Today in Johnson City History: June 3

June 3, 1886: The Comet reported the death of Johnson City’s Fred H. Austin in Cranberry, North Carolina. He had been hauling lumber on a tram car when the break pin came out, rendering the brake useless on a steep grade. Fearing that men at the end of the track would be injured, he used a knife to make a wooden pin, but the car was already running at high speed. Just as he went to place the pin, a long piece of lumber fell from the car and struck him, throwing him from the tram car.

June 3, 1939: The Johnson City Cardinals split a double-header with the Newport Canners.

June 3, 1978: Foreigner performed for more than 7,650 fans at Freedom Hall Civic Center.

June 3, 1993: City Commissioners voted to buy Buffalo Valley Golf Course for $1.525 million.

June 3, 1995: Dan Fogelberg performed at Freedom Hall Civic Center.

June 3, 2010: City officials reported that Genesee & Wyoming, the parent company of East Tennessee Railway, had agreed the city’s $600,000 offer for a 10-mile stretch of land for the Tweetsie Trail, the first “rails-to-trails” project in East Tennessee.

Sources: The Comet; Johnson City Press; Bobbie H. Shirley, Freedom Hall; City of Johnson City

More than two decades after disbanding, The Road Company’s legacy lives on

From 1975 to 1998, Johnson City was home to a world-renowned theater ensemble that traveled all over the region — and overseas — performing more than 20 original plays about the history, legacy and concerns about the people in Upper East Tennessee before disbanding in the late nineties.

Even after breaking up, though, The Road Company’s legacy lives on in Johnson City and the Southeast.

Founded by Massachusetts native Bob Leonard, The Road Company did more than become a successful theater company — they became Upper East Tennessee.

“The Road Company let people know we were doing theater here and that (the region) was important and our story was important,” said former Road Company member Ed Snodderly. “It was the creative force to create theater from our region, and it be real — not the need to go to Broadway.”

Leonard, now a professor of directing and performing at Virginia Tech, founded The Road Company after developing an interest in performing original works for rural populations. His first production with what would become known as The Road Company was about The State of Franklin, which is what prompted him to move to Johnson City.

“I had a very active imagination about the people who had been there 200 years before me,” Leonard said. “Really what I was interested in was ‘how do we develop public dialogue — how can we take the things that people really deeply care about and deepen the conversation?”

“The Road Company gave me an opportunity to find my own artistic voice,” Leonard said. “I think of Johnson City as my artistic home.”

The performance “Echoes and Postcards,” however, would go on to be one of their most successful plays, taking them on a national tour and also to Russia. That play also led Snodderly and Eugene Wolf to form The Brother Boys, a musical duo still performs every so often.

The Road Company, however couldn’t overcome a series of funding cuts at the federal level, which led to its breakup. Both former Road Company actress Christine Murdock and Snodderly said they just “couldn’t sustain it,” but pointed to Leonard as the big reason they were able to last as long as they did.

“Bob Leonard, he’s just a really good director, person and he held it all together,” Snodderly said. “It was a really well-run organization, as best as it could be run once funding got cut.”

“Bob was absolutely brilliant, all sorts of people I know in theater would love to do what he did and he kept it going,” said Murdock.

Still, the legacy of The Road Company is far from lost to the sands of time. In 2015, Leonard and Snodderly — with help from others — performed a read through of “Echoes and Postcards,” and Leonard also mentioned he sometimes gets students in his program who’ve been influenced by The Road Company’s plays.

Other members of The Road Company have gone on to write and perform their own productions, keeping the legacy alive.

Perhaps more importantly though, The Road Company illustrated that people from Upper East Tennessee are important and their stories matter. Snodderly says the company was about showing people from this area that they don’t need to look outside for validation, while Murdock called the community The Road Company built “very special.”

“We all miss it, and I think the community misses it too,” said Snodderly.

It’s hard to know if a theater company like The Road Company could even exist in 2019, but if they were still performing, Leonard has a good idea what type of work they’d be doing.

He called the current state of the country “very divided, contentious and non-constructive,” saying the values he holds as “country” are the understanding of each person’s own struggle and respect for each other.

“I would want to be making plays in Johnson City with the Road Company that would be exploring and celebrating those values in the context of the kind of struggle we’re having with our democracy,” he said.

Today in Johnson City History: June 1

June 1, 1893: The Comet’s editors questioned whether Dr. C. Wheeler, a prominent physician who worked in several area counties, had been poisoned to death in Greeneville. The doctor’s son, a surgeon in Denver, Colorado, had arrived in Johnson City with suspicions of foul play. A post-mortem examination was planned for the disinterred remains, which had been hastily buried after the father’s death on May 14. A week later, The Comet reported that the doctor had not been poisoned but died from an enlarged heart.

June 1, 1917: The Johnson City Rotary Club was chartered.

June 1, 1939: Margaret Williams was fined $10 for being in contempt of court. She paid the fine.

