johnson City Press-Chronicle

For more about Johnson City’s 150th birthday, visit

A reference to the little community of Spurgin can be found in the Feb. 27, 1894, Comet newspaper

Bob Cox’s Yesteryear

Today’s article comes from the March 1, 1894, edition of The Comet newspaper, one of my favorite publications of old:

“Editor Comet: Snow, blow and freeze have been the order of the exercises on the part of the weather bureau out here for the last few days, but, at the time of this writing, it appears as if Old Sol will yet be victorious.

“The school at Douglas Shed, taught by Reverend W.A. Adcock, closed last Friday, and an attempt was made to give a public concert on Thursday night.

“In anticipation of a nice time, quite a number of our boys and girls went over there, but promptly came back because a significant crowd of rough individuals took over to divide the entertainment by keeping up such a confusion in the house that it was impossible to hear anything.

“The crowd becoming unmanageable causing the teacher to dismiss the audience almost at the opening of the concert. But we were glad to say that the school met on Friday and proceeded with the program in spite of the interruption on the night previous.

“We think it is high time that the good citizens who are in favor of law and order should rise in their might and say that whosoever disturbs a meeting of people who have gathered for improvement or amusement shall be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

“The instigators of this disturbance are well known, and they should be made an example of by meting out to them such punishment as they rightly deserve.

“In other news: The Methodists have been conducting a revival at Mount Zion for the last week and are reported to be meeting with some success.

“Miss Mary Simmons of Hawkins County, who has been visiting relatives in the neighborhood for the last few weeks, started for home last Saturday. Mr. Ben Wine of Sullivan County paid his brother a short visit this week.

“Mr. W.K. Martin was through here last week trying to enlist the service of our Republican friends in his behalf at the coming primary.

“We are, as ever … Tattlek. Spurgin, Tennessee, Feb 27, 1894.”

More information can be obtained about Spurgin from the impressive 1,290-page “History of Washington County,” compiled and edited by Joyce and W. Eugene Cox.

If any of my readers can identify with Spurgin and/or Douglas Shed, I would be interested in any information for a future column.

Reach Bob Cox at or go to

Memories of North Side, South Side schools

By Robert Houk, Senior Reporter

North Side and South Side elementary schools have long and proud histories in Johnson City that date back to the early 20th century.

As a result, generations of area students have been educated in the classrooms of the two schools.

Both schools have earned top honors in the state for academics. And while their physical structures have changed over the years — renovated, demolished and rebuilt — the core mission of North Side and South Side schools has remained the same.

North Side, located at 1000 N. Roan St., was first built in in 1922 near East Eighth and East Chilhowie avenues. At the time it was the city’s most modern school, and would soon set the standard for other Johnson City schools.

Writing in his “Yesteryear” column for the Press on Oct. 8, 2012, Bob Cox noted a story from the Johnson City Chronicle in 1928 that featured a tour of the grammar school.

“North Side School, which was only 6 years old at the time, received a glowing report. One comment stated, ‘Wherefore, let us give thanks that in our corporate midst on city-owned acreage there stands a public school building that appears to be well-suited to most of the crying needs of the day. It is modern in type and construction and ample of accommodation.’ ”

North Side School

Cox also noted that the school was described in the newspaper as “cheery, well lighted and properly ventilated, with wide airy corridors whose ground floor doorway entrances had no ice-coated steps to navigate to enter the building.”

Nearly 78 years later, North Side was still receiving high marks for its special programs in math, science and technology by becoming a “signature school.” The older of North Side’s classroom wings also received a facelift at the time totaling more than $300,000.

Today, the school describes its mission as: “Through a strong focus on math, science, and technology, North Side Elementary will provide an educational program which supports students’ abilities to perform at or above grade level and to become productive members of society.”

South Side was founded in 1917, and according to the school’s website, “has a rich heritage of serving the children of Johnson City. Since the days of trolley cars rolling up Southwest Avenue, the school has been located in the quaint Tree Streets neighborhood.”

South Side School

It was the residents in that historic neighborhood that helped save the school, located at the corner of Southwest Avenue and Boyd Street, from being closed in the early 1990s. The old school was demolished and a new 83,000-square-foot facility was constructed on the reconfigured site in 1996.

The school now has an enrollment of 450 students, and offers classes for pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. South Side has been fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools since 1981. It has also been named as one of the top performing schools in Tennessee.

