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.

What will become of the old rock school at Shouns?

By:  Jack Swift

As reported in last week’s Tomahawk, the Johnson County School Board is planning to sell at auction the old Shouns Elementary School building and the site it is on. The date set for the auction is October 8th at 10 a.m. WPA (Work Progress Administration) built the school in the early 1930s using stone in its construction. WPA was a program for the unemployed that was created in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The purpose of the program was to provide work for victims of the Great Depression. The school building has been used for a number of functions following its use as an elementary school. Other projects of the WPA were the old high school gym and the Shady Valley Elementary School. Perhaps there are others. The fact that the Shouns School was built by the WPA and due to the fact that it is one of the few old school buildings that still exist, it has historical value. I’m sure many who were students there can look back with nostalgia to their time as a student in the old building. I believe that those of us who graduated those schools got a pretty good grade school education. I graduated Dewey Elementary School in 1952. That building has been gone several years. The Johnson County Historical Society met Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. in regular session in the lower level of the Johnson County Welcome Center. One of the topics of discussion was the Shouns School building and if all or part of it could possibly be preserved and restored as an historical entity. Members expressed concern that many historical sites are disappearing from the landscape. And when they’re gone they’re gone.  Anyway, it will be a matter of only a few days to find out the fate of what was once a thriving, learning place where the laughter of children echoed around the old rock schoolhouse at recess and lunchtime.

Swift reflects on Watauga Lake and Dam

By Jack Swift

I’m old enough to remember traveling on Highway 67 from Mountain City to old Butler and beyond. In my mind’s eye I can vaguely remember that experience. If I tried to travel that road now, I would have to have a submarine for I would have to travel it under several feet of water. Butler and the part of the road that led to and through it were flooded with the creation of Watauga Dam.
The reservoir created with the building of Watauga Dam serves as a recreational area for swimming, boating, picnicking and fishing. Moreover, it is a very picturesque site with blue waters with green mountains as a backdrop. The reservoir extends 16 miles east from the dam toward the North Carolina border. At more than 1900 feet above sea level, the reservoir holds claim to being the highest in the Tennessee River System. Among its many uses are flood control, power generation, water quality and aquatic ecology.
The reservoir is 16 miles long with a shoreline of 109 miles. The cost of the project was $32,335,243.00
Watauga Lake is reportedly the third cleanest lake in America. In its waters you will fine 13 species of game fish including rainbow trout, brown trout, walleye, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass. In addition to the already mentioned exciting activities there are facilities for boating, camping, hiking, horseback riding, hunting lodging, water sports and wildlife viewing.
Writing about Watauga Dam and the reservoir it created brings back to me fond memories of when my parents, my brother and me would take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon trip to the lake and enjoy a picnic. It seems to me that food just tastes better when it is prepared outside on the grill.
The dam consists of rock and earth fill. The dam’s core consists of 1,484,700 cubic yards of compacted clay. It was built in a terrace-like design. On the two sides of the core, 2,000,000 cubic yards of rock were piled. It may not seem so, but the bridge that spans the lake (Highway 67) is longer than three football fields. Anytime I write about the Watauga Dam and Lake, I am cognizant of the controversy it created at the time. Many of the folks who had lived in the area of what would be the lake were forced to leave their homes. Of course it wasn’t easy. The gates of Watauga Dam were closed on December 1, 1948. Almost 12,000 acres of land had been bought. 761 families were relocated.

