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.”

Swift recalls Mountain City in days gone by

By:  Jack Swift

Of all the comments I get about my column, most of them are about wanting to know more concerning the days of yore in or around Johnson County and Mountain City. Since I wasn’t there in those days of yesteryear, I have to rely on writings of people who were there, or folks who are old enough to remember how it was several years ago.
I have pictures that show Mountain City as it was in the early 1900s. I have a picture of Johnson County’s second courthouse. The first courthouse was condemned and was razed due to it’s being unsafe. I’m old enough to remember the second courthouse with its oiled oak floors and offices for the various county governmental departments. That building was basically on the same site as the present one. Another building that I was very familiar with was the large three-story building behind the present high school that has since been torn down. The Masons built that building and used the third floor for their meetings etc. first and second floors were used for elementary school classes and later for some high school classes. I remember it well due to my having physics classes on the first floor and health classes on the second floor. But it was the second such building on or near the site. Following the Civil War, the Masons and the Town of Taylorsville (later Mountain City) operated a school called the Masonic Institute in a three-story brick building until it was torn down in 1905. A replacement for the old Masonic Institute opened for classes in February of 1908, and continued to operate until 1950.
The first county-owned high school building opened for operation January of 1922. It contained four classrooms, an auditorium, rest rooms and the principal’s office. Right and left wings were added later to include more classrooms, library, labs and other much needed facilities. Of course the present school opened in 1966.
I remember when several stately white frame homes lined West Main Street. Several trees were also along the sidewalks.
Getting back to even earlier in the history of Mountain City, I have pictures of Main Street before any kind of pavement became a reality. On the right facing from the now traffic light toward the west is a sign that says Mountain City Inn. Another sign more distant reads Tip Top Hotel. Those signs were probably welcome sights to a weary traveler. Since the streets weren’t paved, I can imagine that following a rain in that era there would be a muddy mess in the streets of Mountain City. As I was born in 1938, I have a good memory of some of the things I’ve mentioned in this article, some were before my time.

Another Easter has come and gone

By:  Jack Swift

Christians celebrated Easter in many parts of the world Sunday, April 16. Maybe for many of them it was a time of reflection and renewal. Reflection on the sacrifice God the Father and Christ His Son made and renewal in view of that great sacrifice. Perhaps some will bolster their hope because of the resurrection of Christ Jesus for the Holy Bible says that through His resurrection, we have hope and confidence for the future. Romans 5:2-7 has these words: “Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.”
I would have to say that Easter is one of my favorite holidays. It is marked by church services with emphasis put on appropriate Easter themed music, an Easter sermon and sometimes special music such as a cantata or similar program. Moreover, there are usually games and activities for the children. Easter egg hunts are featured in many areas of the world.
The Easter story is one of wonder and amazement. The Bible in Mark Chapter 16 tells of the resurrection of Jesus: “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher”? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he said unto them, ‘Be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall see him as he said unto you.’” The date for Easter is not a fixed date on the calendar but it floats around each year. The date of Easter is usually the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the March equinox.

Another look back at Mountain City

By:  Jack Swift

 

Perhaps many folks take a lot for granted when we think of the way it used to be in Mountain City and Johnson County in general. But like me, folks who are older can remember a whole lot of how it was over the span or our lives until the present. I daresay some of the things I’m writing about this week will call back some memories of yesteryear for those who have been around awhile.
Going to Mountain City (town) for many folks and their families who lived a fair distance from town wasn’t conducive to being in Mountain City often. But most of them came to town at least once a week (usually on Saturday night) to buy food and other items used in the household or on the farm.
Folks who lived outside Mountain City used the visit to town as a time to talk to neighbors and relatives. The streets were filled with cars going round and round. The sidewalks were crowded on Saturday nights with people catching up on the latest news. There were parking meters then along the sidewalks. Stores stayed open late on Saturday nights. The Taylor Theater was usually featuring a western movie.
Even before the Supermarkets we have now, there was Blackburn’s Supermarket located at the corner of North Church and East Main Streets where Food Country’s parking lot is now. The store was up against the sidewalk on both streets.  There was a huge basement under Blackburn’s Supermarket that once housed the Tomahawk Newspaper and print shop. One of the oldest buildings in Mountain City is diagonally across the street from where Blackburns was. A long staircase leads to the second story of the building that has housed a number of offices in the past. A Rexall Drug Store was once in the first floor. I can remember when a restaurant was down a flight of steps into the basement of the building on the South Church Street side of the building. I don’t recall the name. Perhaps someone else does.
While some folks lived a distance from town, they often could be found at the local store. Almost every community had a local store. It was only a few months ago that many country stores were mentioned by folks who emailed, sent letters or called to tell me of the stores that were in their neighborhoods when they were growing up. But with almost a carnival atmosphere, downtown Mountain City was the place to be on Saturday nights. Most if not all stores were open, taking advantage of the crowds trade while it was there.
From a personal standpoint, I was delighted when we went to town on Saturday nights. It was usually on a day that a good deal of work was done. So, after toiling in the fields in the hot sun all day, it was time to have some good times. Anyway, it’s as I remember those days. Perhaps you do too.

