Contributed by Dessie Little Simmons
The area where Johnson City is now located was populated by a few families as early as 1770, as evidenced by pension applications and old deeds of Virginia. These scattered families squatted on land along Brush Creek in an area first called “South Watauga” (South of the Watauga River), later to assume many names: Brush Creek, Blue Plum, Johnson’s Tank, Johnson’s Depot and Haynesville, before Johnson City was first chartered on December 1, 1869.
To the west on Brush Creek, Robert Young, Sr. and his sons, Robert, Jr., John, Charles, Thomas, William and Joseph, settled on land which is now the Veterans Administration and East Tennessee State University. To the east, Jonas Little, George Little (who died in 1794), Benjamin Denton and William Ward took up land. There were a few other early families among whom were the Robertsons, McMahons, Fains, Jonathan Tipton, Jeremiah Dungan and Peter Range; however, these were not in the present downtown area. From 1782 until 1792, a host of Virginia and North Carolina families settled near friends and relatives. Some of these were Hoss, Humphreys, King, and Darling Jones.
The name South Watauga continued unofficially until about 1805 when James Nelson, Son of William, gave “4 acres and 8 poles” on Brush Creek to the Methodist Society (Bishop Francis Asbury) for the purpose of a church which was also used for educational purposes. This land was located on the present 300 block of West Watauga Avenue. TheBrush(y) Creek Camp Ground flourished for more than half a century.
By 1813, roads were opened up in the area between Dungan’s Ford (the present location of St. John’s mill) on the Watauga River connecting with Elizabethton (in Carter County), Blountville (in Sullivan County) and the Salt Works (in Virginia). On the west side, the road from Elizabethton to Jonesborough afforded passage for the early settlers. The “town” continued to be settled on both sides of Brush Creek, each family basically independent but bartering with others for their needs.
By 1825, a stage line was begun from Nashville following the present cities of Knoxville, Newport, Greeneville, Jonesborough, Johnson City, Elizabethton and on to the present Boone, North Carolina (Boone’s Gap) and the present Winston-Salem (Salem). This route through what is now Johnson City followed along the present West Market Street; however, there were no regular “stops” in Johnson City as this area was, at that time, farm land. “Coaches of the Concord type” were used. This route was discontinued with the coming of the railroads. In 1832, the area was without an official name; however, the first post office, “Green Meadows,” was opened in the home of Joseph and Elizabeth Young Burts, on the original land grant of Elizabeth’s father, Robert Young, Sr. Joseph Lyle Burts was the postmaster until April 15, 1833. The office reopened by the same postmaster December 16, 1847 and closed November 28, 1853. The large handmade brick home that housed the post office remained for many years after the Federal Government purchased the land. Blue Plum Post Office, in the area of the present Budd Company (southeast Johnson City), opened July 7, 1849 with Henry Johnson as the postmaster, followed by John H. Bowman September 27, 1855; it was discontinued December 16, 1859. Johnson’s Depot was opened July 10, 1857 with Henry Johnson as postmaster; the name changed to Haynesville in 1859, changed back to Johnson’s Depot April 9, 1861 and finally to Johnson City March 9, 1870. The post office of Johnson City has remained to the present day. In 1909, the post office was located on Main Street and the corner of the Arcade between Main and Market Streets. By 1911, a post office was built on Ashe Street, in 1938 moved to the downtown area at 338 East Main Street, and in 1973 moved farther on East Main Street to the present location. The old post office building at 338 East Main is presently the offices of WJH-TV, while the Ashe street structure is currently being renovated for use as a 911 emergency operations center.
In 1856, Henry Johnson erected a combination store and dwelling house at the intersection of the old stage road and the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad (present intersection of Market Street and the Southern Railway). Johnson’s store was at first used as the railroad depot; as a result, the place became known first as Johnson’s Tank and shortly thereafter became Johnson’s Depot. The following year, Thomas A. Faw built a frame store building near the stage road and in 1858 erected a house on the present site of the John Sevier Center. From this time up until the Civil War, two new stores were built by John H. Bowman and James M. Wheeler and homes were constructed by the Reverend James Mill, Dr. J.H. Mongle, Smithe H. Hale and Dr. J.W. Seehorn.
