Veterans honored for their service to our country

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

An aura of patriotism was evident at the Johnson County Senior Center Thursday as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) recognized and honored veterans for their service to our nation. A number of veterans were on hand for that special day. Each one was asked to come forward to receive a certificate of appreciation and a memento of the occasion from the DAR.

The certificate of appreciation reads as follows: “The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Certificate of Appreciation Presented to (veteran’s name) on Veterans’ Day 2017 by Blue Ridge Mountains Chapter.” Janet Rhea Payne, Chapter Regent, signed the certificate. The veterans were lined up across the senior center floor. Pictures were taken. There were a variety of military branches represented as well as varying lengths of service.
My high school classmate, Junior Maze, recited a moving poem about the American Flag with the accompaniment of Jackie Warden on the piano. Warden also sang a couple of patriotic songs for the occasion.

The presentation ceremony followed a delicious meal consisting of chili dog with mustard and onion, potato wedges, baked beans, coleslaw and a whole-wheat bun. Milk and margarine are also included. The price per meal is very reasonable. Kathy Motsinger is the senior center director. Terry Hodge handles the transportation and Helen Wood is over the food service. Volunteers are needed and welcome. All the activities can be utilized by anyone 60 years of age and older. The center is housed inside what was once the old Johnson County High School gymnasium that was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was transformed into a beautiful facility for the senior center. Seniors can fellowship together, eat a nice meal and make use of the various services available.

The center brings an important service to seniors. It affords a great deal of activities and services. There are three pool tables for their use. In addition there is a variety of exercise machines. Books and magazines are also available. Long and short trips are planned by the director throughout the year. Guest speakers are often featured as well as folks who come to entertain. The senior center is a very important facility for Johnson County folks to utilize and support.

Facts about the great state of Tennessee

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

I feel blessed to have been born and raised in the great state of Tennessee, especially in East Tennessee. I’ve spent most of my life in Tennessee except for two years in the United States Army. As I find out more and more about the Volunteer State, the more interested I become. There is a difference in the climate from one end of the state to the other. Further, the temperature varies greatly from cold weather to hot weather in the course of a year. East Tennessee has snow in varying amounts but I wouldn’t want snow all year long. I wouldn’t want hot weather all year either. A little snow is okay. A lot of Snow, not so much. Keeping the roads safe is my main concern when winter comes on the scene each year.
Anyway, I read somewhere that Tennessee got its name from a Cherokee Village and river called Tanasi. There are varying explanations as to why it is called The Volunteer State. But it boils down to the fact that Tennessee provided the most volunteers during a number of U. S. wars and military conflicts in its history.
Tennessee history is very interesting. The area that is Tennessee once belonged to North Carolina. Later, Tennessee was also in the area known as The Territory South of the River Ohio or simply The Southwest Territory. Prior to Tennessee becoming the 16th state in 1796 — only 20 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence — an experiment in government called The State of Franklin was formed but it only lasted four years. For those of my readers who like trivia, here are some other interesting facts about Tennessee: The state bird is the Mockingbird, the state flower is the Iris, the state motto is “Agriculture and Commerce,” the state song is “The Tennessee Waltz.” It is interesting to note that Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union during the American Civil War and it was the first state to be re-admitted. Many East Tennessee citizens were sympathetic to the Union.
Historians say that in 1540 the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led the first white expedition into the region. Of course, the famous pioneer Daniel Boone explored a great deal in East Tennessee.

In 1982, Knoxville, Tennessee played host to the World’s Fair. I had the privilege of attending the fair with a church group and it was a great experience.

Swift has always found the evacuation of Dunkirk interesting

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

The evacuation of Dunkirk has been interesting to me since I studied the poem “Dunkirk” in Mrs. Cook’s Literature class when I was a freshman at good old Johnson County High School.
The Battle of Dunkirk, a heroic effort to evacuate a large number of British soldiers from the coast of France to England, saw more than 300,000 allied troops being evacuated in small boats as the German army had destroyed the larger vessels.
The Battle of Dunkirk was the scene of one of the most memorable naval actions in history when allied troops were cut off by German advances on channel ports and their only hope was to evacuate. The battle took place between May 26, 1940 and June 4, 1940. Dunkirk was destroyed but many lives were saved. Many small boats were utilized in the evacuation process and civilians became helpful for the endeavor.
A flotilla of hundreds of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure crafts, yachts, and lifeboats were called into service from Britain.
There were many poems written about the event. The one I remember is titled “Dunkirk.” By Robert Nathan. It is one of the great poems to come out of World War II. Strangely enough, I still remember a few lines from the poem that I studied many years ago. The part of the poem I remember follows:
“Will came from school that day.
And he had little to say.
But he stood a long time looking down
To where the gray-green Channel water
Slapped at the foot of the little town,
And to where his boat, the Sarah P,
Bobbed at the tide on an even keel,
With her one old sail, patched at the leech, furled like a slattern down at heel.
He stood for a while above the beach,
He saw how the wind and current caught her;
He looked a long time out to sea.
There was steady wind, and sky was pale,
And a daze in the east that looked like smoke. The poem continues to describe the heroics of young Will, 16, and his 14-year-old sister Beth as they braved the water and gunfire to be a small but important part of the rescue operation.