This ‘N’ That

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Thank you to all the folks who sent me information about some of the country stores that dotted the countryside in former days in Johnson County. Technology has advanced beyond anything I can imagine. It is especially interesting that those of us who are older have seen a great deal of that progress in our lifetime. I subscribe to a magazine called “Discover.”  On its pages can be found some of the leading discoveries of our time as well as trends as to what may come in future years. “Popular Science” and “Popular Mechanics” are two other great magazines to read to keep up with some of what is going on in the scientific community.
One great innovation that has come about is the places country folks visited to buy groceries and other needs. In earlier days merchants may not have had a cash register and consequently kept up with sales by writing it down on paper. Most of the larger stores had a good line of products. Smaller ones carried mostly groceries. Now we have a great number of modern, well-stocked superstores with many choices of food and products. I have from my own memory and with the help of a number of other folks named several country stores that were in existence in my youth and even later. I was reminded of even more stores when I received recently an e-mail from Jim Wills whose father Earl Wills owned and operated a mill on Hwy. 421 North. He says in the e-mail that his father would take him and his older brother along with him to deliver cornmeal, flour and buckwheat flour that he ground in his mill. Some stores he delivered to included the Scott Gentry Store in Laurel Bloomery, the Bruce Arnold Store on Liberty Church Road, the W. E. McGlamery Store located on the corner of Pleasant Valley Road and 421 North where the county school bus garage is now. Jim says he remembers a couple of stores in the Neva area: a store located on Mill Creek, owned and operated by Paul Graybeal and Neva Hardware operated by Mr. Mahan. Jim also remembered the Ross Wilcox Store on Cold Springs Road across from what was then the Leco Factory.
Jim remembers, as do I that the country stores were where farm workers could go to find a little something to eat come dinner (lunch) time. This was especially true of the bean pickers during the era when Johnson County was called “the Green Bean Capital of the World.” Some folks with trucks would go by homes and pick up pickers and bring them home in the evening after work was done. When lunchtime came, he would always take the pickers who wanted to go to the closest store to buy food to tide them over until quitting time. White bread, crackers, bologna and cheese were some of the favorites. There were many other items as well. Of course a soft drink was part of the lunch for about a dime for a 16 oz.-bottle as I recall.

Stores were very important in bygone days

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Recently I wrote about some of the old stores that were in existence in my young days here in Johnson County. In the days when transportation was more difficult than it is today, it was important to have a store fairly close. After all, there were a few items that couldn’t be raised or made on the farm. Coffee and sugar come to mind.
I mentioned the S. L. Harbin Store and the Dayton Fenner Store as well as the John Smith Store. The first two stores, I noted, were located on Hwy. 67 West, about three miles from Mountain City. The latter store was on Hwy. 421 North, about two-and-a-half miles out. I also mentioned Doe Valley General Store and Pleasant’s Store. Both of them were located several miles down Hwy. 67 West toward Butler. After that column was published, I received a nice e-mail from Lowell Fritts with information about two more stores of the past: the Grady Arnold Store and the Tull Gentry Store. Lowell was a son of Ross Fritts, who was a leading educator in Johnson County for a number of years.
Not long after that, I received an e-mail from Elaine Holman who reminded me of four more stores that were popular back when.  She mentioned the Trade Store that she says was opened when there was trading with the Indians and was possibly the oldest store in the county. It was located on Hwy. 421 South at Trade. She also reminded me that there was once a W. A. Potter Store, owned by Arthur and Cleo Potter. It was located on Hwy 421 near what is now Antioch Road. She also mentioned two more stores: Payne’s Store owned by Bynum Payne and the H. L. Mast Store owned by Hoy Mast.
Doug Hartzell sent me an e-mail message the other day that was very interesting also. He was from Northern Indiana but his wife Joy (Cable) grew up on Dry Run between Bakers Gap church and Dry Run school. He says she fondly remembers the Snider Store and Grover Tester Store. He said she also remembers McClains traveling store. If I remember right, that store visited various communities and sold items from the enclosed truck bed.

I remember a truck like that visiting my neighborhood. We called it the Store Truck. As I remember, the Store Truck carried a pretty good selection of items rural folks would need. I have heard others call a truck that visited other areas called the Rolling Store. I talked with Mary Shore a few days ago and she reminded me that her father Web Powell had a store in Mountain City. I remembered that I had visited that store in my younger days.
The stores I’ve mentioned were a very important part of the community so it is well that we take a nostalgic look back at them at a time when trips to other towns were few. If there are other folks that know of some old stores, please e-mail me at Jswift@embarqmail.com. A special “Thank You” to those who read my column each week.