During the Civil War, there was quite a bit of military activity in and around the community. In 1861 and 1862, the area between Lamont Street and West Main Street was used as a drill ground for Confederate troops. The Brush Creek Campground was used by Colonel Robert Love’s Confederate 62nd North Carolina Regiment as a campsite during the war. Several skirmishes were fought near Johnson’s Depot. In September 1863, a running battle, passing through Johnson’s Depot, was fought between Jonesborough and Carter’s Depot on the Watauga River. The following year a similar skirmish occurred near Johnson’s depot.
Johnson City was incorporated December 1, 1869. One year later, the city limits extended a half mile from the depot of the East Tennessee and Virginia (now Southern) Railroad. Among those who owned “downtown” property were: 1) Joseph Denton, 335 acres which was divided by Division Street from David Jobe’s 500 acres. This covered most of the downtown section. 2) Caleb O’Dell owned 100 acres which is now the Keystone Section and Memorial Stadium. 3) Jacob Hoss bought 647 acres from Joseph Young (Roan Street and Holston Avenue to Carnegie Furnace). 4) Joseph Tipton, 240 acres where Johnson City Real Estate was located in the early days; this included the W.S. Campbell and Montgomery Hoss lands.
There is no question the growth of Johnson City can be attributed to the coming of the Railroads. The first industry on record was a tannery, established in 1854, where shoes and harnesses were made. It was operated by Henry Swadley near the present site of Princeton School.
During the period 1880 to 1890, Johnson City experienced great economic growth. Many new industries were established during this decade and the population of the town increased by over 500 percent. In 1882, Horton and Yoakum established a tannery, located near the first gap of Tannery Knob. Water was piped from Tipton Jobe’s spring to supply the tannery. In 1883, the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, the first foundry in Johnson City, was established; Thomas E. Matson and Columbus Powell were among the backers of this project. In 1890, the Carnegie Land Company, Carnegie Furnace and Carnegie Hotel were established under the leadership of General John T. Wilder, vice president of the 3-C Railroad (Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago). The Carnegie Furnace, with an operating capital of $250,000 produced pig iron. The Carnegie Hotel was, according to Samuel C. Williams, “a fine three-story brick hotel, elegantly furnished and appointed.” However, by 1890 a depression caused the Carnegie operations to fail along with the 3-C Railroad and other county operations, such a Embreeville Freehold Company.
Hotels and Motels
According to the late Mary Hardin McCown, the first hotel was a three-story frame building of forty rooms, located on the south side of the railroad between the public square and Wilson Avenue, 1871. It was first known as “City Hotel” later “Piedmont” and described by Killebrew in 1872 (Resources of Tennessee) as a ”fine hotel.: It was organized by Colonel Robert Love, Elijah Simerly, W. M. Taylor and others. Henry Hoss Crouch was the contractor. Other early hotels included : Carnegie Hotel, 1890 – burned early 1900’s; Franklin Hotel (later Franklin Apartments), 1890. The Lee hotel, named after Civil War General Robert E. Lee, was built about 1905 on the corner of Walnut and Spring Streets; a sign in front of the building read, “Steam heat, $3.00 a night, 25 cents a meal.” The Colonial Hotel built in 1908, boasted of sixty rooms and was owned by N.L. Murrell; it had a “sales room” used by salesman to display their wares (clothing, etc.) for local stores to buy. The Pardue Hotel, later called the Windsor, was built in 1909. The Windsor was highly advertised from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta. The largest hotel in all upper East Tennessee, the John Sevier, was built in 1924 on the spot of the Faw home; it had 225 rooms and 225 baths! The hotel was discontinued in 1979 and is at present used for a retirement center. Other hotels included Fountain Square, Grant and Pioneer. Motels and hotels later began locating on the north and west sides of Johnson City: Broadway (1941), Holiday Inn (circa 1965), Camara Inn (1963), Sheraton (1985), Garden Plaza (1987) and Fairfield Inn (1988); some of these include convention centers. A few small motels also located on U.S. Highway 11-E between Johnson City and Jonesborough. Presently (1988), Johnson City has about 1000 hotel/motel rooms.
*Please note Mr. Charles F. Ray has submitted this information as a correction to the above “Hotels…..” section.
