Seven to eight miles northwest of the county seat of Jonesborough lies the Sulphur Springs community, perhaps most well-known locally and nationally as the site of the Historic Annual Sulphur Springs Camp Meeting. The valley, nestled between two ridges, takes its name from the sulphur spring, with its smelly greenish-yellow water, currently owned by Harold and Edna Larimer.
The early history of the community is sketchy at best due to the fact that few records were ever kept. However, the first settlers in this area were predominantly German and Scotch-Irish immigrants from Pennsylvania. These were followed soon by other nationalities in lesser numbers and North Carolinians fleeing trouble with the colonial government. The tax rolls of 1778-1801 for Washington County show the names of early settlers in this area. Descendants of these families still live in the Sulphur Springs Community: Carter, Ford, Nelson, Hale, Moore, Hunt, Walker, Bacon, Martin, Cross, Boyd, Lady, Carson, Hartman, Keys, Ferguson, Green, Lewis, Squibb, Shanks, Deakins, Sanders, Payne, Jones, Bayless, Archer, Webb, Jenkins, and Broyles. Records show that Uriah Hunt owned most of the land in the valley at one time.
As with most settlements in this area, the establishment of churches was an important element in the community’s history. On September 19, 1842, a deed was executed between Payne Squibb and the Reverend William Milburn and trustees John Mahoney, Everett Mahoney, William Walker, Andrew Walker, Richard Martin, Hiram Swaney, and Andrew Guinn for a five acre tract of land to be used for the purpose of erecting a church building for the use of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. How long services of the Sulphur Springs Methodist Church were held prior to this date is not known. There were two buildings on this tract, one which was used as a school, and the other presumably used as the church. The deed granted the school commissioners the right to use the school building for twenty years. Some years later (the exact date is unknown) a frame building was erected on the site of the present day parsonage. The gabled-roof, poplar-sided building was painted white and had two front doors permitting entrance to the right and left of the pulpit. This building served as the church building until the erection of the present building in 1921 by contractor Henry A. Curtis and his son, Roy W. Curtis. The Reverend S. A. Hopper said that it was his mission while at Sulphur Springs to build a monument to God and the members of the community. This monument, a sixty by seventy-two feet structure, features three large stained glass windows, two depicting the Biblical scenes of the Good Shepherd and the Good Samaritan. These are flanked by smaller stained glass windows on either side. The church is a member of the Holston Conference of United Methodist Churches. The church grounds are also home of the historic annual Sulphur Springs Camp Meeting.
The Limestone Baptist Church was organized on June 30, 1842, by Elders William Cate, Jesse Riggs, Reese Bayless, and Reuben Bayless with 34 members present at the Sulphur Springs Schoolhouse. Shortly thereafter, the Limestone Church building was erected as a place for worship. The second building was built by contractor Clabe Osborne in 1891. In 1909, Brother R. B. Stone insisted that a deed be made for the church lot since the first deed could not be located. A church lot of two acres was formed when a deed for 1 ½ acres was made to Hannah Cox and a deed of ½ acre was made to James Cox from a farm sold to Mattison Hunt. These tracts were then deeded to Limestone Baptist Church. In 1915, W. S. Squibb was chosen as the first Sunday School superintendent and was allowed to take $6.50 from the church treasury to buy literature to train sixteen scholars to work as Sunday School teachers. In 1918, the church began having preaching services on the first and third Sundays of each month. The church name was officially changed in 1945 to the Sulphur Springs Baptist Church and the Reverend Coy Riddle became the first full-time pastor in 1947. The present building was completed in 1970 by Earl Light. An educational building was built first, the old church was then demolished, and the new sanctuary was erected.
The Sulphur Springs Methodist and Baptist Churches have played vital roles in the spiritual, social, and historic development of community life. Oftentimes, husbands would belong to one church and their wives to the other. The two churches still hold joint worship services five or six times a year.
Two new churches have opened their doors since the 1970’s. The Gray Church of God, organized in 1979 by the Reverend Harold Babb, is located on the old Gray Station Road. It is a full gospel and Pentecostal church with a current membership of thirty-five. The Sulphur Springs Church of Christ, with Reverend Kenneth Wilson as pastor, is located on Bayless Road.