Swift reflects on printing in America

As a former 30-plus year full-time employee of the Tomahawk Newspaper, I became interested not only in the content and aesthetics of newspapers, but also type and typesetting along with other aspects of the newspaper craft as well as some things about the history of printing — especially America’s printing history.
I am amazed at the degree of printing that could be attained many years ago. Hand printing and cursive writing were ways that communication could be affected before the invention of the printing press. The first printing press in the Colonies was imported by Reverend Jesse Glover in 1638. The Bay Psalm Book, was the first book printed in the American Colonies. It was printed in 1640 by Stephen Daye, a London printer. The invention of the typewriter came later. Reportedly, a man named Christopher Sholes; an American mechanical engineer invented the first practical modern typewriter in 1866.
The Gutenberg Bible was the first substantial book printed in the West with movable metal type. That feat was accomplished in 1454 or 1455.
The reason I was so amazed that type is so clear and readable in old books and magazines is the fact that I have a few old books and magazines to judge them by.
The oldest book I own is Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States of America Throughout the War which established their Independence; and First President of the United States, written by David Ramsay, M. D. and printed in 1811. It has an inscription that shows a father giving the book to his son. That inscription is dated 1826. I also have a 1901 edition of a book titled The Authentic Life of William McKinley. President McKinley was assassinated September 14, 1901. Among my books I also have Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a classic of Christian Literature. Also I have Life of William Shakespeare by Sidney Lee copyright 1898.
Printing has come a long way since type was set by hand to today’s modern electronic machines. I am thankful to the men and women who work hard to get the news into the hands of so many folks each day and week.

Stores of yesteryear- Grady Arnold and Tull Gentry

By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

Last week I wrote in this column about some old stores that were in existence when I was young. I knew of course that there were others but I could remember no others at the time my column was written. In the column I invited folks who remembered other stores to send the names of them to me with some information about them. Well, I received a nice e-mail from Lowell Fritts last week. Lowell’s father was the late Ross D. Fritts, who was one of Johnson County’s finest educators. He had experience as an elementary school teacher and principal, a high school teacher and principal and he was also Johnson County’s Superintendent of Schools for several years. Moreover, he was once owner and editor of the Tomahawk newspaper. Mr. Fritts was a man I highly respected and I was thankful for his friendship.
In the e-mail Lowell says he grew up in the Corn Creek community of Johnson County. He left Johnson County when his family moved to Maryland in 1947 in the fall of his junior year at Johnson County High. He says he continues to subscribe to the Tomahawk to keep up with what is going on in the Johnson County area. “As time passes, I recognize fewer and fewer people but I always enjoy learning about all that goes on there,” said Fritts.
He mentioned one of the stores that he remembered from the days his family lived in Johnson County. That store was Grady Arnold’s store. Fritts says it was located at the intersection of Highway 421 North and Liberty Church Road near what was then Pleasant Valley Elementary School. I believe that is where the Johnson County Highway Department is now located. He says his mother the late Cessie Fritts often would send him or his brothers to the store to buy items that they didn’t raise on the farm such as salt, sugar, etc.
He recalls another popular store, Tull Gentry’s store located on the road heading up toward the Cold Springs community. “That’s where his father bought shoes for the family for about $5.00 a Pair. He pointed out that $5.00 was a lot of money then. If anyone remembers any old country stores that were located in Johnson County, you may e-mail information about them to me.
My e-mail address is jswift@embarqmail.com.