Johnson County Historical Society is a great organization

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

If you’re interested in history, especially the history of Johnson County, I can suggest to you a great organization that can whet that interest and provide a wealth of information about the Johnson County area.
That organization is the Johnson County Historical Society. The motto of that organization is “Bringing the Past to the Present”. And, that’s just what the society aims to do.

The Society meets every third Sunday of the month at 2:00 p.m. in the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center on South Shady Street (Hwy. 421). That is unless the meeting date is changed for some reason such as that Sunday falling on a holiday or other important reason.

On September 22, 1977 fifteen area citizens met at the First United Methodist Church under the leadership of Walter Wilson, to discuss the feasibility of organizing a historical society for Johnson County. Wilson, whose roots were planted deep in Johnson County, indicated the purposes of the organization would be to preserve our heritage, accumulate the county’s artifacts, collect folk tales and songs of the mountains, and to start a fund that would hopefully, grow into a historical library and museum.

The Society was officially organized at the November 1977 meeting. John Butler was elected President, Bob Morrison, Vice President, Elizabeth Wilson, Recording Secretary, Mary Ward, Corresponding Secretary and Rena Shoun, Treasurer.

The Society was officially chartered by the State on December 15, 1977. The certificate was available for examination by the members at the January 1978 meeting. At this point in its short history, the Society had 80 members. By August 1978 the membership had grown to 100. The membership grew until at one time there were some 200 members.

Other presidents over the years have also included Freddie Morley, Bob Morrison, Mac Wright, Dave Cantrell, Myself, Sue Howard, Malcolm Howard, Jessie DiProspero, Tom Gentry, Emily Millsaps, Haynes Wright, Janie Gentry and Bob Frei.

The Society has published three volumes titled “The History of Johnson County”. The first history was published in 1986 and the second one was published in 2000. The third was published in 2015. The first includes Johnson County history plus a great many family histories. The second and third include many family histories that didn’t get into the first book as well as updates on county history since 1986.

They are on sale at the Welcome Center as is a Pictorial History of Johnson County.

Swift reflects on radio in early days

By Jack Swift

Radio had not been around long and television was several years in the future when I was a child. I remember my family buying a second hand table-model Philco radio when I was about the age of 8 or 9. It was a time of great excitement when my dad brought home that radio and hooked it up to the two large batteries that powered the radio since we didn’t have electricity at the time. As I’ve mentioned several times in this column, few folks had radio sets in the early days of broadcasting. Fewer had electricity. When electricity became a reality for us, I later bought a more powerful floor-model, but the Philco unit stayed with us and I have it now. It was set up to use two batteries. We later had it altered to use only one battery.
The batteries it used were about a foot long and about five inches wide and five inches high. With an antenna (a wire stretched between two posts) the radio would pick up a great many distant stations. Stations such as WSM Nashville Tennessee; WOWO Fort Wayne Indiana; WHO New York; WCKY Cincinnati Ohio; WGN Chicago; KDKA Pittsburg Pennsylvania; WMOX Knoxville Tennessee; WBT Charlotte, North Carolina; KMOX St. Louis; and several more. Local stations included WJHL Johnson City; WOPI Bristol; WBEJ Elizabethton; and more.
Those who had radios were often visited by neighbors who hadn’t yet purchased one but wanted to hear the news and find out what was going on in the world. There were a number of stations that featured programs that appealed to the youngsters: The Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid, the Green Hornet, Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong to name a few. Of course there were soap operas, situation comedies, and news programs. Some of them made the transition to television and some became quite popular on the small screen. Comedians such as Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, and others held forth in the living rooms of many folks in the early days of radio. Many people adjusted their radio dial to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. It was broadcast from Nashville on WSM’s clear channel station. I don’t know when FM (Frequency Modulation) was first introduced but I know that most radios were AM (Amplitude Modulation) and were known to have a lot of static due to the weather. When FM came on the scene, static was reduced on the radios that were able to broadcast in FM.

First in the hearts of his countrymen

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

It was said of George Washington that he was “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” Those words about him were included in a eulogy by Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee. I suppose President Washington was one of the first of the presidents that folks heard or read about when they began their studies on the office of president. If I remember right, I learned as a child some basic things about President Washington before I found out about President Lincoln and others.
Washington was a man of many accomplishments but through much of his life he had a place in his heart for his farm on the Potomac River called Mount Vernon. Over his life, he was a surveyor, soldier and Planter before ascending to the office of president of the United States. He was born in Westmorland County, Virginia on February 22, 1732. He died December 14, 1799. He had no formal schooling, but his family and perhaps tutors as well taught him what he would need in becoming a young gentleman at that time.
He helped establish the form of government that the U.S. would take and helped the young nation to find itself as it contended against forces that would try to bring down the brave new nation. He led the American Forces during the Revolutionary War that broke the bonds of Britain. He presided at the Constitutional Convention that decided what form of government America would have. At a young age he spent several months in the wilderness as a surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia.
Washington longed to return to his fields at Mount Vernon but he realized that the government wasn’t functioning, as it should. So he became a prime mover in establishing the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. The first ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights) were ratified. Also Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee joined the Union during his presidency.
Of the many instances of bravery and courage, many remember his actions at Valley Forge in which he showed concern for his men and stayed with them during the awful winter of 1777 and 1778. Moreover, he at one time escaped injury when bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him. He died of a throat infection merely three years after his retirement. He forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, a place I was privileged to visit while I was in the Army at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Swift reflects on more changes in Mountain City

