The year was 1876. A new school had just been completed in north Johnson City; the teacher was Noah Sherfey. When the pupils were asked what they would like to name their school, Nancy Sherfey, little sister to Noah, suggested it be named Princeton, after Princeton University. Thus, the school and community received the name that it carries today.
The property for this building was given by Henry Swadley. Trustees were John W. Swadley, Jacob M. Range and Allen L. Barns. It was located on the northwest corner of what is the Princeton school property today. In 1928 the remaining part of the property was purchased and the larger four room, brick building was built.
The first school in the community, located on the west side of Master’s Knob on Swadley property, was established in 1853 because of the interest in education by the Swadley family.
Early pioneer families near what would later become the north Johnson City area included Henry Massengill, John Hammer and Pharoah Cobb. An early known pioneer to the immediate area was Peter Range. He arrived before 1800 and bought property from Abram Cox, John Hammer, John Engle, Samuel Denton and Pharoah Cobb.
The old stone house at 2833 Oakland Avenue, which belonged to the Range family, is the oldest and most well known house in the vicinity. Built around the turn of the 19th century, it has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to Harry Range, his grandfather, Peter Garner Range, was the last of the Range family to occupy the house and farm the land.
Peter Range operated a grist mill. Water that ran the two wheels came from Peter M. Reeves’ “Sinking Spring Farm” (in the Knob Creek area), sinking at that point to surface again above the mill.
The Range Cemetery, located nearby, is almost completely obliterated. At one time at least six stones with readable names existed. The oldest grave was that of Peter Range; the stone read “P. Range, D: Oct. 1817.”
About 1830 Henry Swadley and wife, Mary Roadcap Swadley, moved from Virginia to Washington County. In 1839 they bought property in the vicinity of Master’s Knob. By 1847, Mr. Swadley was operating a tannery located just north of the present site of the Morris-Baker Funeral Home.
Other settlers during the mid 19th century included Crumley, Shipley, Humphreys, Sell, Thomas, Sherfey, Walkers, Edens, Longmire, Fulkerson and Nave.
The Crumley Cemetery, located in a field east of the North Side Hospital has several unmarked graves. Of significance is the grave of Civil War veteran John H. Crumley, Company F, 63 Tennessee Infantry, CSA. The Crumleys were large landowners and some family members still hold land that has been in their possession for over 100 years.
In the early 1880’s, Marshal H. and Harriet (Boring) Johnson purchased land several hundred yards west of Princeton school. Previously, they had lived in the area that is now downtown Johnson City on land owned by Harriet’s father, Vincent Boring (1803-1881). Marshal, who was a carpenter, built a large two story frame house for his family; this home stood in the community for many years.
The Longmire Cemetery is located northeast of Princeton School. The earliest marked grave is that of Elizabeth Malone (1786-1857), wife of John Malone. Several Civil War veterans are buried here: Lafayette M. Widner, Company A, 63rd Virginia Cavalry, CSA; Andrew J. Grant, Company E, 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry; Frances M. Lawson, Company H, 13th Tennessee Cavalry; and Marshal H. Johnson (1828-1907), 9th Alabama Infantry, CSA. William Longmire (1806-1889) and his wife, Trephena (1810-1888) are also buried there.
When the Dugger family moved to Princeton in 1932, there was no church in the neighborhood. The school was for many years the center of the community. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, it was a close-knit community. The school building was used for Sunday school and other community activities.
The Princeton Presbyterian Church was organized in November 1949. Property had been given in 1941 by John Swadley, but building was delayed because of World War II. Construction began in 1946 and the first service was held Easter Sunday, 1947. In 1971, Central Church of Christ bought property nearby and built a new building, moving their congregation from another location. In 1977, Tabernacle Baptist Church built on property purchased from Earl Hughes and also moved its congregation from another location. Since 1975 several other churches have been built in the area.
In 1928 Robert Craig Vest, Sr. came to Washington County and bought the old Country Store from Jim Blevins. Located across from the school property, it was the hub of the community, where men congregated around the pot-bellied stove to share news, and children could come with an egg or two and exchange them for a cherished bag of candy.
The school closed in 1962, and the building is now the Princeton Arts Center.
Many people around Washington County can boast of being a graduate of Princeton. Each has his own memories of a community working together to make the neighborhood, and the world, a better place in which to live. – contributed by Frances Duger Rowan