A few thoughts on camera

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

As an employee of the Tomahawk newspaper for over 30 years, I came to realize early in my time at that newspaper the importance of the camera as a tool in the production of newspapers from day to day. While I learned the rudiments of the camera as a great tool of the trade, there was much I lacked as far as the history of that now familiar and brilliant invention is concerned.
I was sports editor for most of my time at the Tomahawk, and my camera was used often to record some of the action in football, basketball, baseball, tennis and volleyball. Of course I took many pictures outside of sports. I suppose one of my greatest efforts was when I took pictures of the late Ronald Reagan at Dobyns – Bennet High School in Kingsport as he was seeking the office of U. S. President.
Anyway, the first of my encounters with the camera was when there was (if I remember correctly) a 4-car wreck on Highway 67 just out of Mountain City. I had only been an employee of the Tomahawk a few weeks; I tried but my effort produced somewhat less than desirable results.
Early on I used a Yeshika camera with a viewfinder. After a while, I began to use a Minolta with a through-the-lens view both of those brands were film cameras as digital cameras either hadn’t been invented or had not gained popularity. The change from film to digital cameras was quite a jump. With that change, you could see on a small screen on the back exactly what would be in the picture. Of coarse that was a great advantage over the use of film. The digital camera I began to use was an Olympia I believe. Now I own and use a Kodak digital camera and get good results.
To come to what the camera is now has been a long line of improvements. There were many steps from Camera Obscura that used a pinhole to make an image on a flat surface to the magic of digital cameras. A few people who contributed to the inventions and improvements include Louis Daguerre, Henry Fox, George Eastman, Thomas Wedgewood, Johann Heinrich Schultze and John Herschel.
My first knowledge about a camera was with a Brownie manufactured by the Kodak Company. It was a point-and-shoot type that was used by a great number of folks and some I think are still in use today.

Christmas is gone, but memories remain

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

Well, Christmas 2017 is history. It was a time of happiness for a myriad of people across this great globe that we live on. It comes only once a year, but it is a date that we look forward to each year.
Although it is highly commercialized, Christians celebrate it as a memorial to Jesus, the Messiah, whom God sent into the world to be a propitiation for sin. For the church universal, there are a number of orders-of-worship and activities shared by the individual churches that make up the universal church.
Anyway, aside from the religious aspect of Christmas which I believe should be paramount, many folks celebrate that very important day on the calendar as a time to exchange gifts and cards, family get-togethers, attending church services etc.
While as I understand it, the exact date of Jesus’ birth is not known, I believe it is proper to set aside a certain date to recognize and celebrate his coming into the world as a baby with all the awe and wonder it entails.

During my years growing up in the Swift Hollow section of Johnson County and subsisting on the small acreage that was our farm, we didn’t have a great deal of extra money, but we usually found a natural tree on our property and decorated it with lights, ornaments and colorful garland. In an earlier time threaded popcorn might have been used.
Many Christmases were bitter cold, and sometimes there was snow blanketing the ground. And of course, family and friends often came by to share in that special day and the festive atmosphere of it. Presents were exchanged.
Christmas 2017 was a great time for my wife Mary and I. Mary’s sister Carol shared Christmas dinner with us and we exchanged gifts. I have a niece who lives in Sherman, Texas and a nephew who lives in Powell, Tennessee near Knoxville. Every year we send a box of gifts to my niece and she and her family sends us a box of gifts as well. My nephew and his family visited us on the evening of Christmas day and we exchanged gifts.
So, our Christmas was very merry this year. It was fun to open our Christmas cards and send them too. Now a new year is upon us. What will we do with it? I hope you have a happy and prosperous 2018.

Comic strips lend a bit of humor to life

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

Newspaper comic strips are very enjoyable to me. I have read the “funnies” for a long time, since I was a young child as a matter of fact. My uncle always subscribed to the Knoxville Journal newspaper through the mail and since I ambled over to his house almost every day, I started reading the comics in the Journal and have remained a fan of them since then.
Some of them apparently just haven’t stood the test of time because there are many that I enjoyed early on that are no longer featured in newspapers — at least the ones that I’m knowledgeable about. Some of the strips that ran in the Journal when I was little were Terry and the Pirates, the Phantom, the Lone Ranger, Mark Trails, Lil Abner, Gasoline Alley and a host of others.

I read nearly almost all of the strips that I have access to but I do have my favorites. One of my all-time favorites is Blondie. I can identify with Dagwood, Blondie’s husband in some ways. That comic strip was originally drawn by cartoonist Chic Young, who had also drawn some other comic strips before he created the Blondie comics. The strip was launched in 1930. Young died in 1953. Following his death, creative control passed to his son Dean Young who continued to write and draw the strip.

