Johnson City starts small, dreams big

On Dec. 1, 1869, 149 years ago today, Johnson City was first chartered.

We’ve grown and changed a lot since then, from a little village on the road between already established towns, to a bustling industrial boom town full of hope and promise, to a modern city with strong educational and medical institutions, proudly offering its nearby natural beauty for the world to enjoy.

There are plenty of stories to tell about the city’s people, places and events from the last century and a half, and the Johnson City Press hopes to recount many of them for you leading up to the milestone 150th anniversary next December.

Our staff is working with the Johnson City Sesquicentennial Commission, the people planning the 150th celebration, to bring you all the Johnson City history you can handle.

One feature, “Today in Johnson City History,” will give you a daily dose of the important happenings over the last 150 years. We’ll also be dedicating our weekly Heritage stories specifically to Johnson City for the next year, and we’re starting a people profile series looking at the important players in our community.

We have more ways to celebrate planned, and we’ll be announcing those exciting developments later, but for now, let’s talk about where it all started.

Founder Henry Johnson purchased land from Tipton Jobe at the intersection of the East Tennessee, Virginia Railroad Company’s line from Chattanooga to Bristol and the stage coach route from Washington, D.C., to Knoxville, now Market Street.. He built a general store there in 1853, planting the seed of what grew to be the city’s downtown core.

With an established foothold, other families began settling in the area around Johnson’s store, and his scratched-out patch of land became a tiny town.

Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit drove him to expand his operations, and he began offering lodging for travelers, then built a railroad depot, where he took on all the freight and ticketing jobs associated with the new stop.

He then convinced the authorities to relocate the local post office from “Blue Plum,” a residence two miles away on Sinking Creek, to what had become known as “Johnson’s Depot.” In addition to his shopkeeping, hotelier and rail agent duties, he became postmaster and handled all the mail himself.

According to a 1922 article in the Johnson City Chronicle, Johnson would carry the mail to the back of his store and call out the addresses on the post as village residents waited for theirs to be called.

In 1869, after the conclusion of the Civil War, the town was officially chartered as Johnson City. In the first city election on Jan. 3 ,1870, Johnson was unanimously elected as its first mayor.

Five years later, on Feb. 25, 1874, he died, leaving behind a legacy in the town that bears his name.

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