The village of Limestone, located near the Greene County line in the 18th Civil District, was first known as Freedom. The name was changed to Limestone during the Civil War, probably because Big Limestone Creek flows through the village.
A small blockhouse was built in Limestone during the Revolutionary War as an outpost to protect the settlers on the Nolichucky from the British-incited Cherokee Indians. It was named Fort Lee and manned by thirty volunteers under the command of Lieutenant John Sevier. When hundreds of Cherokees marched toward the area in the summer of 1776, the settlers fled to Fort Caswell (also known as Fort Watauga, near present-day Elizabethton). Fort Lee was then abandoned and was burned by the Indians.
Davy Crockett (1786 – 1836), Limestone’s celebrated hero, was born August 17, 1786 in a log cabin located where Limestone Creek flows into the Nolichucky River. Crockett moved with his parents to Morristown as a young man and later moved to West Tennessee. He was elected to the Tennessee State Legislature in 1821 and to the United States Congress in 1826, serving in the House of Representatives. In 1836, Crockett moved to Texas, where he died at the Alamo.
The oldest house still standing in the area, built of blocks of limestone, was erected circa 1792 for George Gillespie. It was acquired by Jacob Klepper in 1842, and has been unoccupied for several years. Another old house in the area was built by William Strain in 1847; it was constructed of weather-boarded logs, and is now occupied by Myrtle and Anna Mae Davis.
In building the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad through Limestone in the 1850’s, work was begun at both Knoxville and Bristol, the endpoints of the rail line. Often it was necessary to halt work because of inclement weather or other reasons; the roadbed was not completed through the village for about a year. Stage coaches were employed to transport passengers between Limestone and Bulls Gap, at which point the tracks had been completed from Knoxville. Jacob Klepper, a strong supporter of this railroad, donated property and money to be used in the railroad venture.
The Methodist Church was established in 1832; it was located at the present site of Urbana Cemetery. The present Methodist Church was built in 1952, with an educational building added in 1964. The church is located north of Big Limestone Creek. Mount Bethel Christian Church, established in 1850, was erected on land donated by Jacob Miller, Sr.; its trustees were Henry Bolton and William Haws. The Free Will Baptists organized a church in 1941, erecting a new brick building in 1975 on Highway 34. The Church of Christ, established in 1973, is located near the intersection of State Route 75 and U.S. Highway 11E. The Church of God, established in 1983, is situated on the north side of Big Limestone Creek.
The land for Urbana Cemetery, located on Big Limestone Road, was donated by George W. Nelson in 1856. This cemetery has about nine hundred graves, and is the burial place for many of Limestone’s early citizens. Clarence “Tillie” Walker (1887 – 1959), who played professional baseball with the Boston Red Socks and the Philadelphia Athletics, is buried there.
During the Civil War, in early 1863, some three hundred Cherokee Indian troops, a portion of the 69th North Carolina Volunteer Infantry, were stationed at Limestone. They built two log stockades near the railroad bridge, but participated in no active fighting during their stay. In September 1863, they were sent to defend the mountain passes into North Carolina. In that same year, a running battle between Union troops and Confederate troops under General A. E. Jackson was fought from Telford to Limestone. After several hours of fighting in and around the village, the Confederates surrounded and captured the Union forces.
Land was acquired for a school in 1875. A white frame building housed both the elementary and high school classes. Fire destroyed this building in 1922; a new brick building was erected in1923 for elementary classes. The school was closed in 1959 when the county schools were consolidated.
The main business area of Limestone was between Big Limestone Creek and the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad (now the Southern Railway). The U.S. Post Office opened July 13, 1858, when the village was known as Freedom, with Jacob Klepper as the first postmaster. Others who served as postmaster were Alexander Mathis, 7 May 1859; William J. Strain, 14 March 1860; Henry C. Klepper, 3 October 1866; John S. Biddle, 24 April 1867; Thomas Young, 26 April 1869; George T. Harris, 12 May 1869; William F. Young, 17 June 1870; William J. Strain, 12 February 1872. After the name was changed to Limestone, those who served were William J. Strain 14 January 1873; Mattie E. Barkley, 11 December 1885; Smith H. Byrd, 16 May 1889; Albert E. Gillespie, 10 June 1893; Joseph H. Tipton, 20 May 1897; Edmond B. Mitchell, 7 July 1911; Edward E. Pence, 2 August 1912; Alexander B. Miller, 6 May 1915; Onnie M. Hartsell, 17 March 1924; A. Klasen Broyles, 13 June 1933; Harry B. Gillespie, 1 April 1943; Eugene S. Mitchell, 21 January 1957; Elbert Franklin Keys, 9 January 1959; Arthur T. Million, 5 August 1960; Treva Grey, 25 June 1983; Charles K. Odom, 26 November 1983.
The Lone Oak Hotel was built in the 1880’s on land owned by John Barkley; it had fourteen rooms and elegant furnishings. The livery stable was managed by John Glaze. Mrs. Leora Broyles ran the hotel for several years. It is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ron Blevins.