The Lee Hotel was named by its founder and original proprietor, Capt. William C. Lee. Prior to 1905, Capt. Lee (CSA) and his wife, Mary Anderson Ray Lee, owned and operated a Lee Hotel in Sweetwater, TN. Capt. Lee died in 1914, and Mrs. Lee died in 1924. Both are buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Johnson City. William Isaac Ray, Mrs. Lee’s son by her first husband, Capt. John Henry Ray, (USA) was a clerk and later the manager of the Lee Hotel. The text about the sign advertising “Steam Heat” is mostly correct. I remember that sign. It was painted on the first story on the Spring Street side of the building. Capt. and Mrs. Lee were my great-grandparents. William Isaac Ray was my grandfather. According to the journal, Industrial Development and Manufacturers’ Record, Volume 55, March 4, 1909, page 63, section titled “Johnson City Building”, the Lee Hotel was “under construction” on March 4, 1909.
For many years before the first church was established in Johnson City, religious services were held by meeting in homes. The earliest churches include: First Presbyterian Church, organized April 23, 1869, in is present location by 1872; First Methodist (1883), located on Main Street where Sterchi Furniture Store is presently located; First Christian (1871); Thankful Baptist (1872); St. John’s Episcopal (1889) and St. Mary’s Catholic (1906). Many other churches are now scattered throughout Johnson City.
Early schools were held in homes and churches. There were a few schools mentioned in wills, such as a “school building” on the property of Robert Young, Jr., in 1805 in the general area of East Tennessee State University and Cedar Place. The Log School on Roan Hill was taught by Fanny Smith of Jonesborough. Science Hill High School was dedicated October 27, 1867 by Elijah Embree Hoss on two acres of land donated by Tipton Jobe. The first principal was the Reverend John B. Pence. In 1961, Science Hill relocated to its present location on the John Exum Parkway. Other early schools were: Martha Wilder (1892); Columbus Powell (1892); Lusk School (1895), at the corner of Watauga and Fairview Avenues; Langston (1892); and St. Mary’s (1906), held in the home of Robert Burrows.
East Tennessee State Normal School was opened September 1, 1911 with Sidney J. Gilbreath as the first president. The name of the school was later changed to State Teacher’s College (1930), East Tennessee State College (1943), and in 1963 became East Tennessee State University (ETSU). The present enrollment of ETSU is approximately 11,000. In 1978, the Quillen-Dishner College of Medicine, affiliated with ETSU and the Veterans Administration, opened to provide primary care physicians for the upper East Tennessee area.
In 1887 the first water service, maintained by Walter E. McCollum, used water from a spring on Spring Street at the base of Roan Hill. Approximately forty households and businesses were supplied by gravity flow through pipes laid from the spring.
Electricity was available September 2, 1888, through the efforts of James F. Crumley. It was succeeded by Watauga Lighting and Power Company in 1891. By 1945, the Tennessee Valley Authroity (TVA) began furnishing power for Johnson City and continues to the present day.
In 1915, the Washington County Gas Company was established. Gas service has been provided under the following company names: Federated Utilities Inc. (1927); Carl H. Schwyn Utilities, Inc. (1944); Watauga Valley Gas Company (1944); Rulane Corporation (1945); Watauga Valley Gas Company (1947); Volunteer Natural Gas Company (1953); Tennessee-Virginia Energy Corporation (1980); and United Cities Gas Company (1986).
On January 22, 1922, Inter-Mountain Telephone Company was available for Johnson City and Jonesborough. A new building was built in Johnson City and in the fall of 1924, the new central office was cutover. From 1922 to 1925, Mr. Parlett and his son, Albert, Jr., saw the expansion and growth of Inter-Mountain Telephone. In 19225, Mr. Parlett sold his holdings to W.N. McAnge, Jr. By 1966, United Utilities, Inc. purchased Inter-Mountain Telephone, changing the name to United Inter-Mountain. At the present time, Johnson City is served by United Telephone System, Bristol, Tennessee.
Johnson City had fire protection as early as 1890, which was a horse-drawn wagon with a small tank. By 1909, a fire station was located on West Market Street near Roan Street (near what would later be the John Sevier Hotel). The fire-fighting equipment at this station consisted of a wagon-type rig pulled by two big gray horses stabled on each side of the building so they could quickly jump into their harness when the fire whistle blew. At that time, there were no fire alarm boxes and only a few telephones; often the news of a fire was conveyed by someone with a good pair of legs. In 1913, a fire station was located in a former school building on Main Street, next to S.B. White. The first motor-driven fire truck was purchased in 1913, with Berry Wilson as the driver. In 1914, Wilson became Johnson City’s first fire chief, serving until 1928. In 1922, a second fire engine was purchased and a new station was built on the 200 block of West Market Street. This served the city until 1929, when the new Central station on East Main Street was built. At the present time, Johnson city has six fire stations, with sixty-nine firefighters and twenty-three fire trucks.