As Cox has noted on several occasions in his “Yesteryear” column, many current and former Johnson City residents have fond memories of South Side. One was Joe Goodpasture, who in 2017 shared his recollections with Cox of growing up in the Tree Streets and attending South Side.

Goodpasture said: “There were no school buses in the 1940s, so nearly all the Tree Streets kids walked to South Side Elementary School. There was a lively procession, almost a parade, through the neighborhood as students made their way to and from school.

“A hot lunch was served in the combination auditorium/cafeteria, but more than half of the students either went home for lunch or brown-bagged it. You could wolf down your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a half-pint container of milk, which cost a nickel.”

Black History Month: Doctor had prominent role in establishing education for African Americans in Johnson City

By Sue Guinn Legg

The establishment of Johnson City’s first school for African American children is attributed to one of the most revered figures in the city’s early history.

 Born a slave in 1825, Dr. Hezekiah Hankal went on to become one of the city’s founding fathers, a preacher, a teacher and a skilled physician whose practice was integrated following his unique success in treating patients struck by a deadly cholera outbreak that hit the area in July 1873.

According to Joyce and Eugene Cox’s “History of Washington County, Tennessee,” Hankal opened the city’s first African American school in late 1860s in a log cabin on Roan Hill that was commonly referred to as the Roan School.

Ray Stahl’s “Pictorial History of Greater Johnson City” includes an image of Hankal’s teaching certificate issued by the state in 1873. Stahl writes that “so as is known” Hankal was the first black man certified to teach in Tennessee’s public schools.

According to the Cox’s history, when enrollment at Roan School outgrew the cabin, classes were held at West Main Street Christian Church, which was also founded by Hankal, at Thankful Baptist Church and at Odd Fellows Hall.

In 1893, the city built three new brick schools that included Columbus Powell Elementary, where city schools central office is now located, the Annie Wilder Stratton Elementary that now houses Dawn of Hope, and the first African American high school in Washington County, originally known Langston Normal School.

Located at the corner Elm Street and East Myrtle Avenue, the high school school was named in honor of John Mercer Langston, a Virginia-born African American of mixed heritage, Ohio lawyer and statesman and the first dean of the law school at Howard University.

By 1895, Langston’s enrollment had grown to 218, including African American students who had attended grade school in the county that at that time was still without a high school for black students. The faculty that year consisted of three African American men and one African American woman whose average salary was $35 a month. Student tuition was $6.81 per month, as public schooling in Tennessee was not yet free.

By the early 1900s, schools for black children in the city also included the Woolwine School, an elementary that was expanded in 1910 and renamed Dunbar in honor of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. In 1920, a second African American elementary was built and named Douglass in honor of abolitionist, social reformer and statesman Frederick Douglass.

In 1935, both Dunbar and Langston were expanded in a national school building campaign carried out by the federal Works Progress Administration that had been launched by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to battle Depression-era unemployment.

The Depression negatively impacted city schools, black and white, with the elimination of athletics and extracurricular activities and reductions in teacher salaries that were not fully restored until the 1950s.

With the post-World War II Baby Boom, city school enrollment swelled by more than 1,000 students in a single decade and new white high school, Science Hill, was opened in 1961.

The same year, the city, which had not yet complied with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that integrated schools nationwide, adopted a resolution to integrate classes at a pace of one grade per year, starting with first grade.

Several African American families joined in a federal lawsuit to contest the foot dragging and won the full and immediate integration they were seeking in 1964.

Langston initially became the city’s vocational school where adult classes were offered in the evenings. And with the 1973 opening of the Liberty Bell Middle School complex and a new Science Hill vocational school, the old black high school became a maintenance building for the school system and was allowed to fall into grave disrepair. The building was partially demolished last year to make way for a new multicultural arts center to be built in Langston’s renovated gymnasium.

Dunbar became home to the Grace Temple Eternal Life Center, a stalwart of the Dunbar community. And Douglass, which provided the first permanent location for the Dawn of Hope Development Center for adults with intellectual disabilities, more recently was renovated as center for the nonprofit Rise Up! after school and youth mentoring program.