The strip has remained popular. According to reports it has appeared in more than 2,000 newspapers in 47countries and translated into 35 languages.
In the strip, Blondie’s husband Dagwood Bumstead likes and makes tremendous sandwiches from food he often finds in the refrigerator in the middle of the night. He works in the office at the J. C. Dithers Construction Company. He is often found at a not-so appetizing diner for lunch. He and the across-the-counter owner always have amusing banter.

The Bumsteads’ next door neighbors and friends are Herb and Tootsie Woodley. Blondie and Tootsie never know what their respective husbands will be up to next. Herb borrows tools and other items and it seems he never gives it back until Dagwood goes after it. Sometimes a fight ensues. The Bumstead’ have two children: Alexander and Cookie. And they are typical teenagers. Other characters in the strip include Mr. Beasley their postman. Elmo is the kid next door. Their dog Daisy is constantly by Dagwood’s side. So, there’s no doubt that the comic strip Blondie is a bright spot for many folks as they read the newspaper and have that first cup of coffee.

Basketball is a very popular sport with a humble beginning

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

With Basketball in full swing this season, I thought I would share in this column some interesting information about the game both from the view of its local existence as well as its recognition as being one of the most popular sports in the world. It began simply as a man’s effort to design an indoor sport to fill in for times when outdoor sports could not be played due to weather or other reasons.
This game that has become so popular had a rather humble beginning. And it is one of few, if any, that can be called Strictly an American sport. Plus its beginning and inventor can be marked accurately. In 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian-American sports teacher, invented basketball. Although the number of players to make up a team has varied over the years, the modern basketball team consists of five players on each team. As probably everyone knows, Basketball is a team sport and to be successful players must work with their teammates to be successful.
When Dr. Naismith invented the game, he was a physical education instructor at the International Training School of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts. The basic rules laid out by Dr. Naismith are much the same in some ways, but the rules have been changed and amplified a good deal. Basically his idea was to toss a ball into a basket. Courts were set up on each end of the indoor gymnasium or similar building. Dr. Naismith attached two old peach baskets to the ends of the gym balcony and established some basic rules. Since then, basketball has come a long way.
At first a ladder was used to retreve the ball. Later a cord or rope was used to get the ball back after each goal.
The roster for the Johnson County High School team for the 1922 season included Raymond Phillippi, Jack Shoun, Rod Hawkins, Charles Dillon, Earl Rambo, Milas Shoun, Frank Hawkins and Ross Fritts. John Pierce was JCHS Principal Some of us remember those folks. If I remember correctly, Milas Shoun went on to play semi-pro basketball. Fritts had a very successful career as an educator, serving as superentendent of education for several terms. Anyway, basketball has been a popular sport for spectators as well as for athletes. Fans crowd gyms all across the world to see their favorite players display their athleticism and skills, hoping for a victory for their team.

 

Swift reflects on women who have changed the course of history

By:  Jack Swift

I try to feature the subject of history in many of my columns. As I read and write history, I often read about women who have changed the course of history. One woman in particular who stands out as a genuine heroine is Nancy Ward. She is buried a few miles from Benton, Tennessee. Her gravestone has a plaque that reads “the Pocahontas of Tennessee.”
With what I’ve learned about her, she was truly a brave person who risked her life trying to bring Native Americans and the settlers together. She opposed war viewing it as a no-win situation for her people. Among many of her exploits was fighting beside her husband Kingfisher, a noted war chief, during the Battle of Muskogee in the Cherokee-Creek war of 1755. During that battle, Kingfisher was killed and she took up his rifle and fought side by side with the warriors.
She was respected and looked up to because of her bravery. Accounts differ about who her father was but her mother was Tame Doe, an important person who was related to many of the important Cherokee figures of her time. She was known as “Beloved Woman” and as so had the right to sit with the tribal council. Her power in the tribal council enabled her vote on whether or not to engage in war, as well as to life or death for captives. And she could choose the method of torture. She saved the life of Lydia Bean after she was captured during the raid on Fort Watauga in July of 1776.
As white settlers began to take Cherokee land, several Cherokee women married Euro American men. Nancy’s second husband was Bryant Ward, a British trader. She believed coexistence and compromise, rather than violence, was best for her people. Nancy Ward was born in ca. 1738 in Chota, Monroe County, Tennessee. She died in 1822 near Benton, Tennessee. By 1819, the land she grew up on was sold. She then returned to Chota and spent her final years running an inn. She was considered a heroine by the Daughters of the American Revolution and in 1923, The Nancy Ward Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution built a monument to her near her grave near Benton, Tennessee. She was just one of the many women who have had a very important role in history.