Prior to 1857, all transportation in the Johnson City area was limited to walking, riding horseback or using animal-powered vehicles, such as wagons and stagecoaches. After the construction of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad through the area in 1857, faster and more efficient travel was available to the residents of what would later become Johnson City, and goods could be transported quickly and less expensively than before. Two other railroads eventually came to Johnson City: the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (ET&WNC) in 1882 and the Clinchfield in 1907.
Replacing “shanks mare,” horse and buggy, Carnegie Street and Railway Company was founded in 1890. Street cars operated routes through the main part of the city to and from Carnegie. A “round house” or car barn was the depot for the street cars when not in use. This system was replaced by Johnson City Traction Company from 1902 until 1930. The tracks used by the street cars were removed and the Traction Company used motor buses. In 1934, David R. Patrick founded the Johnson City Transit Company. This was continued by his sons, Wade, Howard and Dana Patrick from 1941 until 1978. The city then began operating Johnson City Transit Service on Scheduled routes through the major portions of Johnson City.
Beginning in 1937, the Johnson City Area was served by McKellar Tri-City airport, located in neighboring Sullivan County. Later, it became known as the Tri-City Regional airport, serving all of the upper East Tennessee region.
Hospitals and Clinics
The first hospital was on Fairview Avenue (1903) established by Dr. William J. Matthews and a group of medical men. It was convenient to the citizens as it was on the “car line. This hospital, called “Carnegie,” was later moved to the home of the late Clifford Maxwell (809 Chilhowie Avenue), where it was called “Memorial.” The hospital was moved to Boone Street in 1921 and was called “Appalachian Hospital.” Later, it was renamed Johnson City Memorial Hospital. This remodeled structure is now used as Asbury Center (founded 1981), a Methodist retirement center and nursing home. The new Johnson City Medical Center, near the grounds of Veterans Administration and Quillen-Dishner College of Medicine, replaced Johnson City Memorial Hospital, September 1, 1980. Other hospitals: The Johnson City 1923 Directory lists Dr. W.C. Goss in the building at 809 E. Chilhowie. After that time, Dr. Goss built a hospital at the rear of the present WJHL-TV which was occupied in the 1930’s by Drs. Parker and Budd. Dr. U.G. Jones established an eye-ear-nose-throat hospital (1923) on West Market Street. Later in 1945, Dr. Thomas McKee and Dr. John Wilson established Wilson-McKee Eye Hospital, which merged with Hospital Corporation of America, 1981. In the 1950’s Dr. Hugh Swingle operated a hospital on North Roan Street. Dr. John Wilson established an Eye Clinic, 118 East Watauga Avenue, on August 1, 1982. North Side Hospital, on Princeton Road in North Johnson City, was established April 15, 1975 and merged with Hospital Corporation of America in 1980. Ear, Nose & Throat Associates, West Watauga Avenue, is presently operated by Drs. W. T. Mathes, Arthur S. Harris, James R. Wood and Mark A. Howell.
Some area news was reported in the Jonesborough Herald-Tribune; however, the first newspaper in the city was Johnson City Enterprise owned and published by Winfield S. Mitchell. The next was the Comet (1884) owned by N.C.T. Love, Editor, Robert L. Taylor and Robert Burrow – published on Saturday and later on Thursday and Saturday. It was continued by Cy H. Lyle as a daily in 1891. The Daily Staff, another daily newspaper, was operated by E. Munsey Slack. The present Johnson City Press was begun in 1934 by Carl A. Jones, Sr. and C.J. Harkrader (of Bristol). The newspaper was sold January 10, 1935 and repurchased January 24, 1935 by Harkrader and Jones; other officers were: Carl A. Jones, Jr., E.E. Easterly, J.W. Davis, R.C. Hodges and C.J. Copeland. A morning paper, the Johnson City Chronicle and an afternoon paper, the Johnson City Press, were published by the above group. Carl A. Jones, Jr. became the owner in 1939. In 1943, the two newspapers were combined into the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. In 1985, the name of the paper was changed back to Johnson City Press with Carl A. Jones, owner.
WJHL radio began operation in late 1930. WJHL-TV, affiliated with CBS and other major networks, began operating in late 1953. In 1969, Sammons TV Cable began furnishing cable television service within the city.