One of the first stores in the community was built by William F. Strain in 1859. The Remine family started a tombstone business that was later moved to Johnson City. John S. Rhea and Sons ran a tin shop in 1899; the business was later moved to Greeneville.
Bethesda Academy, a Presbyterian industrial school and orphanage, was founded about 1904 in the village of Cedar Lane, five miles southeast of Fall Branch and two miles northeast of Jearoldstown. Its founder and president was the Reverend William T. Morgan of Fall Branch. The Academy offered a sixteen-year course of study for orphans and young people not accepted by other schools and colleges. The school owned a 250 acre farm on which its four buildings were located. By 1908 it moved to Limestone to be near a railroad, the administrators having decided the cost of transporting equipment, fuel, and supplies over the nearly impassable roads was too high. Published information about the school indicates it had over a dozen teachers and staff members, that its expenses were about $2000 per week and that there were approximately 150 to 200 pupils. A newsletter, The Bethesda Beacon, was published by the school “in the interest of the education and Christian training of orphan and other children and young people unable to provide for themselves.” The date the institution closed in unknown. The former administrative building of Bethesda Academy is now the home of the Paul Campbell family.
The following businesses were in operation in the early 1900’s. A newspaper, The Rural Searchlight, was published every Thursday by William F. Piper. The subscription rate for the newspaper was one dollar per year. John Laws had a photographic studio, and William Garrison operated a barber shop. The two mills for grinding corn and wheat were owned by the Williams Brothers and Vestal Brown; sometime later Lumin Parker ran the Brown Mill. Ben Fox ran a poultry and egg business. Livery stables were operated by Gus Broderick, N. A. Morelock and Bart Shepard. Mel Walker had a blacksmith shop which as later run by Jesse Cole. Otis Nelson built a tobacco warehouse; managers were John C. Smith, D. B. Pence and J. E. Black. The hardware store was first owned by S. L. Keebler but later was operated by Sam M. Keebler and John C. Smith. Robert F. Smith acquired the Keebler-Smith Hardware in 1951 and ran it until 1968; the name has since been changed to Limestone Hardware.
General Merchandise stores in the early 1900’s were run by Charlie Jaynes, Sam Strain, Ben Brabson, Guy Yeager, Jacob Miller & John Morrow, Adley Williams and Granger Thompson. Later, other merchants were Rhea Anderson, 1918 – 1924; Miller-Gillespie, 1930 – 1940; Stanton-Richardson, 1939 – 1947; Huffman Brothers, 1947 – 1961; Joe Lewis, 1945 – 1958; Rex Brockwell, 1959 – 1969; Guy Barlow, 1958 – 1970; George Jaynes, 1971 – 1983; James Clark, 1938; Bob Cutshaw, 1983 – 1988; William W. Cutshaw, 1975 – 1983; Ralph Horne, 1984 – 1985; and James Moore, 1985 – 1988. These individuals operated general merchandise stores in Limestone but the specific dates are not available: Edgar Phillips, Sam J. Keebler, Albert Fox, Robert McCracken, Tom Baskette, Arthur Mitchell, Ray Williams and Glan Saylor.
Limestone Banking Company in 1907 was managed by Dr. A. S. N. Dobson, Ed Henley, J. A. Shanks and M. F. Wheatley. In 1908 Farmers and Merchants Bank was founded by Thad Cox and W. P. Smith; it was later managed by Thad Cox and D. B. Pence. The R. G. Adams family acquired the bank in 1950; it was sold to Tri-City Bank in 1984. W. J. Propst began work at Farmers and Merchants Bank in 1918 and worked there until his death in 1982.
In 1939, a fire swept through Limestone, destroying half of the community and many of its records. In 1957, a second fire consumed more old buildings.
Over the years Limestone has had several physicians: Dr. A. S. N. Dobson, Dr. John F. Arnold, Dr. Roy H. Ruble, Dr. Alexander Stuart, Dr. Glea V. Stanton and Dr. C. Daryl Huffman.
A. B. Miller had a plant for generating electricity; it was begun about 1920. He wired the homes and furnished electricity for the Limestone area. Beginning in 1935, Joe B. Williams ran an ice plant in Limestone. Blocks of ice were delivered for home ice boxes.
In 1922, Wassom Broyles had a garage; it was later operated by Henry J. Keebler. In 1929, Elbert Fleenor and Robert Randolph bought the garage, but Randolph was a partner only until 1931. Elbert Fleenor continued in the business until 1936, when he sold the garage to Harry Yeager. Yeager ran the garage until it was destroyed by fire in 1939.
Smith Grain Company, operated by William F. “Bill” and Jimmy Smith, was founded in 1950 and employed 250 people. Their fleet of 100 trucks carried all types of goods and produce in practically every state. The company went out of business in 1962.
There are several successful businesses currently operating in Limestone. The individuals currently operating or managing businesses in the community are: Joie C. Baskette – Tri City Bank; Bob Cutshaw – Midtown Market; Herman Loyd – Limestone Hardware; William D. Braybeal – Self Service Specialists; Joe Williams – Gulf Service Station; James Moore – Limestone Superette; Freda and Richard Donoho – Artistry in Glass. – contributed by Mildred C. Stanton