Contributed by Ellen Buckingham
Gary community is located in the northern part of Washington County between Johnson City and Kingsport. The actual community of Gray did not come into existence until the C.C. & O. Railroad was built through the area in 1907-1908.
The Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church was begun in 1778 by Tidence Lane. It relocated to Gray in 1927 and in 1965 a new building was built in its current location. The old cemetery at Buffalo Ridge has been restored in recent years. The oldest documented grave is that of Sarah Crouch who died in 1782. Several hundred persons are buried in this cemetery.
The Methodists began meeting in 1886 at Victory School on Buffalo Ridge. A one-room church was built a short distance from the school and was named Mount Zion. In 1926 this church moved to Gray and a new structure was built on the present site in 1953.
In 1887 the Hales Chapel Christian Church was built on land donated by William Chamberlain Hale. The congregation continues in the original location but the structure has been remodeled twice.
According to post office records, Buffalo Ridge was the first post office in the Gray area, beginning in 1854 with Delaney Willard as the postmaster. Other postmasters were John F. Gresham, James M. Gresham, George Gresham, John Davidson, Peter H. Gresham, Francis Walker, Nelson Gray, and William C. Hale. This post office was discontinued in 1879. In 1882 the Clara Post Office was started with Jacob A.T. Bacon, James M. Gresham, Ulysses S.G. Barnes, and Ida E. Gresham as postmasters. In 1883 Damphool/Blizzard Post Office was begun with John Fuller Gresham, John L. Clark, James Hodges and James Hunt in charge. Nellie Post Office was begun in 1885 with Julius A. Stafford and David F. DePew as postmasters. These post office locations were closed in 1900 and moved to Jonesborough.
The first schools were Victory and Cedar Creek Academy. Gray School was built during 1921; Nelson Brown gave two acres of land for a high school, Walter Weems donated a woodland strip and the county bought two additional acres from the Brown farm for the original campus. Jack and Bob Isenberg built the school for $11,000. R.L. Hodges was the first principal. Many children in the Gray area attended school at Berea, Douglas Shed, and Morning Star which were just outside the commonly accepted boundaries of the Gray community.
The most outstanding building of the area was the David Kitzmiller home. He owned 1200 acres of land and was known throughout the state as one of the best farmers and stock raisers. The Kitzmiller mansion was the center of a typical southern plantation; it had a slave house, central kitchen and a smokehouse. Next to the side entrance of the house was a stagecoach route leading to Abingdon, Virginia. David Kitzmiller was a Confederate sympathizer and in the 1860’s held a lot of worthless Confederate currency; as a result, he was unable to pay his taxes and the home was sold to the Roller family of Kingsport. In 1894 the Rollers sold the house and 300 acres to “uncle” Jimmy Gray. After the Gray family was gone, the home was rented for several years and then torn down in the late 1960’s.
The first industries in Gray were the Eagle Milling Company; Isenberg Mill; and the Gray Canning Factory, which opened in 1925 and was owned by Sam Gray and Bob Isenberg. There have been several community stores; the earliest were owned by Courtney Cox, W.B. Gray, the Depews, and Union Store owned by Lloyd Maden.
In 1926 the early beginning of the Appalachian Fair was established as the Gray Community Fair by several families of the area – Bickley, Gresham, Gray, Hall, Isenberg, Martin, and Wine. During the first few years, the fair was held for only a half day in the first week of October. The fair was held in Johnson City for two years and then moved back to Gray in 1931. In the early 1950’s, the Washington County Court purchased thirteen acres of land from Wade Patrick at a price of $450, thus giving the fair its first permanent fairgrounds. The Appalachian Fair now owns about one hundred acres.
Anderson Gray received a land grant from North Carolina and the train station was built on some of this property. It is uncertain how the community actually received the name “Gray Station,” but it is assumed that it was named for Anderson Gray and the many other Gray families located in the area at the time. The name Gray Station was officially changed to Gray in the 1970’s.