Yorktown and Kings Mountain, decisive battles in the Revolutionary War

By: Jack Swift

County Historian

During my Army days I had the opportunity to visit Yorktown, Virginia, where the last major battle took place and effectually ended the Revolutionary War. It was there that General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington. It was then that America won the war for its independence from England’s tyrannical colonial rule. I reflected on the lives that were lost and the heavy monetary costs it took to separate from England. When I was there — I believe it was in 1962 — I was impressed with the work that had been done to create such a memorable site. When the battle ended, the war had raged from the signing in July of 1775 until April of 1783 — eight years of war. Congress declared the Revolutionary War over on April 11, 1783. General George Washington was appointed commander of the Continental Army. The Colonial solders and sailors and their French counterparts had fulfilled the Declaration of Independence through sweat and blood. The first battle of the Revolutionary War occurred when British and American troops opened fire at Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts.
The Declaration of Independence was signed by the Founding Fathers who risked life and limb to forward their ideas of freedom in what would become a model of Democracy where citizens may have their say through the ballot box and exercise their own judgment in their affairs.
While taking in the site I remembered that “The Battle of King’s Mountain,” is often referred to as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. King George III of England had decreed that there would be no American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains. There were settlements. A militia was formed when men from the surrounding area mustered into service at Sycamore Shoals near Elizabethton, Tennessee, marched to Kings Mountain and defeated English Major Patrick Ferguson and his men.
That battle is often referred to as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. British major Patrick Ferguson had sent a message to the Overmountain Men that read, “If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this Army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.” Well, it just didn’t work out as Major Ferguson planned.
It took courage and tenaciousness to bring about a separation from Britain. But it was accomplished by the efforts of many brave folks who valued freedom and independence above their own lives.

Swift shares old stories of Johnson County

By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

At 78 and a native of Johnson County, I have seen many changes in the county. I have seen a transition from old country stores to the modern supermarkets. With a number of markets in or fairly near, shopping for food is not the worst task we could imagine. For some people grocery shopping may be a choir, but to others it is an enjoyable time. Sometimes we run into an old friend or acquaintance and talk for a spell. But it’s for sure that the choices we find in the modern supermarkets are many and varied. It is a testimony to the ability of the farmer to provide food and fiber to folks.

As a native of this area, I have had the privilege of visiting many of the old country stores located in the county. A few I can remember, but there are some I never visited or have forgotten about. Some I remember were fairly close such as S. L. Harbin Store, Dayton Fenner’s Store, Doe Valley General Store and Pleasants Store. Those were once popular stores on Hwy. 67. There were probably others that don’t come to mind at this time, but I would mention W. S. Stout’s Store. Mr. Stout’s original store was located in Butler, but he moved the store to a site not far out of Butler on 67. More recently, the store building was moved near to the Butler Museum in Butler. Others I remember but visited less often were John Smith’s Store and Wright’s store. Wright’s store was located on Route 91 toward Laurel Bloomery. The rock building is still standing but is in a state of disrepair. If anyone remembers others, please let me know by regular mail or email.
The stores I remember most were the S. L. Harbin Store and Fenner Store. At different periods of time, high school students were let off the bus to wait for another bus that went straight to Mountain City. Sometimes I would grab a R. C. Cola from the old fashioned cooler at the Harbin store. They were a dime for a 16-ounce bottle. Yes, you read right, a dime.
Mr. Harbin stocked about anything a farmer would need. The store wasn’t square. It was shaped more like a trapezoid due to the way Harbin Hill road and Highway 61 came together. There was a huge plate glass windows on each side of the front door. Hardware items were stored in the back stockroom. Shelves were on the right interior side wall of the store. Some shelves were very high and Mr. Harbin used a long stick with a crook at the end to drag items such as cereal off the shelf and catch it. Anyway, it is interesting to me to look back and remember some of the stores of yesteryear even though we like the variety and convenience of the modern markets that now are in or near our county.