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

As I wrote in last week’s column there have been many changes in Mountain City in the last several years that I know about due to my living during those times of change. Growing up in the ‘50s, and ‘60s I have some memories of how it was during those times. So, in this column I will try to mention a few more buildings and businesses that were around then but are no longer standing or in different businesses today.
As I remember, above Smithey’s were two or three white frame houses. On up the street were Arney’s Grill and along there somewhere was the Dayton Sammons Store. Then there were more homes until a large two-story building that housed a store on the first floor and The Tomahawk newspaper on the second floor. I remember the store, but I don’t remember the newspaper being on the second floor. I have seen pictures of the building with a huge Tomahawk sign in front of the second story. If I remember right there were more houses from there to First Christian Church. And then more houses from there to South Shady Street. Coming down on the other side of the street was the Joe Ray House that now has a gas station and convenience store where it was. Then there was the Shell Service Station next. Next was the old courthouse that replaced an earlier one. I think Home Furniture Company and a Hosiery mill were in that vicinity at some time during the ‘50s and perhaps later. A funeral home and Grayson’s Hotel and another gas station were next down the street.

Coming on down West Main Street were Mollie Shoun’s restaurant and further down was the Mollie Waugh Restaurant. I believe there was one large white house on that side of the road too. Turning the corner at the bank going up North Church Street was a store, a doctor’s office and a Texaco Gas Station on the corner of North Church Street and College Street. Of course the old high school building still stands and due to the Heritage Hall project it has become a wonderful asset to Johnson County, featuring plays, concerts and other types of entertainment. I mentioned Blackburn’s Supermarket earlier in this column and in last week’s column as well. It was perhaps the largest store in town at the time it was in operation. I failed to mention the basement of Blackburn’s housed a print shop and the Tomahawk newspaper. Access to the basement was made down a set of steps on the East Main Street side of the building. A Firestone store was on the north side of Blackburn’s. If you traveled down South Church Street, the west were a Greyhound bus station an appliance store and a jewelry shop. There was a large one-story building facing South Church Street in that area also. On the other side of South Church Street were a pharmacy and a dry goods store.
There is no doubt that I’ve left out some of the buildings and sites that were a part of Mountain City, but at least it may have aroused the memory of some of us who lived in that time.

How it used to be in Mountain City

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

Several folks who have commented on my column over the last 14 years have told me that they enjoy the columns about the way it used to be in Mountain City when they were young. In other words, they like to travel back on the road of time and reminisce about their younger days. While my memory has faded to some extent, I still remember some things about the town. So I thought I would share with my readers some of the things I remember from times of yesteryear. I think most of those who lived out in the county in that day traveled to town at least once a week and perhaps more.
Saturday night was the busiest time when Johnson County folks turned out in large numbers to visit friends, family and neighbors on the sidewalks. Of course, auto traffic volume was much greater then too.
Like many families, we rounded out a days work and looked forward to the relief of cooler nights and a visit to “town”. There are several places of business that I remember from days gone by. During green bean season, the bean market that I remember most was located on Depot Street below where Tri-State Growers is now. Then there was The Trading Post at the north end of Depot Street. The Muse Hardware was at the intersection of Church and Main Streets. At that time you could purchase about anything related to farming there — even Farmall tractors. Mr. Claude Cress was on hand to repair tractors when necessary. Across the street from Muse Hardware is a building that once housed a pharmacy on the ground level as well as a dentist office and other offices upstairs. I have found that many folks don’t know that there once was a restaurant or grill in the basement of the building. There was a set of steps leading to the business on the east side of the building. Ramsey’s Variety Store that has since been razed was on that street as was Smithey’s Store. If I remember right, there were some white-frame homes on up Main Street from there. I remember when trees lined both sides of Main Street.
On North Church Street beginning at the traffic light there were a small grocery store on the left and a doctor’s office. Dr. Bundy’s office was on the other side of the street. From there were a number of homes on both sides of the street. Blackburn’s Supermarket was a prominent business downtown in those days. Also, looking right on West Main Street was Grayson Hotel and the second of the three courthouses Johnson County has built. There were others of course. Perhaps I’ll mention more at a later date.

Swift finds it amazing that helicopers can fly

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

It is amazing to me that helicopters can fly. I am fascinated with helicopters. It is one thing to fly forward like the airplane — and that’s amazing enough — but for a machine to go forward and backward and up and down and sideways and to hover in the air is another. In Pigeon Forge several years ago I opted to take a ride in a helicopter that was being used to give rides to tourists. The pilot was flying folks over Dollywood and around the area. That was the first and only time that I rode one of those machines. But I remember it vividly.

