By Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian
While several historical topics have interested me in the course of my life, a few have stood out. The histories of Tennessee (especially East Tennessee), and Johnson County have been foremost in my reading and studying. I believe with so many folks tracing their ancestry, the interest in history has also increased Johnson County, Tennessee is unique in a numbers of ways not the least of which is its Union leanings during the American Civil War. It was one of several counties in East Tennessee that were against secession.
Johnson County was carved from Carter County in 1836 due to its remoteness from Elizabethton, the county seat. Due to the distance and hardships of travel (mountains and rivers to cross), a petition was presented to the powers that be in Nashville to move the county seat to a more accessible site for its far-flung citizens. After that effort failed, talk began about the possibility of forming a new county. In 1836, a new county was approved along with a new county seat. The new county was named for Thomas Johnson, a respected citizen of what would become Johnson County. The new county seat was named Taylorsville in honor of James P. Taylor of Carter County. The name was changed to Mountain City in 1885. Nestled in a part of the Appalachian Mountain mchain, what better name could it be named than Mountain City?
As people work on their genealogy, they ultimately depend a great deal on court records, books, magazines, and other sources. An excellent source is right here in Johnson County: The Johnson County Welcome Center and Museum. The Welcome Center has for sale Volumes one, two and three of the History of Johnson County. These books were compiled and published by the Johnson County Historical Society. For those of
you who haven’t seen the books, check them out at the Welcome Center. They’re beautiful and informative. Census books are also for sale there, including those compiled by former Johnson County Historian, the late Tom Gentry. Herman Tester also has published several census books including the rare 1930 census.
The book Upon a Lonely Hill is now available from Herman Tester. It’s a cemetery census: a reprint of the original by Jeffrey L. Carrier. The Johnson County Library is a great source of history. The Adventures of Daniel Ellis and History of the 13th Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry are two books that provide information about the Union Side in Johnson County. The Johnson County Historical Society is always looking for new members. If you haven’t visited the Welcome Center on Highway 421 South, check it out. I believe you’ll find it to be find it to be interesting and informative.