June 1, 1941: Appalachian Baseball League officers President Ross Edgemon and Secretary Carl A. Jones Jr. sent a telegram to minor league “czar” Judge W.G. Braham calling for the curtailment of lights for night baseball. Edgemon and Jones stated that the voluntary action would strengthen baseball’s “position as the national pastime and moral stimulant for the country as a whole” while conserving large amounts of power for national defense. 

June 1, 1957: One of Johnson City founder Henry Johnson’s granddaughters died.

June 1, 1983: ZZ Top and Sammy Hager performed at Freedom Hall Civic Center.

Sources: The Comet; Johnson City Press-Chronicle; Johnson City Court Records, 1939; Archives of Appalachia, Mary Hardin McCown Collection; Bobbie H. Shirley, Freedom Hall.

Today in Johnson City History: May 31

May 31, 1854: Henry Johnson “purchased half an acre of land from Abraham Job on Brush Creek, located at the intersection of the recently graded ET&V rail line and the stage road connecting Jonesborough to Elizabethton.”

May 31, 1884: The Comet reported that Johnson City residents had gathered at Science Hill Male and Female Institute three days earlier to discuss the future of education in the city. The result was three committees — finance, teachers, and buildings and grounds. Seven years later, the city began construction on two grade schools, Columbus Powell and Martha Wilder, to join Science Hill, which had been converted to a public high school.

May 31, 1941: The Johnson City Cardinals won the rubber match of a three-game series against the Kingsport Cherokees, 10-8. The teams had split in a double header the previous day.

May 31, 1978: The City Commission of Johnson City approved the Public Safety Officer program. The goals were to increase protection and to lower the firemen’s workweek from 72 hours to 56 hours.

May 31, 2009: Flames destroyed an unoccupied house behind the West Market Street Walmart on McKinley Road. The plume of smoke could be seen for miles. Because of its proximity to Walmart, the fire drew a crowd of onlookers as firefighters doused the flames.

Sources: Johnson City Postcard History Series; The Comet; Johnson City Press-Chronicle; City of Johnson City; Johnson City Press

Today in Johnson City History: May 30

May 30, 1885: The Comet issued an opinion that King Springs was one of the most delightful summer resorts in the South. W.T. Rucker’s resort was just 2 miles from downtown. The water was described as “chalybeate, full of magnesia and sulphur.”

May 30, 1947: Appalachian League President Carl A. Jones Jr., who also was Johnson City Press-Chronicle’s publisher, announced that R.W. “Dick” McNabb had been named umpire-in-chief.

May 30, 1957: East Tennessee State College President, Dr. Sidney Gilbreath announced that Ina Yoakley, former Dean of Women, would be honored posthumously by the College for her work. Construction would soon begin on Yoakley Hall, a women’s residence hall.

May 30, 1969: A picture and caption in the Johnson City Press-Chronicle showed Mr. and Mrs. Allen Harris Sr. dressed in period clothing of 1869. They were helping celebrate Johnson City’s Centennial by arriving in a horse-drawn carriage to the Junior Service League’s (now the Junior League) Centennial Ball at the Johnson City Country Club.

May 30, 2012: Johnson City Power Board President and CEO Homer G’Fellers announced his resignation after serving with the local utility for nearly 38 years.

Sources: The Comet; Johnson City Press-Chronicle; Archives of Appalachia, Mary Hardin McCown Collection; Johnson City Press

Today in Johnson City History: May 29

May 29, 1835: Patent Office records show that a patent was issued to Henry Johnson for a threshing machine.

May 29, 1908: Downtown Johnson City experienced a big flood when Brush Creek overflowed its banks.

May 29, 1949: The Johnson City Cardinals outlasted the Welch Miners in an 11-inning affair, winning 16-14. Pitcher Melvin Greer’s three-run, pinch-hit home run in the top of the 11th secured the victory. Greer had 45 wins and 47 losses in his 154-game pitching career with the Johnson City Cardinals and other St. Lous affiliates from 1948-55. He was a .290 hitter for Johnson City in 1949. This was his sole homer that season.

May 29, 1975: Johnson City’s Steed College announced that it had signed three local recruits for its men’s basketball team: Jeff Sisk of Happy Valley, David Jones of Virginia High and Leroy Marble of Dobyns-Bennett. Jones and Marble were transferring from other teams.

May 29, 2013: Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mountain Home, was awarded a top honor among the 152 VA hospitals in 2012. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs 2012 Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Trophy Award was presented to Mountain Home Director Charlene Ehret.

Sources: History of Washington County Tennessee, 1988; Greater Johnson City: A Pictorial History; Johnson City Press-Chronicle; Stats Crew; Johnson City Press

Today in Johnson City History: May 28

May 28, 1921: Johnson City’s John Dryden Exum was born. Captain Exum was the commanding officer of the USS Noa when it picked up John Glenn after Glenn orbited the earth in 1962. John Exum Parkway is named in his honor.