I always think of Igor Sikorsky when I think of helicopters. While he wasn’t the only one to pioneer in the development of that type of craft, perhaps he has the most name recognition when it came to it. He began work on it as early as 1910. The helicopter was developed by several people over time. The first operational helicopter came along in 1936. But 1942 was when Sikorsky’s helicopter reached full-scale production. The most common design has a rotor on top of the machine while a small rotor in the back keeps the helicopter from turning.
Of course, the machines have been adapted to industrial applications. The sometimes lift very heavy objects atop high buildings. They’re used sometimes for police observance and for television and radio reporting.

Military applications are many. Many lives have been saved due to the use of those amazing machines. Getting the wounded to the closest field hospital is often the key to a soldier’s survival.

The word helicopter was coined by a French writer who came up with the words “hello” for spiral and “pter” for wings. As I mentioned earlier in this column, helicopters fascinate me. From what I have heard, they’re not easy to pilot. I’ve been told that there are several key things to attend to fly the machines. Anyway, helicopters have many uses and it is good that over the years folks have continued to develop those amazing machines. Many folks have flying miniature helicopters as a hobby. It sounds to me like It would be a good hobby. Perhaps I’ll give it a try sometime.

Oops! The fourth paragraph of my column last week contained an error. The sentence, “Major Grayson was a native of Carter County” should have read “Col. Miller was a native of Carter County.” I regret the error.

Swift receives book entitled ‘The War of the Nations Portfolio’

My wife Mary and I have had the pleasure of knowing Weldon and Gwen Bell since meeting them at First Christian Church a few years ago. We have visited them at their beautiful home on Callalantee Drive on a ridge high above Mountain City. They came to Johnson County a few years ago from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, following retirement from a successful seafood business. They say they love Johnson County and have adapted well here.

Gwen is the director of the Johnson County Emergency Heat for Seniors Program — a program that provides heating sources such as wood, electric, propane etc. to qualified seniors. It often is a factor in whether or not those seniors stay warm during the cold days of winter. I feel that’s the mission God put me in charge of, says Gwen. “I was terrified when we came here because I knew no one but we have come to love Johnson County and its people. Weldon agrees.
Some months ago, Gwen approached me and said they had a book they wanted me to have. She later brought the book to church and I was glad to accept it. I was surprised when I first saw the book. It was huge. The title of the book was “The War of the Nations Portfolio.” It was one of the largest books I have ever seen. The book was published in 1919.
Woodrow Wilson was the thirty-eighth president at the time. World War I, also called the Great War, involved many people. The book has pictures about the movers and shakers of that era as well as prominent battles. The book is divided into Portraits, military operations, pictures, maps and texts.

Other than President Wilson’s full-page portrait, are full-page portraits of Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, American Delegate to the Peace Conference Colonel Edward M. House, and Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo. There are numerous pictures of other dignitaries who served during the war.
World War I was billed as the “War to End All Wars.” Of course we know that slogan’s premise never came to pass.

I will treasure the book. I will read it often and try to gain a better understanding about what took place during that momentous era of World War I. I want to again thank the Bells for their thoughtfulness. “Thank you.”

 

 

Swift reflects on interesting books recently given to him

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

I am a booklover. Realizing at a young age that much of what a person learns is through reading, I set out on the adventures of learning through reading a long time ago. Now, I don’t mean to imply that reading is the only way to learn but I believe it is one of the most important ways to learn. Some kind folks over the years have given books to me and I thoroughly appreciate their thoughtfulness. In this column and in later columns I want to mention three books that I have received recently or at least within the year.
A few weeks ago, I pulled my car into a space near a yard sale that was being held just off 421 South. My wife Mary is a huge yard sale enthusiast, as are many others folks it seems. She opted to visit the sale, but I decided to stay in the car. After all, it was very hot that day and I decided to turn on the air conditioning, put the seatback back a little and relax. While I was relaxing and doing a little daydreaming, I noticed a pickup truck parked in the space next to where I was parked.
In a few minutes, the owner of the truck, who is a good friend of mine, appeared at the window of the passenger side of the car. It was Tim Furchess. We talked awhile, and then Tim got a large book from his truck and gave it to me. He said that since I like books so much, he wanted me to have it. It was a reprinted 1922 Montgomery Ward Catalogue.
It was a large and somewhat heavy tome. It was 13 inches by 9 ½ inches by 2 inches. It was well preserved and the dust cover was in remarkably good shape. The original was published in connection with Montgomery Ward’s 50th anniversary. It was labeled The Golden Jubilee edition. It was published in the Roaring Twenties. Looking back the prices are astounding. A man’s 2-piece suit with vest was priced at $12.95. A nickel-plated watch was 89 cents. A snow sled was a low $1.48. Men’s dress shoes – $3.98 per pair. A high-grade medium size heater priced at $18.95. A bicycle could be purchased for $22.95. Some pocket watches priced at $2.95. Fiddles were selling for $5.25. A guitar could be bought for $5.65.
Of course I know that money was difficult to get and a dollar was worth more then than in this days economy. But it is interesting to look back to how it was in bygone days. Thanks again Tim for the book.