The first library was in the upstairs of a building on Main Street, operating on a volunteer basis by the Johnson City Monday Club. The upstairs room was heated with a wood stove, and books and magazines were loaned to interested readers. In 1923, Judge Samuel Cole Williams donated a plot of land adjoining Munsey Memorial Methodist Church on Roan Street for the Mayne Williams Public Library. The library began by memorial volumes and memorial funds to purchase books. In 1981, the Mayne Williams Public Library relocated in a new building in front of the “old” Science Hill High School Building and was renamed the Johnson City Public Library – a new and most modern library supported by the City of Johnson City with Louise Dorton, librarian.
Other libraries include the Charles C. Sherrod Library at East Tennessee State University and the Quillen-Dishner College of Medicine Library.
Early homes still standing include the Robert Young, Sr. cabin, built in 1770, and the Jacob Hoss log cabin constructed in 1795 (gray stucco over logs), on the 900 block of East Myrtle Avenue. The Harry Gump home, located between Hillrise Boulevard and Holston Avenue, was built prior to the Civil War by John Bowman for his daughter as a wedding gift. Later, Bowman and his family lived in this house. He made the coffins for the area needs at six dollars each. The Boring family lived there after the Bowmans. Harry Gump purchased the home about 1901. Other old homes include: the John T. Wilder home (on the corner of Maple and Spring Streets), 1880; the Hyter Young home (Cedar Place) built prior to the Civil War; the Colonel Thomas E. Matson home (on Boone Street), built 1889, later used as a school and orphanage (owned by Lucy Preas, 1988). Orchard Place, home of the late W.P. and Allen Harris, (on the corner of Fairview and Myrtle Avenues), built 1890; Robin’s Roost, (on South Roan Street), constructed 1890, former home of Governor Robert L. Taylor (1988 home of John G. Love).
The Veterans Administration facility (National Home for Veterans) was built in 1903 on about 475 acres. Construction was under the supervision of General John T. Richards of Maine. John P. Smith was the facility’s first governor.
The Municipal Building (1920) was moved to a new location on East Main Street in 1970. This was a concerted effort to put the vital city offices under one roof. Today the city offices and the city jail are in one building on East Main Street.
The mud streets of Johnson City were bricked about 1905 to 1908. When the bricks were removed for paving, Bill R. Fox obtained one of these bricks which bears a date of 1905. Some of the bricks bore a date of 1908. This was a period of expansion. Some of the downtown buildings bear dates of erection – the one on the corner of Roan and Main had a date of 1910. Stores and businesses flooded the downtown area; A.S. Gump, Harry D. and L.D. Gump Store, 1884; Beckner’s Jewelry, 1886; First Bank of Johnson City, 1886; Harris Manufacturing (W.P. Harris and Allen Harris), 1897, (now Tarkett); Watauga Tannery on Tannery Knob, owned by G.B. and E. Horton of New York and S.H. Yokum and H. Gildersleeve of Johnson City, 1882; Bee Hive (located in the former building of Parker –Belk), 1890; William Silver Co. 251 East Main (Jewelers); J.B. Roithner (Jewelers), 1909 (1988 business owned by Vernon Roithner); Square Deal Grocery, 1914 on East Market Street, C.C. Richardson, owner; S.R. Taylor (food, sales and livery stable) West Market and Boone; Hickey-McCorkel; Dossers (clothing) Main Street, R.N. Dosser owner; C.P. Faw & Co. Main Street (clothing and notions); American Cigar Box Lumber Co., Wilbur L. Clark, manager; R.C. Hunter (Insurance & Real Estate), Spring Street; Pedigo Company (clothing) Main Street, E.S. Pedigo, L.W. Oaks, J.T. Hall; Home Bakery – R.C. Blackburn, owner, East Market Street, “Buster Brown” bread; H.T. Hackey Co. (groceries, hay, flour, feed), Fred J. Moses, manager; Stevens Brothers (fresh produce), George