May Day, Tennessee, one of the oldest communities in Washington County, is located on the north side of the Nolichucky River in the 4th Civil District. This community is the site where Colonel Jacob Brown established the Nolichucky Settlement in 1771. It was also the location where, in 1788, John Sevier was arrested at the home of Ruth Gordon Brown (widow of Colonel Jacob Brown) and taken by the Tiptonites to Morganton, North Carolina, to be tried for treason. The grave of Colonel Jacob Brown, who died in 1785, is located in the community and is one of the oldest marked graves west of the Allegheny Mountains.
The Tennessee State Gazetteer and Business Directory, Volume 5, 1887, lists May Day as “a small settlement seven miles from Jonesborough, population 31, J. J. Brown, Postmaster.”
Until Civil Service laws were passed, postmasters were appointed with changes in the government administrations. The list of postmasters, effective date, and location in parentheses are as follows: John G. Potter, 19 July 1883 (location unknown); T. J. W. Brown, 25 February 1886 (located in one room of J. J. Brown’s General Store, with a separate entrance); John J. Brown, 9 March 1886 (located in J. J. Brown’s General Store); Cassamer E. May, 25 May 1889 (located in the basement of a building); Samuel C. Berry, 14 September 1895 (located in his residence); William C. Swingle, 5 November 1897 (located in his residence); Samuel C. Berry, 1 October 1900 (located in his residence). On November 30, 1900, the May Day Post Office was discontinued and moved to Jonesborough.
The names of property owners and other residents before 1900 were Archer, Bailey, Ball, Bayless, Berry, Booth, Brown, Bolton, Criselous, Keicher (Kyker), Love, Loyd, Maverick, May, McKee, Slygar (Sliger), and Swingle.
In 1887, businesses in the community were J. J. Brown’s Saw Mill, General Store and Grist Mill. Records of Brown’s Saw Mill show sales to local customers, the building committee of the Washington County School Board, and customers from other communities. The saw mill burned while the Browns still owned the property. Tan bark was hauled and sold to be used in the tanning of animal hides. Brown’s General Store sold green coffee, sugar, calico and other materials. The grist mill ground wheat and corn for a toll, or share of the grain. When George Swingle purchased the Brown Mill in 1898, he substituted a turbine wheel for the old wooden wheel which had been used since the mill’s construction. D. J. N. Ervin bought the mill in 1907 and changed the name to Nola Chucky Roller Mill. The mill operated until approximately 1930.
John W. Berry had a store and was the community photographer. He made photographs of family gatherings, “outings,” bridges and other structures in the area. Isaac Watkin operated a broom and pipe factory in 1893. Watermelon growers transported their melons by wagon as far away as Burnsville, North Carolina.
Jerry Berry ran a store in the community from 1924 to 1942. Willard Bailey built the Rock Store around 1930; it was later operated by several different families: Rowe, Dillow, Arrowood and McKee. The store closed in 1962.
Some of the houses in the community that are over one hundred years old, and their current owners, are: Byrd (Bird) Brown House, owned by the daughters of D. J. N. Ervin; Sam Brown House, owned by Sylvia Ledford; Ebenezer Booth House, a log structure with a clapboard addition, owned by Dennis Treadway; and the George May House, a log home covered with clapboards, owned by Ruth Robinson. The Byrd Brown and Sam Brown houses are both brick structures that were constructed by slave labor.
In the 1890’s, May Day had a baseball team. Fox hunting was also a favorite sport. On Saturday night, young people went “gigging” for frogs; when a gallon crock was filled with frog legs, the fry would begin. Square dancing at Decker’s Pottery, located across the Nolichucky River, was considered the most fun of all. The young men took turns calling the dance, and local musicians furnished the music. On Sunday afternoons in the summertime, activities included watermelon feasts at the watermelon sheds, canoeing on the Nolichucky River, and trips to Unaka Springs and Clark’s Springs (summer resorts).
After the Civil War, a few blacks remained in the May Day community. Among them was “Uncle” Sydney Maverick, who was known as a very religious and well-respected community member. One of his favorite expressions remembered and handed down was, “I want to go to church to get my pitcher full.”
Mount Lebanon Presbyterian USA, Vincent Methodist (Mayberry), and Immanuel Lutheran (Old Dutch Meeting House) were the three churches in the community; each had adjoining cemeteries. Mount Lebanon was organized in 1812 by J. W. Cunningham (minutes of Holston Presbytery). Some of the members of this church were the families of Byrd Brown, George May, C. F. Decker, Ferdinand Ruble and Jacob Kyker (Keicher). In 1892, the church had an oyster and fruit supper, with the proceeds being used to light the church building. Grave markers in the Mount Lebanon church cemetery include the names Bayless, Cloyd, Decker, Ruble, May, Kyker, Hill, Daughtery, Turner and Turnbull. When worship services were discontinued, funeral services were held in the church building. The building stood until 1933, when it was torn down to use the wide poplar boards in building a barn.
Vincent Methodist Church, built before 1900, is the only church in the community still conducting services. This church is a member of the Johnson City District Holston Conference, and is believed to have been named for a Methodist minister. Before Vincent church was built, services were held in Mayberry School. Across the road from Vincent Methodist Church is the Mayberry cemetery. Families buried in this cemetery include Berry, May, Loyd, Treadway, Miller, Booth, Bailey, McNeese, Dulaney, Haynes, Keplinger, Mashburn, Kyker and Swingle.
The Immanuel Luthern Church (Old Dutch Meeting House) was organized about 1807. In the early years, services were held in both German and English. The church disbanded about 1870. Some of the early May Day families who were members of this church were: Cristselous, Keplinger, Kyker, May and Sliger.
There have been several schools in the May Day community. Miss Mae Kilby held a subscription school for many years. The house was later owned by the Haynes family. During the 1880’s and 1890’s, several of the boys in the community walked to Bethesda School, located near Garber’s Mill; others, along with the girls, attended Kyker School, one half mile northwest of the present Vincent Church site. In 1893, it was decided to relocate the Kyker School one half mile northeast of the old location. The school directors for the 4th District bought land from Madison Loyd, George May and John Berry. The new free school was not built as quickly as anticipated but when it was the name was changed to Mayberry, in honor of the May and Berry families. The first teacher at Mayberry School was Wallace Booth. The Washington County School board Minutes last mention Mayberry School in August 1932.
The name May Day is only a memory now, but the fertile river bottom land and rolling hills are still there in all of their glory. – contributed by Ella Pearce Buchanan