Swift reflects on growing up in a loving family

By Jack Swift

Looking back on my boyhood days, I see a loving family. Although we were not wealthy in the material sense, we never lacked for good food, adequate clothing or shelter. If we weren’t wealthy, we didn’t realize it because there was more than enough love to go around. I have been blessed with the very best mother and father a son could have. The sacrifices they made for me are many and I will never forget it. Much of the knowledge they possessed was of the heart and not just of the brain alone. Although they may never have done great things in the eyes of the world, they have left their mark and the world is a better place because of their influence.”

Those are my words that were entered into the first Johnson County History Book published by the Johnson County Historical Society in 1986. I’ve written much about that book and the two others that have been published since: one in 2000 and the latest in 2015. All three volumes are for sale at the Johnson County Welcome Center on South Shady Street here in Mountain City. All three contain a wealth of family histories as well as a great deal of interesting information about Johnson County.

In this column I want to mention by family and how blessed I was to be a part of it. My father, Isaac Allen Swift, worked hard to raise his family, as did my mother, Carrie Emiline Harper Swift. Both of them knew what hard work was and they were not averse to it. I had a brother, Charles Ray Swift, who passed away September 10, 1990. He too was a hard worker who had many friends. He was my only sibling. He worked at many jobs and farmed on the side. One of the most interesting jobs he held as a young man was making cement blocks. Mr. Blain Cole owned a small block factory about three miles out of Mountain City on Highway 67. It was a simple machine that made one block at a time. I understand that some buildings in Johnson County used some of those blocks.

As I remember, there were two main parts of the plant: The concrete mixer and the block mold. A certain formula of sand, concrete and water were mixed together to a certain consistency. The mixture was then poured into the mold, extracted from the mold and then dried. Before drying, the blocks were very fragile. But after being dried, they were very strong. The block making took place in about the early ‘50s if I remember right. Perhaps there were other block factories then, but probably none as small. Other jobs my brother had were at Lukens Steel Mill, Coatesville, Pennsylvania; General Motors, Wilmington, Delaware; Lincoln Industries, Damascus, Virginia; Blue Ridge Shoe Company and Timberland Shoe Company, Mountain City, Tennessee. He married Nora Mae Jennings and they have a daughter, Deborah Flanders of Sherman, Texas and a son Gregory of Powell, Tennessee. Both are graduates of Tennessee Technological University of Cookeville, Tennessee.

Taylor Brothers orate, fiddle for Tennessee Governor post

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

As I learn more about the governors of Tennessee, it becomes clear to me that there has been much variation among them. I have found that there is a great deal of interesting facts about them and their governorship. It is interesting to know that some consider William Blount to be the first governor of Tennessee due to his being governor for the Territory South of the River Ohio which included Tennessee. George Washington appointed Governor Blount to that post in 1790. In 1796, Blount presided over the constitutional convention that transformed part of the territory into the State of Tennessee.
One of the most controversial of the governors of Tennessee was Isham G. Harris who served from November 3, 1857 until March 12, 1862. He used his governorship and influence toward getting Tennessee to secede from the union and become a confederate state. After the end of the Civil War, there was a reward of $5,000 for his capture. He fled the state but returned to Memphis in 1867 and resumed practicing law.
I’m sure other governors could be named that were interesting as well, but the most interesting to me were the Taylor brothers, Robert (Bob) and Alfred (Alf).
I like to tell the story of those brothers who ran against each other for Tennessee governor in the election of 1886. Both were outstanding orators and both were skillful fiddle players. I understand that they not only ran against each other for the governorship, they campaigned together taking turns fiddling and speaking. Both were active in politics with Bob running as a Democrat and Alf running as the Republican contender. While Alf lost in his bid for governor at that time, he was later elected governor in 1920. He served one term.
The brothers’ campaign was called the “War of the Roses” due to the supporters of Bob wearing the white rose of York on their lapels and the supporters of Alf wearing the red rose of Lancaster. In English history the “War of the Roses” was fought between the houses of Lancaster and York from 1455 until 1485.
Sometime along the way I acquired a book titled Lectures and Best Literary Productions of Bob Taylor published in 1912. The book includes a selection of lectures and other works by Bob. In connection with the aforementioned Governor Harris, the book includes Bob’s Address at the memorial services of Harris at Memphis, Tennessee on November 21, 1897. In his memorial address, Taylor had much good to say about Harris and his accomplishments.
The Taylor brothers were born in the Happy Valley section of Carter County. Bob became a three-term Tennessee governor and one-term U. S. senator. Alf served one term as governor, being elected in 1920. Alf, the older of the two, was born August 6, 1848 and died November 25, 1931. Bob was born July 21, 1850 and died March 31, 1912.
The Taylor brothers’ race for governor of Tennessee was truly a unique event in the history of the great state of Tennessee.