Mapmaking is an interesting subject

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Sometimes we hear someone say that a person or activity really put a site such as a town or place on the map. There are people who have gone on from Mountain City to lead successful lives in far away places and even in distant lands. When they become well known in a positive way, we often say those people are putting Mountain City, Johnson County or whatever the site may be “On The Map.” A special crop such as the green bean farming and marketing that occurred a few decades ago put Johnson County on the map with the slogan: The Green Bean Capital of the World.”

While thinking about putting places and activities on the map, I began to think about maps in general and how they are used in our daily lives. Maps fascinate me. Whether they are flat in an atlas, folded as in a road map or on a globe. Mapping has been developing over a great amount of time. In the early days maps were difficult to make and took up a great amount of time. Also they were considerate a work of art.  Therefore, owning them was often looked upon as status symbols.

Cartography (the art of map making) remained slow until Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. As maps became more plentiful, they became more accessible to the public. And unlike earlier days, the tools and techniques of map making have improved tremendously. Modern satellite systems are being used to make maps easier and more precise.

Since the earth is not a precise sphere, map making must account for that. Also, putting a curved surface on a flat plane presents problems. A projection must be utilized to make the type of map that is needed. If a surface can be transformed onto another surface without stretching, tearing, or shrinking then the surface is said to be an applicable surface The sphere or ellipsoid are not applicable with a plane surface so any projection that attempts to project them on a flat sheet will have to distort the image. A surface that can be unfolded on unrolled into a flat plane or sheet without stretching, tearing or shrinking is called a developable surface. The cylinder, cone and the plane are all developable surfaces they can be unfolded into a flat sheet without distorting the projected image.
The next time we look at a map in an atlas may we keep in mind the kind of projection that was needed to make the map readable and accurate.

Swift shares a brief look at his genealogy

By:  Jack Swift

This edition of the Tomahawk is the annual Progress Edition. The theme of this issue is “Where did I come from.” With that in mind, I thought I would share a bit of information about my genealogy. It is thought that my ancestors were from England. I think I have documentation for that but was unable to come up with it. The first recorded information

I have about my Swift forbears is that a Mark Swift was living in the Baltimore area of Maryland. He was born in 1675 and died in 1708. He married Elizabeth Stanley. Among their children was a son, Flower Swift, who died between 1742 and 1746. He married Elizabeth Whiteaker. Among their children was Thomas Swift who was born December17, 1723. Thomas married Martha Linden. Elias was born to them. Elias’ wife was Amy, but her last name isn’t known.
This marriage took place in 1766. A son James Swift was born to them in 1796. He died December 8, 1858 in Ashe County, North Carolina (now Watauga County, North Carolina.) James Swift had come to Ashe (Watauga) County from the Yadkin River Valley where he owned a farm.
In 1837 he purchased 50 acres of land in what is now the Beaver Dams section of what is now Watauga County. James Swift married Lydia Eggers, the daughter of Landrine Eggers and Joanna Greene. Joanna was Greene’s second wife. To the marriage of James and Lydia were born ten children.
James’ and Lydia’ second son Elias was born February 5, 1818 in Ashe County, North Carolina (now Watauga County.) Elias married Mary Cable on November 26, 1846. Four children were born to this marriage.
After the death of Mary Swift, Elias married Mary Loretta Stout on October 2, 1859. To that union was born my Grandfather David Elkanah Swift. David Elkanah married Sarah Fine Grindstaff (my paternal grandmother.) My father Isaac Allen Swift was the youngest of their seven children. He married Carrie Emiline Harper (my mother) on March 16, 1928. She was a daughter of Noah Webster and Victoria Harper. I had a brother, Charles Ray, who died September 10, 1990.
Of course the above is only a small part of my family history. From England to the hills of Beaver Dams is long distance and a long time as well.