The great occupation of farming

 

By:  Jack Swift

Growing up on a small farm in the Seventh District of Johnson County was a great experience but one of pretty hard work at times. Farming was more labor intensive in those days, but even today, nobody has taken all the work out of it yet. Some of the jobs I couldn’t get out of — although I tried — were chopping the weeds and loosening the soil with hand-held hoes; following behind a horse-drawn cultivator, while trying to get the horse to gee or haw at the proper times and places; hanging tobacco in the top tier in the   barn; feeding wheat into the thrashing machine and picking beans and strawberries. Of course those were only a few of the tasks (or make that jobs — they were a bit more than tasks). Even though it has been many moons since my days on the farm, I look back on that era with nostalgic feelings. Of course I have done farm work a number of times since my younger days but with better and more efficient equipment.

Having experienced those aforementioned farm jobs, I have a great deal of sympathy for the farmer (especially the farmers who farm the smaller farms of America). But fortunately producing food and fiber for the world now is not as labor intensive as it once was.
One of the greatest innovations in farming was the invention of the self-scouring steel plow by a man named John Deere. Deere made business decisions that led him from Vermont to Grand Detour, Illinois, where he worked as a blacksmith. From there he moved to Moline, Illinois where he invented the steel plow and began manufacturing them.  Cast iron plows used in New England were not suited for the sticky prairie soil so Deere invented the improved plow that was needed at the time. I know everyone is familiar with the famous John Deere tractors and farming machinery.
Recently I ran across some interesting information about agriculture from the American Farm Bureau Federation. I will share a bit of it with my readers. There are some 2.2 million farms in America. Farm and ranch families are only two percent of the U. S. population. Compared with 1950, farmers produce 262 percent more food than they did then. Farmers and ranchers receive only 16 cents out of every dollar spent on food at home and away from home. In 1980, farmers and ranchers received 31 cents out of each dollar.
So, here’s to the Johnson County farmers for the hard work they do in producing food and fiber for us.

Swift reflects on the Wyeth Family of Artists

By Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

I had seen and heard a story on television about the famous James (Jamie) Browning Wyeth and as I was going through my mail that same day what would be included in the bills and campaign literature but a Saturday Evening Post Magazine with — you guessed it — a Post Cover with a very interesting story about the Wyeth family who has been dominant as artists and illustrators for many years. I had recently re-subscribed to the Post and this (I think) was the first issue on that subscription that I had found in my mailbox (a real mailbox, not the e-mail kind).
I have enjoyed reading the Post and admiring the pictures between its covers for many years. The recent issue featuring one of Jamie Wyeth’s works on the cover was no exception. Jamie was a grandson of N. C. Jamie’s father was Andrew Wyeth who became quiet famous as an artist.
Some other of N.C. Wyeth’s five children studied under their father and became artists in their own right.

The most famous Wyeth family artists include N. C. Wyeth’s son, Andrew Newell Wyeth and grandson James Browning (Jamie) Wyeth. N. C. was born in Needham, Massachusetts on October 22, 1882. He left Massachusetts in 1902 to study with the noted illustrator Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware. Inspired by Pyle, N. C. soon became one of the most famous illustrators in the United States. N. C. had a naturalistic style.  He illustrated some 20 classics of children’s literature, including Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans and Tom Sawyer. N. C. died in a car accident near Chadds Ford on October 19, 1945.

Andrew, best know of the second generation of the Wyeth family artists, was born in Chadds ford on July 12, 1917. Andrew painted with precision. His landscapes and portraits often evoked a mood of sadness.  He came to be one of the most popular American Painters of his day. Among his works are Christina’s World, A Crow Flew By, Young America and Her Room.
Jamie was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on July 6, 1946. He became a masterful portrait artist. His portrait of the late President John F. Kennedy was instrumental in projecting his fame. He often painted the people and countryside of rural America.
The Post cover is a painting by Jamie Wyeth depicting a lighthouse with flowers in the foreground. That cover makes me want to see more of Jamie Wyeth’s work.