Downtowner Gas Station: Sam and Jeweldine Kinley

By Amy Kinley

These are pictures of my parents, Sam and Jeweldine Kinley, and their children. My dad Sam, managed the Downtowner gas station in Johnson City for Rex Debord and they are pictured together. My sister Susan and I are pictured with dad’s Broncho with the Downtowner advertisement on it. My mom worked in the Johnson City Memorial Hospital as a registered nurse in the Labor and Delivery dept. and this is a picture of her wearing her white uniform. There’s also a picture of mom and two of my sister all dressed up for Easter.

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Texaco service station in the 1950s

By Dick Stephens
While copying some slides of my Dad and Mom (John and Ruth Stephens of Jonesborough, both passed now), I found three pictures of the Texaco service station my dad ran in the 1950s. The titles of the pictures are what was written on the slides. If you look at the photo titled Fred QD, you can see in the background the Pure service station across the street. I recognized this as the same building still standing today at the corner of Delaware and Market Streets. I had heard Dad’s service station was in the area of the Apex, but until I saw these photos, I wasn’t sure where. I included a shot of the Pure service station building as it looks today from Google Maps, and I estimated the location of Dad’s Texaco station in the Location file. It must have been what is now in the middle of the intersection with John Exum Parkway.
Another interesting thing, the Auto Races poster on the pole near the pumps shows up in the photo titled John. The date is Sat. Aug. 16. I looked up the calendars for the 1950s and the only years that had a Saturday on Aug 16 was 1952 and 1958. We lived in Ohio for a year in 1958, so these pictures must have been from 1952. They could have been from 1947, but I think my dad was still in the Army at that time. Also, the auto races were at Roosevelt Stadium in Johnson City. I had to Google that name, but found it was the original name for Memorial Stadium.
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A brief history of Science Hill High School


When taking a look at the growth of any community, one needs to look at its schools and education system. Much like Johnson City itself, Science Hill High School has witnessed a lot of changes over the years.

On Aug. 24, 1868, Science Hill High School — then known as the Science Hill Male and Female Institute — held its first classes after being established in 1867. The founding of the school and its first class sessions predates the sesquicentennial anniversary of Johnson City by more than a year.

The school’s first building was erected by Tipton Jobe using materials provided by individual citizens throughout the community, who also helped with labor.

This was back when the town was still known as the unincorporated community of Johnson’s Depot before it was incorporated as Johnson City in December 1869.

In 1880, Science Hill was granted a charter when it continued running as a community school before later becoming a free public school.

It wasn’t until 1889 that the school was organized into a grade system similar to what the Johnson City Schools district uses today.

In its formative years, Science Hill was located on the hill near Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church and adjacent to the old Johnson City Public Library, known then as Mayne Williams Public Library. In the 1910s, the original school was razed and a new building was erected on the same site.

As time passed and Johnson City acquired a public school system and a school board, a 1936 newspaper clipping said the school buildings at that time were “not of sufficient capacity to accommodate the children of Johnson City.”

With a new grade system, overcrowding remained a concern in the 20th century, and as the population of the town began to grow during the Baby Boom of the 1950s and 1960s, the old Science Hill building became too overcrowded. This led the school system to realize the need for a larger school, which led to the construction of the new campus on John Exum Parkway in 1961, where the school stands today.

According to local historian Bob Cox, Science Hill students paid tribute to the old school on the hill in a program titled “Junior Civitan Variety Show — Tribute to Old Science Hill,” which was hosted in the school’s new auditorium on May 12, 1961.

“The location was the former downtown Science Hill School Auditorium. My classmates could have opted to present it in the nice, new auditorium on John Exum Parkway, the location of our new school,” Cox said.

“I suspect the students much preferred to do it at the then-empty downtown high school as a parting farewell memorial. After all, that is where a great deal of memories about our school years resided. Sadly, several of our classmates have long since departed us.”

It would be another three years until African-American students at Langston High School joined the students of Science Hill, and another 18 years before the old Science Hill campus was eventually demolished in early 1979.

Additional construction for the new campus – including 11 classrooms and an expansion of the library and cafeteria – was finished in 1997 to meet the demands of a growing student population once again.

Today, the school serves nearly 2,300 students.

Yesteryear: Remembering when movie posters graced local theaters

By Bob Cox

During a recent antique store visit, I came across several vintage westerns-genre movie lobby cards, one of which I desired immensely.

The cast of the movie, “Outlaw Brand,” as depicted on my newfound treasure, included singing cowboy star Jimmy Wakely (my all-time favorite), sidekick Dub “Cannonball” Taylor and the token heroine, Kay Morley.