Colonel R. R. Butler was a famous Johnson County citizen

By: Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

If you come into Mountain City on the old State Route 91 (Divide Road since the new highway was built), you will see a stately old brick mansion on the right. Local folks know it as the Butler Mansion and probably know something about it but visitors to this area or newcomers planning to stay may be curious about its builder and its long time resident.

The house was built by and was the residence of one of the most famous citizens of Johnson County: Roderick Random (R. R.) Butler. Butler held a wide variety of important posts during his 75 years not the least was his actions during the American Civil War during which he attained the rank of Colonel. He was born in Wytheville, Virginia, April 9, 1827. He came to Taylorsville to follow the tailor’s craft having been apprenticed to a John Haney of Newbern, Virginia. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1853. He early on practiced law in Taylorsville (the name was changed to Mountain City in 1885.)

He was a Union Sympathizer, as were most folks in East Tennessee, and spent much of time working for the Union Cause. His rise to fame included being appointed Postmaster of Taylorsville by President Millard Fillmore and he was a Major of the 1st Battalion of Tennessee Militia and was a member of the Tennessee State Senate. During the Civil War he served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry.
After the war he was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1864, delegate to the Tennessee State constitutional convention in 1867 and was know as the people’s judge of the first judicial circuit of Tennessee in 1865. In 1867, he was elected as a Republican to the Fortieth and to the three succeeding Congresses, serving until 1875. He was a member of the Johnson County delegation at both the Knoxville session and Greenville session of the East Tennessee Convention, which petitioned the state legislature to allow East Tennessee to break away from Tennessee and form a Union-aligned state.
Butler was married to Emeline Jane Donnelly Butler and they had 11 children. Their home, The Butler Mansion, was built around 1870. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town of Butler was named in his honor. He died August 18, 1902. He is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Mountain City.

The year 1836 is of particular interest to me

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historia

The year 1836 is of particular interest to me because it was the year Johnson County was carved out of Carter County to become the most northeastern county in Tennessee. Citizens of the area that became Johnson County had been plagued for years by the difficulty of traveling to Elizabethton, the county seat of Carter County, to conduct necessary business. In those days, travel was grueling and time consuming. There were rivers to cross and ridges to traverse. Johnson County was named for Thomas Johnson, a very respected and influential man of the area.

The county seat of Johnson County was laid out and lots were sold. Originally named Taylorsville to honor Carter County’s James P. Taylor. The name was changed from Taylorsville to Mountain City in 1885. Since the town was surrounded by beautiful mountains, it was a very appropriate name.
As I was thinking about 1836, I decided to try to find some other happenings in that year. It was in that year that the Battle of the Alamo in what is now San Antonio Texas was fought. After 13 days of fighting the Texas defenders were overwhelmed and the entire garrison was killed. Two hundred fifty seven Texans were killed including Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. Crocket, a Tennessee Congressman, had left for Texas following a disappointing loss in his final bid for Congress.

Andrew Jackson was president in 1836. He had been a popular and successful general prior to becoming a U.S. president. He served as president from 1829 to 1837. Englishman Charles Dickens, the famous author of the Victorian Era, was born February 7, 1812. Following his marriage in 1836, he became a prolific writer with such works as David Copperfield, Great Expectations and other novels. He was also the author of a number of short stories. One famous person who married in 1836 was famous writer Harriet Beecher to Calvin Stowe in Cincinnati, Ohio on January 6. On May 16 Edgar Allan Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm. English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray married Isabella Gethin Shawe.
Among the deaths in 1836 were Betsy Ross (1752 – 1836), Aaron Burr (1756 – 1836 and as mentioned earlier Davy Crockett (1786 – 1836). James Madison, who died in 1836, served as U. S. President from 1809 to1817. The Texas Capital City, Austin, is named for Stephen F. Austin who passed away in 1836. I found a birthday that was quiet interesting. Winslow Homer, a famous American Painter was born February 24, 1836 in Boston, Massachusetts. He died September 29, 1910 at the age of 74. Homer is one of the most famous American painters. His maritime paintings are superb.
So, a lot was going on in the United States in 1836. I suppose that in what would become Mountain City there was a lot going on also. It was truly the Horse and Buggy days.

Two famous scientists

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

One of my hobbies is reading. I read a lot. Most of my reading is non-fiction.  It has been a long time since I read a novel or short story. The subject of most of my reading is History, Biography or Science. The fact that I read a lot on those subjects doesn’t make me an expert. But, as I read and learn I do pick up some interesting facts about those subject categories. And I like to use a bit of them in my columns from time to time.
What I decided to write about this week deals with the field of science, more pointedly scientists themselves. As I read about the stalwarts of science and what they have contributed to our world, I am amazed at their insight and perseverance. In this column I want to feature two scientists that I admire as much or more than any others.
One of my first choices is one that I suspect many others would also agree is one of the most popular and influential scientists of all time — Albert Einstein. Dr. Einstein was born at Ulm, in Wurttemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879. After continuing his education in a number of schools, he entered in 1896 the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. Five years later he received his diploma. He then went to work as a technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. Four years later he received his doctor’s degree. After a number of important posts, he   immigrated to America to take the position of Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton University. He became a United States citizen in 1940 and retired in 1945. Most folks know something about his famous formula Energy=Mass times the speed of light squared. Of course his Special Theory of Relativity and his General Theory of Relativity were revolutionary. He received a number of Honorary Degrees and other accolades before he died at Princeton April 18, 1955.