The Sulphur Springs community was once known as Luke, Tennessee. The Luke Post Office was established on July 18, 1894, with William H. Leach serving as postmaster. Joseph D. Lyon was appointed as postmaster on April 28, 1896 and served as postmaster until the appointment of J. C. Osborne on April 16, 1897. On November 30, 1900 the post office was closed and mail service was moved to Jonesborough. Sulphur Springs was also served by post offices at Morning Star and Locust Mount. The Morning Star Post Office was established on August 7, 1878; R.M.K. Deakins, appointed January 31, 1879; and Andrew D. Hale, appointed August 31, 1893. Postal service at Morning Star was discontinued on December 19, 1894. The Locust Mount Post Office served the community for the longest period of time. It was established on September 9, 1836 with Thomas C. McAdams serving as postmaster until August 27, 1845 when service was discontinued. On July 12, 1847, postal service resumed with Robert A. Thompson serving as postmaster. Thomas C. McAdams (appointed April 16, 1885), Joseph D. Lyon (appointed September 9, 1878), Nelson Duncan (appointed January 5, 1888), Gabriel J. Sylvester (appointed August 14, 1889), and William H. Sylvester (appointed July 17, 1891) served as postmaster until November 30, 1900 when postal service was moved to Jonesborough.
In 1842, the deed for the tract of land for the Sulphur Springs Methodist Church showed that two buildings were located on the property – a church and a school. The organizational meeting for the Limestone Baptist Church took place on June 30, 1842, at the Sulphur Springs Schoolhouse. Due to lack of records, nothing is known about its organization and dates of operation – only its approximate location. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Sulphur Springs was served by several small grade schools nearby, but there was no school in the immediate neighborhood. Children attended the log school at Chalybeate Springs, the white clapboard school at Cathal Springs (near Locust Mount), or the white clapboard school at Morning Star (near what is now Deakins Road) until they got to high school. These schools were organized by the county as public schools in the early 1880’s. Before then, they could have been community schools. After the completion of grade school, students could attend high school at Jonesborough and board with the townfolk, attend boarding school at Washington College, or consider their education complete and enter the work force.
In the early 1900’s, a circuit-riding Methodist minister, the Reverend T. D. Rowe, encouraged the community to build a school. This idea was received with tremendous enthusiasm and six acres of land were acquired for the purpose of a school. Most families contributed cash, timber and/or labor to make the school building a reality. Construction began in 1906. Although the building was not completely finished, school opened in the fall of 1907 as a combined elementary and three-year high school. The building was a commodious two-story frame structure containing eight classrooms and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 600. A small science laboratory, a library containing approximately two thousand books, and a piano for the music department were extra features of the school.
A Sulphur Springs School Board of Trustees was formed to supervise the school’s operation and to hire teachers. The first board members were: Jess Hunt, President; W. S. Squibb, Secretary; Dr. W. H. McCollum, Treasurer; William Hunt; J. C. Osborne; William Bayless; R.A.N. Walker; and Robert Bacon.
The school’s first principal, John T. Henderson, and his family lived in the front rooms of the new school. The first teachers were Molly Hale, Maude Keebler, and music teacher, Maude Duncan. Although the new school was a public school, students paid tuition during the first years. Tuition rates were as follows: $.50 per month in the first five grades; $.75 per month in grades six and seven; $1.00 per month in grades eight and nine; $1.25 per month in grades ten and eleven; $.15 contingency fee for fall term; $.20 contingency fee for spring term; $2.00 per month for piano instruction.
R.A.N. Walker built a two-story, fourteen room dormitory to house female students who lived too far away to walk or ride horseback daily to school. Unfurnished rooms were rented for $.75 per month and board was available at $8.00 per month. However, most girls cooked their own meals on small step stoves which also provided the only heat during cold weather. Camps (living quarters often two stories high) on the Sulphur Springs Campground were used as dormitory accommodations by male students who lived too far away to commute. The dormitory was used as an apartment building after the county began operating school buses in 1933 and dormitory facilities were no longer needed. School bus transportation prior to 1933 consisted of two privately-owned covered trucks operated by High Squibb and Will Keys.
In 1910, water was piped to the school from the Carder springs over a quarter of a mile to the northwest. The Carder family never charged for the water. The community built a gymnasium behind the school in 1927 to accommodate athletic programs.
In the 1930’s a building was added to house the first four grades and was dubbed “The Little Schoolhouse” by the children. Later, it was used as a cafeteria and custodian’s home.