F. Hobbs, General Manager; Johnson City Plumbing Co., 1914, George E. Moxley and Andrew O’Donnell, owners, Spring Street; Model Mill (Red Band) West Walnut, 1909 “in the country”’ Lockett Brothers (wholesale Grocery) East Main, 1909; Johnson City National Bank, 1914, Henry C. Black, C.N. Brown, W.P. Miller, W.H. Swadley, R.G. Bachman, Thad Cox, W.F. Carter, W.W. Miller and many others; Windsor Hotel, on Fountain Square, William F. Green, owner; McClain & Dickenson (livery, feed & sales stable) West Market St., E.S. McClain and W.A. Dickenson owners; A.H. Abernethy, owner, plumbers, tinners, roofers, etc., Buffalo St.; Davis & Hagler, producers, G.I. Davis & H.T. Hagler, owners, Division street; C.W. Seavers, Saddles, Harness, bridles, C.W. Seavers owner, spring St. (1873); B.F. Stafford, Real Estate, Spring Street; London-Kirkpatrick Hardware, R.P. London, J.M. Barker, N.D. Kirkpatrick, Main and Market; Brush Creek Mill & Feed Co., J.M. Boyd, 1915 name changed to Johnson City Corn Mill; Place Cigar Store, C.D. Bunn, owner, Buffalo and Main; W.A. Lane Repair shop, Boone Street in the White Elephant; W.E. Feathers, plumbing & heating, West Main; Brunswick Billiard Parlor, H.M. Smith and S.S. McCrary, Main Street; J.B. Worley, Grocery & Meat, Main Street; Summers-Parrott Hardware, J.A. Summers and H.R. Parrott, 1910 (1988 Summers hardware); Will I. Hart Wholesale, buggies, harness, etc., Market Street; S.B. White, Spring Street, china, glassware, stoves, tinware, roofing and tin shop; City Drug, P.L. Gregory, owner who began practice in 1905, Main and Spring, 1914; Coca-Cola Bottling Works, W.G. Scott, General Manager, West Main (1988 located Wesley Street); Brading-Marshall Lumber Company, J.E. Brading and C.L. Marshall, East Main Street; C.O. Biddle, plumbing and heating; Jones-Vance Drug, H.R. Jones and T.B. Vance, Buffalo and Tipton; A.C. Cash, Fountain Square – clothing at “one price” and “cash” prices; Congress Shaving Parlor, W.J. Allen, Owner, Main Street; Spot Cash Grocery, N.C. Bolton, owner, 1914, Market and Roan, opposite Munsey Memorial Church – “cash groceries.” Dr. R.P. Harrison, Veterinary, 1914, West Market Street; Gunnar Teilman (florist), East Market St., 1911; Watauga Cigar Factory “Watauga Rose” cigars sold for 10 and 15 cents each, G.H. Burnham, owner, 1914; Johnson City Auto Company, East Main, Agency of Studebakers, A.W. Johnson and son, C.A. Johnson, car sales and supplies; City Shoe Store, 1914, East Main, “Shoes for Gentlemen;” Fred W. Hoss – shorthand reporter, stenographic artist, East Main, associated in this work beginning 1904; Pure Food Grocery Company, Sam D. O’Dell, Buffalo Street, 1914; White House Drug Company, Harry Whitehouse and James P. Grey, East Main; Eagle Buggy Company, A.K. Brown, manufacture of buggies and hacks, Market and Boone; Wofford Brothers, General Insurance, 1886, George T. Wofford and H.M. Burleson; Frank Taylor, dry goods, Main Street; Powell, Neas & Company, Insurance and Real Estate, Main Street, Ferdinand Powell and L.M. Neas; Hart and Houston, East Main, 1914, E.T. Hart and E.D. Houston, J.P. Hart, dry goods; J.E. Crouch, book seller and stationery, Main Street, 1905; Remine Memorial, Main to Market; General Shale “Brick Yard” 1919; Empire Chair Company, 1902; Sells Lumber Company, 1907 with Sam R. and George C. Sells; Miller Brothers Lumber Company, 1910. Early photographers were Burr Harrison, Charles Cargille, Clifford Maxwell and Charles Tunnell.
Most families in the mid-1900’s ate the majority of their meals at home; however, there were a few restaurants; Silver Moon, Railroad Street, John Ticcio, owner; Greek Restaurant, West Main, M. Dimma; Idol Inn Cafe, Market and Southern Railway, Charles H. Idol and P.G. Molteni, owners; the Bush Bee on Fountain Square. There were a few “ice cream parlors,” one, Harsbarger, was located on Market Street. The Dixie Drive-In, located at 425 East Main Street, was operated by Mr. and Mrs. George Parker in 1930 and had the first curb service.