The other scientist I want to call attention to is Dr. Stephen Hawking. While I admire his work, it is his determination to continue in his work in the field of cosmology despite his physical limitations that impresses me. He was diagnosed with ALS, also known in America as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, at the age of 21. He is wheel chair bound and dependent on a computerized voice system for communication. Dr. Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England. When he was 11, he went to St. Albans School and then on to University College. He wanted to study Mathematics, but Mathematics wasn’t available there. Instead, he studied Physics. From there he went to Cambridge to do research in Cosmology. After earning his Ph.D, he was employed at a number of institutions before coming to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics in 1979. Dr. Hawking is still an active part of Cambridge University and has an office there. He is the author of several publications.
Of course there are many other scientists who deserve our admiration for their contribution to a better understanding of the universe and for making our lives better.

This ‘n’ That

By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

A portion of Tennessee called Johnson County is where I call home. In my 79 years on this planet I have never wished to live anywhere else. Sure I’ve enjoyed visiting near and far, but that’s all I wanted to do — visit. I enjoyed a trip to New York when I was working full time for the Tomahawk newspaper. I was impressed with the busyness of the place and the massive tall buildings. But give me the friendly people and the relative tranquility of good old Johnson County. I feel that I am blessed to be a citizen of Tennessee and Johnson County.
Johnson County and Tennessee both have a number of oddities when it comes to their history. The word “Tennessee” is said to come from the Cherokee town of “Tanasi”, on what is now the Little Tennessee River in present day Monroe County.
Prior to becoming a state in 1796, the citizens of what is now East Tennessee attempted to form a new state called Franklin but it was short lived — only about four years (1784 – 1788). That effort to form a new state was brought about in part due to North Carolina’s failure to provide protection for the settlers who had crossed the Appalachian Mountains looking for a better life. Although North Carolina claimed that area, it was unable or did not choose to provide government or protection for the settlers who were under the threat of Native American attacks and who needed a workable government in order to transact their business.
What would become Johnson County was a part of the East Tennessee area that became the State of Franklin. It is interesting to note that Tennessee is nicknamed the Volunteer State due its tremendous number of soldiers provided during certain wars involving the United States.
Tennessee became a state in 1
796 only twenty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Tennessee was the last to secede from the Union during the American Civil War and was the first state to rejoin the Union. The war lasted from 1861 until 1865. Andrew Johnson, who later became president after President Lincoln was brutally murdered, was the only southern senator to keep his seat in congress during the Civil War.

Johnson County leaned heavily toward the Union. It was a part of several East Tennessee counties that wanted no part in opposing the country they had revered so passionately. Conventions were called to discuss their opposition to secession and to urge against any hasty decisions to wage war. It was evident that though Tennessee had in February voted against secession by a majority of 68,000, Tennessee Governor Isham Harris and the leaders in Nashville were determined from the outset to remove Tennessee from the Union. They had used any means possible to do so. The next referendum went to the folks who favored secession. Kentucky tried to remain neutral but several battles were waged in that state. West Virginia was formed from the northern portion of Virginia. Union leaders of East Tennessee tried to form a new state but were rebuffed in their effort by Governor Harris and his administration.
As many Johnson County folks know, their county came to be due to the difficulty off terrain and length of time they experienced getting to Elizabethton, then the county seat of Carter County. Petitions were delivered to Nashville, the state capital first desiring that the County Seat be moved nearer but later asking that a new county be formed. That request was finally granted and Johnson County in 1836 was formed from the northeast section of Carter County. The county seat of the new county became Taylorsville, named for James P. Taylor of Carter County. The name was changed to Mountain City in 1885. Johnson County was named for Thomas Johnson a leading citizen of the area.
There are a great deal more interesting facts about Johnson County and Tennessee. Perhaps I’ll have more in a later column.