In 1939, a new brick school building was built by WPA workers as part of the federal relief program during the Great Depression. The school received accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1959.
In 1971, Sulphur Springs, Fall Branch, and Boones Creek High Schools consolidated to form Daniel Boone High School. The old Sulphur Springs High School became the Sulphur Springs Elementary School, serving students in grades Kindergarten through eight.
After the Sulphur Springs School was built in 1907, the log Chalybeate Springs Schoolhouse became a school for the black children in the community. The school continued operating until sometime between 1913 and 1916.
The Cathal Springs School near Locust Mount apparently ceased operation around 1919. The school remained in operation to accommodate very young students unable to travel long distances daily and too young to live in the dormitory.
The Morning Star School was moved from the Squibb farm to the Bowser farm in 1910. There it continued to serve younger elementary students living on the outskirts of Sulphur Springs until the mid 1920’s. It was later used as Martin’s Store and was moved to another area on the Bowser farm.
The Sulphur Springs community was somewhat typical of many rural communities of times past. Most families made their living by farming and services related to a farming economy.
In the mid to late 1800’s, the Martin family built a three-story mill northeast of the Sulphur Springs Baptist Church. J. C. Osborne operated the mill after marrying into the Martin family. A twelve feet high dam was erected 300 feet northeast of the mill. A hand-dug mill race, approximately ten feet deep, connected the dam to the mill. A gate opened to allow water to travel through the race to turn the water wheel. The mill was used as both a sawmill and a gristmill. Later, it was remodeled into a roller mill where flour was made for the White Lily Company in Johnson City. Leonard Archer hauled the flour to Johnson City using a team of horses. In those days, it was an all day job. Jim Deakins also operated a grist mill and saw mill at Locust Mount. About a mile further down the road toward Bowmantown was Charlie Taylor’s mill where the first turbine water wheel in the Sulphur Springs area was installed. From 1938 to 1952, Odell Payne operated a sawmill near the site of the present day 7-11 store.
Every farming community had need of a blacksmith and there were at least three located in the Sulphur Springs community. As early as 1855, Isaac White had a blacksmith shop on his farm, located near the present-day home of Houston Carder; after Isaac’s death in 1891, the blacksmith shop was operated by his son-in-law, Adam A. Good. A blacksmith shop operated by Jack Nelson was located where the Center Grocery now stands. In the 1910 to 1920 period, Adam A. Good operated another blacksmith shop close to the Rollin Kennerly place.
A livery stable was located behind the old white Methodist Church. It was used to stable horses during camp meetings and during the school year by pupils who rode to school daily.
In 1913, Jessee Hunt employed John Kennerly and six other men to make and fire bricks for the foundation and chimney of his new home. The men used clay from the present day ballfield to make the bricks which were fired on the site.
Whenever printed programs were needed by the school or the camp meeting, Guy Bolton was called upon. He was the only job printer for miles around. It has been stated that his income rarely exceeded a dollar and a quarter per month.
The community was served by several different general stores in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. J. C. Osborne built a store near his mill which he later sold to J. W. Walker. This store housed the Luke Post Office. In 1912, J. W. Walker built another store nearby which he later sold to W. R. Moore. Oscar Leab and Jim Deakins ran a store at Locust Mount; R.M.K. Deakins ran one near Morning Star; and John Martin ran one close to the Bowser farm. H.M. and Herbert Walker, Frank Pitts, John Pitts, Hal Ford, and C. T. Slagle later built store buildings which have changed proprietors many times through the years.
Jack Nelson built the first garage in the community where he worked on Model T Fords. His sons, Hansel and Waldo, and grandson, Donnie, would continue to operate a garage until the 1980’s. Lee Payne and Lawrence Maples have also run garages in the community.
All rural communities had need for an undertaker. Jesse Hunt, from Locust Mount, would make coffins as they were needed and would haul the coffins to the gravesite in his own hack. Jack Nelson served as the coffin-maker in the immediate Sulphur Springs area. In the early 1900’s, Carl Osborne hired Filler Tomilson to make coffins, built a fine horse-drawn hearse, and became the community’s official undertaker. He served the community in this capacity until the 1930’s when he moved his business to Jonesborough. W. R. Moore then became the community’s undertaker. He kept caskets on display in the store’s Casket Room.