Jobe’s Opera House (1884-1905) located on Spring and Tipton, managed by Isaac Jobe and Martin Gump, was condemned and torn down. The first theatre, Edisonia, was opened by at least 1905, possibly earlier; it featured silent pictures and a player piano to accent the action of the picture. The owner/manager was Alfred Miller, who also owned Miller Apartments (Almeda), corner of Roan Street and Watauga Avenue and a furniture store on Fairview Avenue. The Edisonia was succeeded by the Criterion in the 1920’s. The Majestic began with silent movies and advanced to “talking pictures.” The Delux Theatre first opened on April 2, 1923 with the movie “What’s Wrong with Women?;” only silent movies were shown there until 1928. In 1927, the name was changed to Capitol Theatre. Other theatres included the Liberty, Tennessee (1931), Sevier, and Capri (1960); the Sevier was located on Spring Street, the others on Main Street. Several drive-in theatres were also located in Johnson City. The first in the area was King Springs Drive In, owned by Bernie Wylie, which opened August 3, 1940; this was one of the first five drive-ins in the world. Also in 1940, the Tri-City Drive In, owned by Charlie Fain and Bernie Wylie, was opened at the forks of the Kingsport and Bristol Highways. Two others were the Family Drive In (1950), owned by Bob Neal and Dick Kennedy, and the Skyline Drive In (1955), owned by Bernie Wylie. All of these drive-ins have since closed.
The Great Depression Era, 1929-1940
Following World War I, there was prosperity in Johnson City until the Depression of 1929, which was actually felt from the early 1930’s until about 1940. Many businesses “folded” and many banks merged. Finally, at the end of these years, two original banks were left: Hamilton and Peoples; however, First Federal Savings and Loan (now known as Leader Federal) began in 1934, weathered “the storm,” and continues until today. This was a period of Federal help – Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) which began under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These projects helped to furnish jobs and put money into circulation. Memorial Stadium, on East Main Street, was built with WPA funds in 1935.
In the 1930’s there were sixty miles of paved streets; a city hall; a few parks; twenty-five Protestant and Catholic churches; a senior and junior high school and eighteen grammar schools – an enrollment of about 6,000. There was a post office building with two substations; six miles of street car line; a hydroelectric power plant; Washington County Gas Company and two express companies. In manufacturing, Johnson City was the second largest hardwood flooring manufacturing center in the United States; furniture, cigar box lumber, brick, building tile, hosiery and silk were all manufactured here. The tax rate was assessed on 1/30 percent of actual value -$5,000 for city, state and county. At this time, Johnson City was served by three railroads, three main trunk highways, twenty truck lines and four bus lines: Johnson City Transit, Queen City Coach, Tennessee Coach and Washington County Bus Line. In 1939, the city adopted the city-management type of government which has continued until the present day: five city commissioners (of these five, one is chosen mayor). The Commissioners employ a city manager who is the city’s executive officer.
Period of Progress 1940 to the Present
During World War II and the years that followed, there was again progress. By 1943 new industries came in, among them: Artcraft Glove; Accurate Machine Corporation, Gordon’s Incorporated and Sherman Concrete Pipe Company.
In the 1950’s the economy was much stronger with new industries locating in the area: Industrial Development company (Milligan Highway where the present Budd Company is located); Thomas Products; and Johnson City Industrial Park Corporation. At this time, the hub of the city was in the downtown area.
By the 1960’s, the Tri-County Industrial Park (Washington, Carter and Sullivan Counties) at Piney flats, as well as many other new industries were in operation. Purchase of rights-of-way and construction for a new four-lane highway, from Kingsport through Johnson City and on to Erwin, began, skirting the north side of the residential area and bypassing the downtown section. This was one of the contributing factors to the slow decline of downtown Johnson City. The downtown business area was almost completely cut off when a large shopping center was built in the city’s north section on both sides of North Roan Street, Sunset Drive and Broyles Drive. A few years later, a second shopping mall was constructed on both sides of South Roan Street. In the North Johnson City area, Hamilton bank relocated from downtown to Mockingbird Lane; United American (formerly Peoples) Bank on Sunset Drive; and Home Federal on North Roan Street and Christian Lane. K-Mart (1962), Wal-Mart (1987), Hills Department Store and Krogers are some of the larger businesses to occupy the North Johnson City area.
With continuing expansion and annexations, Johnson City now (1988) comprises 26.66 square miles.