In my opinion, no singing cowboy could sit around the campfire and croon western songs like Jimmy Wakely. Over time, I acquired 47 western-flavored songs by him and listen to them frequently, usually on Saturday mornings.

My favorite Wakely recordings are “On the Strings of My Lonesome Guitar” and “When A Speck in the Sky Is A Bluebird.” They reside on opposite sides of a fragile 78-rpm record.

The lobby card is from a 1948 Monogram picture, directed by Lambert Hillyer and screenplay by J. Benton Cheney. It further noted: “Hear these Top Western Tunes: ‘Dear Oakie,’ ‘A Million Memories’ and ‘Rose of the Prairie.’ ” That alone would have been worth the nine-cent admission price for youngsters of that era.

Before television was made available to the masses, posters were the primary means to sell the films of the day to as wide an audience as possible. They were never intended to be recognized or perceived as great art.

In many ways, the posters, with their brilliant, colorful images, were more interesting than many of the movies they promoted, but they were long overlooked and under-appreciated as an art form.

The posters were, for the most part, absolutely stunning as far as content and artwork were concerned. In today’s world, nearly everyone has the means to own copies of the movies we grew up with, and many of us may also elect to collect these unique works of art that complement the films we enjoy as we relive our movie memories.

Those of us who can afford them also collected these unique works of art that complement the films we enjoy as we relive our movie memories.

Back when posters were at their artistic peak, probably 7,000 to 12,000 were distributed among the theater owners to promote a single movie. It was standard procedure that they were to be returned to the studio for credit on future posters.

However, a relatively small number of theater owners elected to hold on to them, and that is one reason so few of them are available to collectors today. The overwhelming majority have been destroyed due to deterioration, improper storage or just lack of interest.

Through the years, they were dismissed as having no value and subsequently destroyed, much as yesterday’s newspapers are allocated to recycle bins. I feel sure there have been many heirs who likely obtained these collectible works of art through inheritance, possibly discovered in a long forgotten trunk in an attic, basement, or garage where the recipients had no clue as to the significance of what they held in their hands.

During the better part of Hollywood’s “Golden Age,'” there were nine different variations of “posters” that were employed to seduce and lure us to the box office to lay down the price of admission. In our time, nine cents was the going price when we were attending West Side and Henry Johnson Elementary Schools.

The nine items that made up the components of the movie posters were:

1) Lobby Card – (11 by 14 inches), on heavy board stock. A set of eight lobby cards were produced per movie title; the main, “title” card prominently displayed the movie’s title, listed the main as well as select featured players, provided production credits, all with beautiful, colorful artwork. The remaining seven cards were colored (often hand-tinted) photographic scenes (often posed for still camera) from the movie.

2) Window Card – (14 by 22 inches), heavy board stock. Contained a blank space at either the top or bottom of the card to allow the theater to insert its name and playdates for the movie.

3) Jumbo Widow Card – (22 by 28 inches), heavy board stock. Same as Window Card but for size.

4) Half-Sheet – (22 ny 28 inches), heavy paper stock.

5) Insert – (14 by 36 inches), heavy paper stock.

6) One-Sheet – (typically 22 by 41 inches), heavy paper stock.

7) Three-Sheet – (typically 41 by 81 inches), heavy paper stock, printed on two or three separate sheets, designed to overlap, usually pasted on walls (much like wallpaper).

8) Six-Sheet – (81 by 81 inches), heavy paper stock, printed on four separate sheets, designed to overlap, pasted on walls.

9) Twenty-Four Sheet – (approximately 9 by 20 feet), heavy paper stock, printed on many separate sheets to be pasted on billboards).

The one-sheet and any of the eight lobby cards are the items we would most readily identify with as we recall our times in front of the Liberty, Tennessee, Sevier and Majestic theatres during the 1940s and ’50s. They are the most familiar and sought after paper items coveted by collectors.

For many of us, that era may be gone, but certainly has not been forgotten, in large part due to the presence of antique stores, auctions and flea markets.

Movie Posters and Lobby Cards help us to recall a special time in our lives, a time when celluloid cowboy heroes drove the range, performed daring deeds for those in need, tracked down and brought the bad guys to justice, romanced the rancher’s daughter and still found time to croon a western tune around an inviting campfire. Happy Trails!

Reach Bob Cox at or go to

All aboard! From Clinchfield to Carter, railways shaped Johnson City’s history

Johnson City’s history is woven with railroads.