My encounter with Ronald Reagan

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

As we live our lives there are milestones along the way. Among those milestones are marriages, graduations, baptisms and other things. Those occasions are important and we remember them in detail. There have been many milestones in my 79-plus years. As I look back on my adventure of life, I see many milestones, some important, some not so important. Every once in a while I think back to the time I covered then candidate Ronald Reagan when he was running for president of the United States. Although not as important as some events, it was one I remember well.

I wore a number of hats when I was employed at the Tomahawk Newspaper and writing some news stories was part of my job. Of course I was sports editor for many years as well. As I remember it, Derl McCloud owner and editor of the Tomahawk asked me to go to Kingsport to cover the event. Reagan was on the campaign trail against Jimmy Carter with an appearance in Kingsport at Dobyns Bennett High
School. Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys were on hand to entertain the large crowd that had assembled.
I was fortunate to get a couple of pictures of the candidate. One was from several feet away while he was speaking, the other a profile of him as he was shaking hands with folks as he and his entourage walked along a rope-line. Both of the pictures were featured on the front page of the Tomahawk along with my story.
Reagan went on to win over Jimmy Carter and become the fortieth U. S president. At the age of 69, he was the oldest person ever elected to that high office. He was born February 6, 1911. He became an actor and appeared in a number of movies during his career. His first major political move was to be elected governor of California. He attained the rank of Captain in the U. S. Army Air Force. Being a radio announcer was also one of his jobs early in his life. On March 30th of 1981 he was wounded in an attempted assassination.
President Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois. After struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years, he passed away on June 5, 2004 in Los Angeles.
Anyway, it was good to be at Reagan’s campaign rally in Kingsport on that day. I will always remember it.

Swift remembers keeping warm and keeping cool in times past

By Jack Swift

Keeping warm during cold climates and keeping cool during hot climates are two basic needs of everyone. Even animals must adapt or find ways to survive either extreme on the thermometer. As I write this column for this week, I realize it won’t be long before snow covers the ground and “burr” will be on the lips of many folks around the world who live in climates that get cold in the winter months. Of course there are folks who must contend with the changing temperature and snow and ice in winter. People of course have their preferences, but count me in the category that likes the climate we have in Johnson County and East Tennessee: warm on summer days and cool in winter.
As a child growing up in Johnson County during winter, I remember our heating system wasn’t much to brag about. Early on we had a fireplace in the living room and or course a wood cook stove that helped with heating when my mother was preparing meals. A supply of wood was cut and ricked for the cold months of the year. The thing about a fireplace is that part of the heat goes up the chimney and also it was not the warmest method of heating a house. My room was away from the fireplace and consequently it didn’t get very warm. Ice often covered the window.
As I remember it, our next method of warming the house was with coal in the fireplace or in a cast iron stove that sat in front of the fireplace. It did a better job of warming the house. Later an oil-burning heater was bought and it was quite an improvement. Natural gas was not available as I recall, nor was propane. Central heating was not available to most folks in those days
As for staying cool in the hot summer months in my early days I remember that some of the stores and businesses in Mountain City used ceiling fans. One in particular that I remember was a huge ceiling fan just inside the entrance to Courtesy Drug Store. Some people purchased ice for their iceboxes before refrigerators came along in about 1915. An icebox consisted of a sort of cabinet with space for a block of ice and a place to store the items to be cooled. My maternal grandparents had an icebox with a spigot that allowed the melting ice to be drained out.
Later came central air conditioning and central heat to deal with the unpleasantness of hot days and cold times.

Veterans honored for their service to our country

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

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

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

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

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

Facts about the great state of Tennessee

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

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

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

Swift has always found the evacuation of Dunkirk interesting

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

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

Johnson County Historical Society is a great organization

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swift reflects on radio in early days

By Jack Swift

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

First in the hearts of his countrymen

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

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

Swift reflects on more changes in Mountain City

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

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

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

How it used to be in Mountain City

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

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

Swift finds it amazing that helicopers can fly

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Swift reflects on interesting books recently given to him

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

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

Swift reflects on growing up in a loving family

By Jack Swift

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

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

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

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

Taylor Brothers orate, fiddle for Tennessee Governor post

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

 

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