In 1929 Sherman Payne founded the Payne Sausage Company in Sulphur Springs. Company drivers would haul hogs from corn-producing states in the Midwest to the plant where the animals would be butchered. The meat was processed, packed, and distributed to grocery stores in the area. In its heyday, the plant employed approximately thirty people.
In 1972, Mr. Payne turned the business over to his wife, Gladys, and her son, the late Larry Fender. They changed the plant’s name to Payne Packing, which now provides a custom butchering service to the community. In 1968, Johnny Carter established a Tennessee Pride distributorship in the community.
Dairy cattle and products have figured prominently in the economy of the community. From 1932 to 1947, A. A. Deakins and Sons operated Highland Dairy Farms where milk was bottled on the farm and hauled to Kingsport to be sold. In 1954, A. A. Deakins, Jr. and his brother, John, purchased the canned milk route, bought trucks from a Mr Moody in Blountville and began hauling milk for Tri-State Milk Cooperative. Later, the brothers bought Sam Keebler’s route in Limestone and merged the two routes. In 1956, the company switched to bulk tanks as more farmers began switching from cans to large tanks for storage. John sold his interest to his brother, A. A. Deakins, Jr., who continued in the business until his death. His sons, A. A., III and David, continue to haul milk from area dairies to Dairymen Incorporated in Bristol.
In 1979, Art Willis establishsed Gray Supply Company which manufactures pallets (shipping crates) and floor pegs for Tarkett Flooring.
Sulphur Springs has one community cemetery and several family cemeteries. The Hunt Cemetery, located on the Dean Hunt farm, was used by the Hunt family in the 1800’s. Thurzy Deakins was the first person buried there in 1837. Mac Hunt gave the land for the current Sulphur Springs Cemetery, located beside the Sulphur Springs Campground. Blannie Hunt Deakins was the first person buried there in 1903.
The community has been served by several doctors since the late 1890’s. Dr. W. H. McCollum, who first practiced at Locust Mount, built a home across from the Methodist Church. He traveled by horseback carrying his medicine in a little black satchel which he placed in his saddle bags. He would measure each dose of medicine on the blade of his pocketknife, wrap it in paper, and leave it for the patient, often treating symptoms because of the inavailability of laboratory equipment. The community was later served by Drs. G. C. Horne, Blane Mitchell, and Jerry Atkinson. The community has had to travel elsewhere for medical care since the mid 1960’s.
The Sulphur Springs Road was built in 1919, greatly improving the transportation in the community. Electricity came here in 1928 from a power station in Jonesborough. Dan Garst and Rollin Kennerly wired most of the homes and businesses in the community for electricity.
The community spirit is strong as evidenced by the community organization during the past and in the present. In the early 1920’s, Modern Woodmen of America operated a lodge across from Moore’s Store. The Masons had a lodge at Locust Mount. The Grange Organization was quite strong in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Ruritan has had several active organizations, off and on, from the 1950’s to the present. The Community Chest helps families in the community facing financial difficulties. The Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Department, organized in 1969, has grown from a one-truck outfit housed in a bay at a service station to a four-truck operation housed in a log structure fire hall and community center. The fire hall was built in 1980 at a cost of $45,000 using primarily volunteer labor. The members and community worked diligently conducting various fund-raising activities, completely paying off its debt by late 1982.
Due to the growth of industry in the Tri-Cities area, Sulphur Springs has changed from a rural farm community to a rural community of subdivisions. Today, most residents earn their living as industrial workers or professional people throughout the Tri-Cities. – contributed by Romana Bird
References: Sulphur Springs Home Demonstration Club, History of Sulphur Springs Community: A Tennessee Homecoming ’86 Project; Keebler Julia Bacon. The Rural School of the Twentieth Century; History of Sulphur Springs United Methodist Church and Historic Camp Meeting, 1820-1984; Public Schools of Washington County, Tennessee – Course of Instruction and General Information, 1900, 1903, 1913, 1916, 1922; Tax Records of Washington County, Tennessee 1778-1800; personal interviews: B. Houston Carder; Mrs. Jean Carter; Iva Ford; Stella Hilbert; Rollin Kennerly; Gladys Moore Lady; Louise Payne; Ray Rector; Mr. & Mrs. Bill Squibb, Clarence Chase.