Swift has written a lot of columns since This ‘N’ That made its debut

By:  Jack Swift

Not too long ago it dawned on me that I have written a lot of columns since This ‘N’ That made its début in August of 2003. Of course I keep a record of each column and sometimes go back and review some to refresh my memory of some of them.
The number of columns I have written, including last week’s is 668. Folks that is a lot of columns not to mention words and it has been a privilege to write this column over the years (14 years as a matter of fact.) Many folks have told me that they enjoy reading it, and I really appreciate that.

In thinking about my columns of the past, I thought I would go back and revisit some of them. Perhaps one of the most dramatic columns I have written was the one about the only legal hanging ever conducted in Johnson County. The event took place in Mountain City and people came from miles around to witness the event.
My columns have quite diverse.  I’ve written about many people and events over the years. I have had folks tell me that they enjoy looking back to what many would describe as a simpler time, but perhaps some would not.
Western movie stars, Johnson County and Mountain City history, American History, The State of Franklin, the railroad in Mountain City, the Bean Festival when green beans were grown all over Johnson County and the county was called the “Green Bean Capitol of the world,” have been subjects of this column since its inception in July of 2003. This column has also included my writings on many other subjects such as mathematics and science, poets and poetry, the great occupation of farming, former businesses in Johnson County, etc.
Some of my most recent columns dealt with some of the old stores that existed before the supermarkets came to the county. I described some that I remembered and folks started calling, e-mailing, and writing about their memories of the old stores that were near them.
A good number of columns I have written were about the history of Johnson County and its beautiful and unique heritage. The column, I think, has an appropriate title in that my subjects vary and you never know what next weeks column will be about.
Here’s hoping that I can write many more columns and you, my readers, will continue to read it each week. Thank you.

Swift says it’s good to be back home again

Hi folks. I’m back. My gratitude goes out to all the people who expressed their prayers and well wishes for me after my fall at home and subsequent health problems. A big “thank you” to those who were so helpful and encouraging during my stay in the hospital and nursing home. Also, I would not forget the kindness of the rescue squad and the emergency room personal of Johnson County Community Hospital and Johnson City Medical Center. I continue to need your prayers as time goes on.

It is good to be back home. I remember reading some years ago an article that gave tips on writing. One piece of advice was to write from experience. If I were to do that, it would take a lot of words and probably several columns as well. Suffice it to say, except for my health problems, there were some positives. I already knew on a certain level how dependent we are on others, but that fact was reinforced as time after time my needs were met in a loving and caring way.
But it only takes a while away from home to appreciate home.
As I grow older I try not to find myself too far from the home hearth. Also it is important to remember that as we are on the receiving end of kindness and caring, we should reciprocate. President Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. It will wear well and will be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away.”
No Man Is An Island, is a poem written by the famous English poet John Donne. An excerpt from that poem follows:

No Man is an island.
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
I have always believed that no man is an island. But I am even more convinced of that now.

Thank you!

Johnson County, Tennessee in the Civil War

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Johnson County in northeast Tennessee has been home to me since my birth March 22, 1938. The only time I have been away from this beautiful and friendly area is when I was in the Army.
While the history of Johnson County was always very interesting to me, I found it even more so after accepting the post of Johnson County Historian several years ago. After studying Tennessee and Johnson County history at Johnson County High School under the very able guidance of Mrs. Blanche Osborne, I added to my knowledge by reading books, magazines and articles and by talking to older members of the county. There is a well of knowledge about Johnson County, Mountain City and east Tennessee that seemingly never runs dry. I will continue to seek out the distinctive treasure of Johnson County history because there is much, much more that I would like to know about. Of most interest to me is Johnson County’s reaction to and sympathies in the Civil War.
I can imagine that one of the most awful periods of time concerning our county was the four years of Civil War that reared its ugly head in 1861 and ended in 1865. Johnson County and several other East Tennessee counties were against secession and at one time their leaders tried to organize the section as a separate state. Of course Governor Isham G. Harris, a staunch supporter of the Confederate cause, and his administration quashed that effort. In the referendum of June 8, 1861, West Tennessee and Middle Tennessee voted to secede while East Tennessee voted 2 to 1 to remain in the Union. By the time the War ended, Tennessee had furnished 30,000 soldiers to the Union Army while 100,000 had fought for the Confederacy.
Living in East Tennessee and Johnson County during the Civil War was no doubt a nightmare. Distrust was rampant. Bad things happened. Soldiers fought with valor on both sides but the Union prevailed. The war began April 12, 1861 when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina; it ended with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox, Virginia Courthouse April 9, 1865.
An interesting note: Kentucky attempted to remain neutral in the War but some major battles took place there anyway. Virginia seceded from the Union, thereby leaving 40 counties, which formed their own government and was granted statehood as West Virginia in 1863.