May 28, 1922: The Johnson City Staff, a newspaper later absorbed by the Johnson City Press, printed a special edition to celebrate the completion of Montrose Court.

May 28, 1965: Langston High School saw its last class graduate.

May 28, 2009: With jobs scarce and the unemployment rate high, applications at East Tennessee State University for federal work studies positions were double that of normal years. ETSU was forced to limit the number of students awarded the grants.

Sources: Steven Moore; Johnson City Staff; Evelyn Fields Debro and Tom Hager; Johnson City Press

Five questions with sixth-generation Northeast Tennessean Phil Carriger

A sixth-generation Tennessean, Phil Carriger’s family history in East Tennessee goes back further than that of Johnson City itself — by nearly 80 years. A soldier in the Revolutionary War, Carriger’s first ancestor was given more than 1,000 acres in Carter County, where two buildings of his still stand today.

Carriger, however, was born and raised in Johnson City and, like his ancestor, Godfrey Carriger, served in the U.S. military, spending time in the Air Force before going to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville when he left the service. After brief detours living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana, and San Antonio, Texas, Carriger has been back in Johnson City for more than 30 years.

After retiring from the banking industry in 2007, Carriger served on the Johnson City Commission from 2009 to 2013, still serves on the boards for three non-profits and  on the Washington County Commission, where he’s in his second term.

Phil at a glance:

Cats or dogs: Dogs

Dinner with anyone: Thomas Jefferson

Current book: Biography of Winston Churchill

Favorite meal: “Can’t beat a good old steak and baked potato”

One thing you never leave the house without: A good attitude

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in your time living in Johnson City?

Prosperity. Growth. Traffic. When I grew up there was no McDonald’s, we had four Dairy Queens — I think we’re down to one now — I am just always amazed when I get on the interstate heading to Kingsport the traffic coming in and out of Johnson City. And when I get on 11E going to Jonesborough the amount of traffic coming in in the morning and leaving in the evening is just phenomenal.

What’s your favorite or biggest thing you’ve accomplished in your time serving Northeast Tennessee?

I think when I was on the City Commission and we spent $25 or $26 million to renovate Science Hill.

Why do you think it’s important for the city to celebrate its sesquicentennial?

Well I think Johnson City has a lot to be proud of and I’ll be honest, one thing that strikes me about today’s young people is I don’t think they have as good of a background in history as folks my age do. It’s very, very dangerous when people don’t know their history because you’re prone to repeat mistakes that others have made in the past. So I think It’s fair, smart and a good thing to do to celebrate your history — both the good and the bad.

What’s something you’ve noticed in the area that has you excited future?

I think It’s entrepreneurship. It’s amazing what’s going on in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and even Johnson City. That’s one thing that I’m really encouraged about is that there’s a lot of people out there willing to take a risk and make things happen and mostly (doing it) for the good.

What’s your favorite thing about Johnson City?

I think it’s the four distinct seasons. I’ve been in places like New Orleans that has just two seasons, hot and wet, and lived in San Antonio which is basically the same as New Orleans — two seasons. I love the four distinct seasons that we have.

Today in Johnson City History: May 27

May 27, 1939: Earl Dermid, Asheville, N.C., was arrested in Johnson City on charges of child molestation and drinking. He was fined $50 and court costs prior to being released to the state’s custody two days later.

May 27, 1975: Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro performed at Freedom Hall Civic Center.

May 27, 2013: Atlantic Sun Conference champs ETSU Bucs learned they would play No. 2 Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA baseball tournament on May 31 in Nashville.

Sources: Johnson City Court Records, 1939; Bobbie H. Shirley, Freedom Hall; Johnson City Press

Today in Johnson City History: May 26

May 26, 1871: Science Hill Male and Female Institute had its closing exercises starting at 8:30 a.m. H.H. Carr, Esq., delivered the address.

May 26, 1892: The Johnson City Band traveled to Embreeville to play music for U.S. Rep. Alfred A. Taylor’s rail trip back to Washington, D.C.

May 26, 1904: The Comet reported that policeman John S. Webb was shot while assisting S.J. Watts, a revenue officer, in arresting “Buck” Keys and Jerry Davis on a warrant charging them with violating internal revenue laws. Keys resisted, drew his gun and began firing. Webb attempted to grab him and in doing so received two shots. One grazed his abdomen, and the other entered his back. The policeman was seriously injured but was expected to survive. Keys got away, and a $250 reward was offered for his capture.

May 26, 2009: The Johnson City Power Board approved the installation of “smart meters” for electricity customers.

May 26, 2010: The body of Brooklyn, New York, resident Steven Rodriguez was found in an East Maple Street residence. The investigation eventually led to the discovery of the body of Natasha Gross, aka Star Collins, in Scott County, Virginia. Four people were eventually convicted in the related cases.

Sources: Bob Cox’s Yesteryear; The Comet; Johnson City Press