An old magazine explores the roots of country music

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Sometime a few years ago, I ran across a Life Magazine dated June 30, 1972. I bought it and I still have it and I value it highly. I, of course, was interested in it because of the fact it was as old as it was, but also because of one of the feature stories it contained. As I was perusing the magazine the story that caught my eye was “The Living Roots of Country Music.”
I was pleasantly surprised that the story featured some of Johnson County’s well-known musicians. One page featured the late Fred Price playing his fiddle as he sat at the side of his house in the Third District of Johnson County. Another page pictured Fred in his home playing his banjo. A family photo of the popular and famous “Doc” Watson showed him and his son Merle, who died as a result of a tractor accident, as well as other family members on the front porch of the family home. Doc as you probably know was famous for his outstanding guitar playing talent and baritone singing.
There was also a picture of Fred Price, Clint Howard, Fred’s son Kenny and Clint’s son Clarence. That group played extensively in Johnson County and the surrounding area. Moreover they played at Carnegie Hall and colleges and universities across the United States.
A jam session was taking place at a service station that was once located on Highway 421 South, Mountain City when in walked a reporter from Life Magazine who asked if he could take some pictures and ask some questions.  Of course the guys said he could. It turns out that their picture also appeared in the aforementioned Life Magazine story about country music in the rural south. Shown in the picture are J. R. Stout on the guitar, Denny Philips on banjo, Hal Wagner on guitar and Ben Simcox on the electric guitar. Looking on are Frank Tester and an unidentified man.
The Life article rounds out with a photo of the crowd at Grand Ole Opry. A picture of Loretta Lynn and her twin daughters is pictured as well as western singer Tex Ritter and mandolin playing Bill Monroe who is known as “The father of Bluegrass.”
Before radio and television, playing music was a way to be entertained after a hard day’s work. Before those media came along, 78-rpm records were the primary way of enjoying music. I have a few original records of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers (sic), the Monroe Brothers and others. Although they still can be played, they are a bit scratchy.

Swift revisits the Johnson County Bean Festival

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

In my memory I sometimes return to the time that many call the good old days. One of my most recent returns to that period called to mind the time when the green bean was king. It was then that Johnson County was dubbed “The Green Bean Capital of the world.” Many acres of land in Johnson County were dedicated to growing beans. Picking (harvesting) them enabled a person to pick up a bit of cash during the summer months when there were few opportunities for employment elsewhere.
Picking beans was a hot, labor-intensive job. Stooping all day in the hot sun was definitely not a fun thing to do. If my memory is correct, the growing of beans in Johnson County saw its doom, when machines were invented to harvest them but couldn’t be used on the steep fields that made up much of the county’s crop. Moreover, using machines to pick the beans prevented second or third pickings due to the vines being destroyed in the process. Even though the quality of the beans usually declined with each successive picking, the farmer could usually sell the beans at a reduced price.

During the time of so many beans being grown in Johnson County, a Bean Festival was held each fall to celebrate the importance of the bean crop in the economy of the county. The festival included a 4-H Fair and a horse show.  Just before beginning this column, I was looking through the Bean Festival program for 1955, which was held on Friday September 2 of that year. I noted that it had pictures of several farm scenes. Some of the scenes were of bean pickers in a field of beans.

According to the Program Book, the Mountain City Community Club organized the festival as an annual event in 1947. There were several distinguished guests including then Commissioners of Agriculture from three states: North Carolina (L. Y. Ballentine), Virginia (Park C. Brinkley), and Tennessee (Buford Ellington).

Music was aptly provided by the Langston High School Band, the Cloudland High School Band and the Jonesboro High School Band. Note the spelling of Jonesborough as it used to be.
Anyway, it was an exciting time in Johnson County and Mountain City when the Bean Festival rolled around each year. Town was filled with people and vehicles. As the old saying goes: “you couldn’t stir them with a stick.” Of course there were many more activities than was mentioned in this column. A queen judging contest, float awards, public speaking, a carnival to name a few more.

Swift reflects on an old Blum’s Farmers and Planter’s Almanac

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

While looking through my books and magazines recently, I came across an old Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac and I was surprised at the number of interesting stories, jokes and general information it contained. Needless to say, the almanac reflected a much different time but some of its contents are applicable even today. I don’t remember where I got the publication. I probably found it at a garage sale or an antiques and collectibles store. The price was ten cents per copy when it was printed.
In the almanac there are as would be expected a great deal of information that farmers can use in planting, and nourishing their crops plus gardening tips. The signs of the zodiac were featured as many farmers went by them when it came to planting and other aspects of their vocation.
The almanac was published for the year 1937 and that was only a year before my birth. The front cover says that it was the 109th year of publication.
The almanac touted the rotation of pastureland even in that day. One item in the almanac had information about shipping bees. The item reads: “Honey bees are now supplied in packages of from one to five pounds by Southern beekeepers and shipped to those who need them in fruit growing districts in the North. The bees spread the pollen when the trees are in blossom and larger crops resulted.” I had never heard of shipping bees in the mail. Is that still being done? I think we have some beekeepers locally. Maybe they know if shipping bees by mail is being done.
Interspersed in the pages of the almanac were a number of jokes. Paraphrasing a little I will share a couple. It seems the diner customer called a waiter over and complained, “Look here, waiter. I ordered chicken pie and there isn’t a single piece of chicken in it.” The waiter said “That’s being consistent, sir. I also have cottage cheese, but so far as I know there’s not a cottage in it.”

Another one follows: “A farmer visited his son’s college. Watching students in a chemistry class, he was told they were looking for a universal solvent. ‘What’s that he asked?’ That’s a liquid that will dissolve anything.’ ‘That’s great, the farmer said. ‘But if you find it, what will you keep it in?’”
The almanac also had some serious articles. One I especially appreciated was the closing paragraph of a circular by George Washington addressed to the Governors of all the States on disbanding the Army in 1783. That paragraph reads: “Almighty God, We make our earnest prayer that thou wilt keep the United States in thy holy protection; that thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the divine author of our blessed religion and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”