Old Tomahawk includes stories on snow and Ralph Stout

By:  Jack Swift

A skift of snow has fallen on Johnson County and the surrounding area, leaving patches of the white stuff on the ground. So far, there has been a minimal amount of snow, but you can bet we will see more in the not too distant future. Slick roads and frozen pipes are just two of the unfavorable events that we don’t want to see. For its esthetic value though, who could ask for a more beautiful sight than the countryside blanketed with a few inches of snow.
I mention snow because of a Tomahawk newspaper I found while looking through some of my old files a while back. The date of the edition was January 28, 1987.  The newspaper headline was “Snow, Snow, Snow and More Snow.” A front-page story, written by retired Tomahawk Associate Editor, Lee Staiger covered the snow and its aftermath along with predictions of more snow to come. An interesting photo by Mike Long accompanied the article. The picture featured a piece of farm machinery with about four inches of snow on it — a nice representation of the weather at that time.
The paper had a number of interesting stories but one that jumped out at me was a story I did on Johnson County’s own Ralph G. Stout. Ralph has had tremendous influence on Johnson County. Through his long career as sports official and supervisor, he has “put Johnson County on the map,” so to speak.  Ralph also served the Town of Mountain City as Mayor for 19 years, along with being owner and operator of a successful watch repair and jewelry business for many years. I was honored to have written the story on Ralph and I’m glad to reflect on it again.
In the article I noted that the sportswriters of Tennessee named him “Outstanding Prep Official in the State of Tennessee”. He received the prestigious award at a meeting of the Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.
During his tenure as mayor, Ralph was honored by having the park that is located along 421North named for him. In addition, he has received a host of other accolades during his distinguished career. He was for many years a basketball and football official. He was the supervisor of basketball officials in the Ohio Valley Conference. He was also state supervisor of prep basketball and football officials in Region One. Noted for his colorful but accurate and fair officiating, he has many interesting stories to tell about his experiences and the people he has met. He is considered an ambassador for the area since he is well known across Tennessee as well as the southeast.
Stout was born in Mountain City in 1921. After attending Lincoln Memorial University and Elgin Watchmakers College he served three years in the Navy. He is married to the former Margie Baker of Williamsburg, Kentucky. They have five children.

Edgar Allen Poe was a master of words

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Those of us who studied poetry to some extent in high school may have forgotten much of it. But I believe I am safe in saying that a pretty good bunch of us have never forgotten the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. We might not be able to recite much of it, but when poems such as “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and short stories such as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” are mentioned; we know that Poe was the author. Poe was master of words. He used devises such as alliteration and onomatopoeia in his works. Alliteration is repeating the same consonant at the beginning of two or more words in a line or sentence. An example of alliteration is a line from Poe’s poem “The Raven”: “and the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.”   Onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it means, such as “buzz,” “whizz,” clang, etc. Those and other literary devices make reading poetry and often prose more pleasing to the ear as well as attention to the plot or theme of the work. I don’t suppose there is much poetry read outside of academia. There is so much to do in most of our lives that reading just for pleasure is second place or even further down the list for things to do. I am convinced that it would be good to turn the television off once in a while and enjoy the great gift of reading.
I must admit that once in a while I like to go back in time and enjoy some of the great poetry that has endured the test of time. I believe Poe’s work is worthy of the effort and time. Edgar Allan Poe was a very interesting person. His career included the being a writer, editor, poet and critic. He is famous for his tales and poems of horror and mystery. He was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He became known as the “Father of the Detective Story.” Even though Poe was very talented, he struggled financially and health problems continued. His death was shrouded in mystery. He left Richmond on September 27, 1849. His destination was supposed to be Philadelphia. He was found on October 3, in Baltimore in great distress. He was taken to Washington College Hospital where he died four days later. He was only 40.
A literary giant was gone.

