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The Bean Festival was a cherished local event

Excitement abounded when Johnson County’s annual Bean Festival rolled around. As I was going through some of my files recently, I found a 1955 Bean Festival program book. The program book brought back memories of when that annual event was one of the main times of the year for Mountain City and Johnson County. While the festival was held in the fall, I think now is a good time to remember those fun filled days of yore — especially with the cold weather we’ve been having of late.
I was 17 in 1955 and I remember many of the activities associated with the festival. There was always a parade with floats and bands. A carnival with plenty of food and entertainment was a draw from all over Johnson County and the surrounding area. There was usually a horse show. The festival activities were held at what was then called the fair grounds and what is now the Johnson County High School football field. North Church Street teemed with folks who parked downtown and walked to the festival site.
The Johnson County Bean Festival was organized as an annual event in 1947 by the Mountain City Community Club. It was reported on the pages of the festival program book where the profits of the past Festival were spent. According to the book, $757 went to buy playground equipment for Mountain City Elementary School. $575 went for use of an Iron Lung in Johnson County. Other funds went for band uniforms and numerous other worthy causes.
Johnson County’s Sheriff in 1955 was Dayton Payne. F. E Robinson was Mayor of Mountain City and W. R. Mutter was Mountain City’s Chief of Police. The aldermen were R. J. Eastridge, T. E. Lovill, Lewis W. May Jr. and J. N. Blackburn. T. W. Wilson was the town Recorder. The Superintendent of Schools was R. D. Fritts. The Board of Education members were Dr. R. O. Glenn, Ray Stalcup, Earl Shull, Fred Dugger and Edgar Cole. Other county officials were O. D. Dotson, Chairman of County Court; Walter Reece, Trustee; Fred Greer, Tax Assessor; Edgar Bumgardner, Circuit Court Clerk; Walter Taylor, County Court Clerk; Frank Smythe, Clerk and Master; and W. D. McElyea, Register of Deeds.
Perhaps this column about the Bean Festival will bring back good memories for the folks who lived during the green bean growing era in Johnson County. Also for the young as well as newcomers or visitors to our fair county, it will inform them of a bit of Johnson County’s history. During the time when Johnson County was called “The Green Bean Capital of the World,” about every available bit of land was planted in beans. Two of the most planted varieties were the Tendergreen and the Wade, if my memory serves me right. Some pole beans were also planted. The highlight of the festival was the judging and crowning of the Bean Festival Queen. Several young ladies competed for the coveted title. Each contestant was sponsored by an area civic club.
The green bean industry was very labor intensive. Picking required many pickers and although it was hot dreary work, some people were glad to pick up a little extra cash. Following the picking, the beans were transported to Mountain City to be sold at auction. At one time I believe there were at least two markets in Mountain City. If the beans were good quality, the farmer could take home a pretty good profit for that time. Of course, there were times when the farmer didn’t break even.
Over time it became more and more difficult to acquire pickers and picking machinery just wasn’t suitable for the hilly terrain in Johnson County. Hence, the bean market played out as a cash crop. In its day, Johnson County beans went to all parts of the United States.