Chartered in 1849, the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad was the first to lay tracks across East Tennessee. It was followed by the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (also known as the Tweetsie Railroad) followed in 1886.

But the Clinchfield Railroad was the one to blow engineering standards out of the water.

Dubbed “The Costliest Railway in America” in its time, the estimated cost of the project was projected at about $21 million, which equals about $586 million today. Fred Alsop, director of East Tennessee State University’s George L. Carter Railroad Museum, said the dream was for the railroad’s headquarters, Johnson City, to become a boom town.

That’s what General George Wilder thought, anyway, a former Union  who “Everyone thought if you could get the coal from Kentucky to Johnson City, and if you could get iron ore out of North Carolina to Johnson City, that Johnson City would boom,” Alsop said.

Plans for the railway got moving in 1886 with the birth of the Charleston, Cincinnati, and Chicago Railroad Company, and the tracks began to stretch out from Johnson City as portions were completed rom Marion to Kingville, North Carolina and from Johnson City to Chestoa.

Then, Alsop said, Europe’s economy crashed in the late 1800s. That, coupled with a recession in the U.S., resulted in funding for the “Triple C” railroad drying up, progress on the railroad halted in the 1880s.

The assets of the failed “Triple C” railway were sold at a foreclosure of about for $550,000, which is equal to $15 million today. The new owners renamed the railroad the Ohio River and Charleston Railroad, and while construction continued, but the owners were selling off the railroad in segments.

As the dream of an Appalachian Railway begins to fade, enter George L. Carter.

Carter’s name is one appears over and over in Johnson City history. He was born in Hillsville, VA, and would become a major player in the development of northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia. His accomplishments include:

• Establishing a teacher’s college that would become East Tennessee State University.

• Establishing the Clinchfield Coal Company, which spanned 300,000 acres in southwest Virginia.

• Created northeast Tennessee’s “model city,” which would become known as Kingsport.

• Planning the Tree Streets neighborhood in Johnson City

And, perhaps most notably, his purchase and completion of the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway, which he named the Clinchfield Railroad.

He purchased the railroad in 1902, naming it after the region in Virigina that held Carter’s coal company. Construction completed in 1909, and the 242-stretch of railway across the Blue Ridge Mountains was celebrated at length at the Carnegie Hotel, author and historian Alf Peoples said.

“Johnson City wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for George Carter,” Peoples said. “His decisions affected the whole area.

For its time, the railroad was an engineering marvel, planned by Chief Engineer Martin J. Caples to construction standards that were unheard of at the time, according to

“He had really built a railroad for the future,” Alsop said.

While headquarters and a train yard were originally planned for Johnson City, Peoples said Carter ran into conflict with landowners at the time and couldn’t secure land for the train yard. That’s why the plans moved up the road to Erwin, where the train yard is still in used to day by CSX.

The Clinchfield pioneered the “Santa Claus Special” in 1943 in Kingsport, a tradition that has endured the years and is known today as The Santa Train, a yearly tradition of 15-tons of goods donated to thousands of people.

The Clinchfield name dissolved in the 1970s when it came under “The Family Lines” banner, and is today owned and operated by CSX Transportation.

Johnson City’s history was molded by Carter and his decision to complete the railroad. Carter’s legacy and the history of the railroad lives on in many ways, including the George L. Carter Museum where parts of history are celebrated monthly during the museum’s heritage day.

Alsop said this month’s heritage celebration will focus on the 150th anniversary of Johnson City, where models of all the city’s railroad will be on display on Jan. 26. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday, and admission is free. Heritage Day is always the last Saturday of the month.

Throwback Gallery: Johnson City before 1900

The Science Hill Debating Society in 1869

New bank in downtown Johnson City, 1870s.

The Enterprise was Johnson City’s first newspaper.

East Tennessee & Virginia Railway Station – 1885

First National Bank

Hart-Range Saddle and Harness Shop City Hotel in Background – 1870s

“Johnson’s Depot” East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railway

Stage Road – West Market Street 1870s

Johnson City Reds – 1886 Captain Cy Lyle Seated 2nd from left

In background, Jobe’s Opera House 1884 – 1905

“Apple Sellers” 1880s

Summers Company – New Street

President Benjamin Harrison’s speech in Johnson City, April 14, 1891


Photos courtesy of Johnson’s Depot.