Christmas is just around the corner

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

It took me a while to realize it, but Christmas is almost here. I’m already seeing more smiley faces as I go about town. That was true of this year’s Thanksgiving as well. There’s just something about the Christmas season and Thanksgiving that inspires us to count our blessings. And often when we count our blessings, we realize that we have been blessed abundantly.
The Christmas Spirit is often invoked as a time of goodwill and friendliness, but all too often those attributes are short lived. To lift our mood, bright lights and decorations are the norms for the season. Sights and sounds we hear only at Christmas time are welcomed into our consciousness again.
There is the sound of Christmas Carols echoing across the aisles of businesses and stores as we walk to and fro looking for that perfect Christmas gift. Outside decorations adorn various homes in Johnson County. There are some people in the area that go all out with beautiful Christmas displays every year. I appreciate that and I hope they continue that tradition. The effort and cost is great I know, but those beautiful lights and symbols of Christmas serve to lighten our spirits.
As Christmas approaches, I want to mention what I consider the true meaning of Christmas. While historians tell us that Jesus Christ’s birth is not necessarily the exact date for Christ’s birth, His birth is celebrated each year on December 25. That is the “reason for the season.”
Each year at Christmas, we hear the Bible story of Jesus’ birth read and studied. For me that story never loses its wonder and awe. From his birth in a manger to his terrible crucifixion on Calvary’s Cross in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ’s life is one of love and concern.  I feel that it is that love and concern we should emulate in our own lives.
The Angel’s message to the shepherds was (KJV):“Fear not for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Good tidings indeed!

Tennessee State flag was adopted in 1905

By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

I feel fortunate to be a citizen of the Great State of Tennessee. While the few places I have been have been impressive in my few travels, I always delight in coming back home to Tennessee, and especially to Johnson County. I am very interested in my state and county. And while I have written a lot about Johnson County, I haven’t written much about Tennessee. I was thinking recently about our state and some of the things about it and began to wonder about the state flag and its symbolism. Fortunately I was able to find some information about the Tennessee State Flag.

In my research, I found that the designer of the Tennessee Flag was a native and resident of Johnson City. Le Roy Reeves was his name. He was a young lawyer at the Johnson City Bar and captain of Company F of the Third Infantry Regiment, Tennessee National Guard when he decided that time was ripe for a state flag. So he set out to design the flag, a distinguished and recognizable symbol of the great state of Tennessee. The Flag Bill was introduced to the General Assembly by another Johnson City native, Walter W. Faw. Reeves’ design constituted the relative size of the flag, the colors of the flag and the arrangement of the elements of the flag in detail.
His design was described in the legislative bill that he drafted, and which bill became Act of 1905, chapter 498. The flag statute prescribed the specifications in detail but generally speaking it is as follows: The flag should be oblong, its length one and two-thirds it width. Its field to be red ending at outer edge in a perpendicular bar running from top to bottom and separated from the field of red by a white strip of a width to be one-fifth of the width of the blue bar. In the center of the field is placed a circular bar of blue, separated from the field of red by a white circular strip. Within the circular bar of blue there are three five-pointed stars of white.

The white stars symbolize the three grand division of the state — east, middle and west Tennessee. Those divisions recognize east Tennessee as mountainous, middle Tennessee as having a rolling landscape and west Tennessee as having rich river-bottom land.
A plaque was erected in Oak Hill Cemetery in Johnson City. It reads as follows: “In 1905 the Legislature adopted as the state flag one which was designed by Colonel Le Roy Reeves, a native and resident of Johnson City. The three stars represent the three grand divisions of Tennessee.
The flag was first raised by Company F of the National Guard on October 10, 1911, during the dedication ceremonies of East Tennessee State Normal School.”

Veteran’s Day program set for Friday, November 11 at 11:00 am

By:  Jack Swift

 

Friday November 11 is Veterans Day, the day set aside for honoring and remembering American Veterans of all wars. A special Veterans Day observance has been planned for that day which always falls on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The program is slated to begin at 11:00 a.m. (the eleventh hour). Heritage Hall is the venue for the occasion.
The Johnson County Honor Guard along with the Mountain City American Legion Post 61 and the Mountain City VFW Post 6908 puts on the event each year.Special speaker for the Veterans Day program will be Jon Lundberg, former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives who was recently elected Tennessee State Senator for the 4th District. He was unopposed for the post. Senator Lundberg replaced State Senator Ron Ramsey who retired. Ramsey is also expected to speak. Mountain City and Johnson County mayors and other dignitaries are slated to address the crowd also.
Nancy Davis will add her amazing talent in singing a number of patriotic songs. Davis’ Middle School Singers will also perform. The singing talent of the late Kerry Gentry, a Vietnam Veteran, will be missed as he has sung in the Veterans Day program for a number of years. He passed away October 22, 2016. Special emphases this year will be a “Salute to Desert Storm.”
Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11at 11:00 a.m. because that was the date and time in 1918 that an Armistice (temporary suspension of hostilities) was signed between the allied nations and Germany in World War I.
It was officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. World War I (also called the Great War) was said to be the War to end all Wars. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
On November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with these words, in part: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”
An act of Congress approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November a national legal holiday to be celebrated and known as Armistice Day. Later, Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” Thus, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. Attendance for the local program is expected to be good.

Jesse Stuart, a prolific teacher and writer

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

As I was looking through my old high school literature Textbooks a while back, I came across a story by the late Jesse Stuart. It is somewhat ironic that I had thought of him recently before being re-reminded of him as a result of seeing the story. To me, he was one of the most interesting persons in American literature. It is no wonder that he was named Poet Laureate of Kentucky and served in that capacity for many years.
Born in a log cabin on August 8, 1906 in W-Hollow, Kentucky, James Hilton Stuart began his career as a elementary school teacher and went on to become superintendent of schools in Greenup County, and a prolific author. He worked his way through Lincoln Memorial College and a year of graduate study at Vanderbilt. He wrote poetry, stories, novels and books for children. Being a citizen of East Tennessee with its hills and mountains and fertile land, I could identify with Stuart and the emphasis he placed on his rural Kentucky home. Growing up on a farm where there was always work to be done,
He was the first in his family to graduate high school. He was a high school principle while growing corn and tobacco on his rough Kentucky farm when his first book was published in 1934: a book of sonnets called “Man With a Bull-Tongue Plow”. Other works include “Taps for Private Tussie,” “Kentucky is My Land,” “Head o’ W-Hollow,” “Beyond Dark Hills,” “Trees of Heaven,” and “ of the Mountains.”
In his autobiography, “The Thread That Runs So True,” he tells some of the work he did as a high school and college student. He tells about his first teaching job in a small school where some of the students were almost as old as he was. He taught in some one-and-two room schools, as did many other teachers of that era. Johnson County was no exception. I’ve mentioned a number of times in this column that I was a student at Dewey Elementary School — a two-room, two-teacher school where Dewey Christian Church now stands.
Jesse Stuart was a recipient of a number of awards for his work. He was visiting professor at the American University in Cairo in 1960 and was associated with a great deal of writing programs in the United States.
“The Thread That Runs So True,” was Stuart’s work featured in the freshman literature book that I found. It is a compelling story as he writes of his accomplishments and adventures. He produced some 50 books during his career. He died February 17, 1984.

Old stores, old mills once a part of Johnson County landscape

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

My recent columns on old country stores served to stir the memories of a number of residents or former residents considering the number of emails I received on stores of Johnson County. Those stores were scattered about the Johnson Country area and they served a vital need for farm families and others who traded with them on a regular basis due to the distance and time-consuming trips to Mountain City.
I received word from several folks concerning the stores that were a part of their lives in former days and brought to mind due to my columns. Unlike the modern way of purchasing items, one would ask for products across the inevitable counters that the store had as a trading area. The storekeeper would get the item and place it on the counter or scales, if sold by weight. Payment for the product followed. After that, the merchant would put the purchased item in a paper bag if a bag were needed. Some storekeepers would allow payment to be made at the end of the harvest when farmers received the money from his crops. Perhaps others will remember some unique things about country stores. If anyone would like to comment about the old stores, they may contact me at jswift@embarqmail.com.
Thinking about the old stores of Johnson County also reminded me of the old mills that at one time existed in Johnson County.  I remember two of them. The Earl Wills Mill was located on Highway 421 North about a mile from Mountain City. The other one I remember was Shupe’s Mill located on the Cold Springs Road. In the early days the mills were built next to a creek or stream as they were powered by water. Later gasoline engines were used to power the mills. My father was a farmer and I remember going with him to those mills to have corn or wheat ground into meal or flour. The miller would often take a portion of the grain for his service. If I remember right, that small portion of the grain was call “toll.” Perhaps someone can expand on information about the old mills. There are few left.
Anyway, discussions about the old stores and old mills refer back to a simpler time. Arguably they were good times or perhaps not so good times — maybe a little of both. Time has a way of helping us remember a little less of the hard times and a little more of the good times.

Eliza McCardle Johnson, wife of President Andrew Johnson

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Over a time span of the last 13 years, I have written this weekly column titled “This N That.” During that time I have written several columns on the life and times of various United States presidents. Recently, I realized I have written little about the wives of those presidents. In this column I want to write about the wife of one of my favorite presidents: President Andrew Johnson. His wife was Eliza McCardle who had a great deal of influence on him in his early life. I suppose President Johnson is my favorite because he became president under a great deal of pressure and served his country in a time of great upheaval, politically and societal. Moreover, his hometown Greeneville, Tennessee is home to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. The site has a lot of interesting displays concerning his life and presidency, including his tailor shop and home.
Johnson married Eliza McCardle on May 17, 1827 (some sources give it as May 5, 1827). She was 16.He was 17. She was a daughter of John and Sarah Phillips. John was a shoemaker. While her husband had no formal schooling, she is said to have had some basic education and used her knowledge to help her husband achieve some proficiency in writing and arithmetic, thereby paving the way to his success.
While on his upward political climb, Eliza took care of the home front in Greeneville, raising their five children. Their children were Charles, Robert, Andrew Jr., Martha and Mary. Eliza became First Lady at the age of 54. Due to Eliza’s illness, President Johnson asked Martha, his oldest daughter, to assume social duties in the White House.  And she did so quite well.
Eliza was born on October 4, 1810 in Leesburg, Tennessee. She died January 15, 1876 in Greene County, Tennessee and is buried in Greeneville, Tennessee. President Johnson was impeached for no good reason (Congress tried to usurp the power of the presidency which would have disrupted the traditional view of the three branches of government as independent from the other.) He was acquitted of the charge. Eliza felt that he would be acquitted and never lost faith in him during that trying time.
After her husband’s term ended, She went back to their home in Greeneville, she saw him elected to the Senate in 1875. She lived six months following her husband’s death.

Local author writes an outstanding book “When a Blue Star turns to Gold”

By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

“The government of the United States extends an invitation to Mrs. M. W. Dyson to make a pilgrimage to the cemetery in Europe where the remains of her son are now interred.”
So read, in part, a letter received by Mrs. Dyson in the mid 1930s. Her son Don S. Williams had been drafted into U. S. Military Service during World War I (also known as The Great War) and was killed in action in France on October 16, 1918 — less than a month before the official end of that global conflict.

The U. S. Congress had passed a law that enabled the mothers and widows of the deceased soldiers, sailors and marines of the American forces now interred in the cemeteries of Europe to make a pilgrimage to those cemeteries.

The information above sets the stage for a very interesting book written and compiled by Mrs. Janet Cress Payne. Over several years and a great deal of research Payne has brought about a compelling book that portrays a Gold Star Mother and her trip to France to visit the grave of her son who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Payne’s book records the diary kept by Sarah Dyson on her trip to her son’s grave at Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France.

”When A Blue Star Turns To Gold” refers to the blue star mother designation given to mothers who have a son or daughter who is serving in the military and the gold star mother designates mothers whose son or daughter died in any U. S. military engagement since that time. A silver star refers to a soldier who is wounded in battle.
The book has a treasury of documents and letters concerning people mentioned in the book.  There are also many photos along with the diary kept by Sarah Dyson on her memorable trip. She left from Butler, Tennessee by train on July 7, 1930. She sailed to France on the SS President Harding and returned on the SS President Roosevelt.