Infrequently Asked Questions
Henry Johnson and his Associates are
pleased to respond to several questions readers have raised related
to Johnson City historical events, legends, folklore, and trivia.
legendary stories such as "Little
Chicago" are based primarily on oral history but several new
items have been discovered and are on file here at the Depot.
is hoped that some of the questions and long-standing mysteries mentioned
here will stimulate additional research into the unique town that grew
up around Henry Johnson's Depot. Already researchers have debunked one
or two long-held "tales about town" via records and documentation
from the Archives of Appalachia. Your sharing of postcards and other
items from your local collections is greatly appreciated and positive
comments have been received from former residents and genealogists throughout
did not find the answer to your question, from time to time Henry will
check his e-mail and may choose to add questions to this page. To forward
a comment or question to Henry or an Associate, e-mail your questions
Where was the original Carnegie Hotel? Mary G.- Johnson City, TN
The original Carnegie Hotel stood on the site of the former Empire Furniture Company at 1200 East Fairview Avenue. This property now is part of the American Water Heater manufacturing complex (division of A.O. Smith Company. Research at the Archives of Appalachia and the discovery of an obscure photograph (See Enhanced Version)from the Burr Harrison Collection plainly reveals that contrary to what was previously reported here, the ruins of the Carnegie Hotel were not incorporated into the Empire Furniture Company Building(s) on Fairview. In the photo, the Carnegie Hotel is the building shown on the right. See 1917 ad for Empire Chair Company. See 1928 photo of Empire Furniture. See 1930 photo of Empire Furniture. See 1950 aerial photo of Empire Furniture.
The building shown in the photos below is the South and Western Railway office building (later Clinchfield Railroad) which looked very similar to the Carnegie Hotel and was across the street from the Carnegie. This map shows the locations of the buildings (only Broadway of the streets shown still exists today). The Carnegie Hotel did burn to the ground in 1910 and nothing was salvaged. Read news account of the fire. The accounts shown below stands corrected based upon the collaboration of the Archives of Appalachia staff.
The following statements have been proven incorrect. The ruins
of the original Carnegie Hotel, built in 1891 by Civil War General John
Wilder, still exist and are discernable today. The hotel was
not rebuilt after a fire in April 1910 and the shell of the hotel
building (possibly half of the original structure) was salvaged and used
(until 2004) as warehouse space for the Empire Furniture Company located
at 1200 East Fairview Avenue in Johnson City. Ray Stahl's book
Greater Johnson City: A Pictorial History (published in 1986)
also concluded that "The Hotel Carnegie burned around 1909-09 and
was not rebuilt. The Empire Furniture Company now uses the shell of the
building for a warehouse."
hotel cost from $125,000 to $150,000 to build and was a luxurious facility
for its time. The present
Hotel built in 2001 across from East Tennessee State University was
inspired by the original "railroad baron's hotel" from the 1890s
when Johnson City and the Carnegie section were "boom towns"
spurred by speculation from railroad and mining interests. Read the
Johnson City Comet 1891 news article on the construction
of the Hotel Carnegie.
facility for its time. The present Carnegie Hotel built in 2001 across from East Tennessee State University was inspired by the original "railroad baron's hotel" from the 1890s when Johnson City and the Carnegie section were "boom towns" spurred by speculation from railroad and mining interests. Read the Johnson City Comet 1891 news article on the construction of the Hotel Carnegie.
Note: The Empire Chair/Furniture Building above originally was the South and Western Railway office building located adjacent to the original Carnegie Hotel (destroyed by fire in 1910).
Was Johnson City
almost renamed "Carnegie" for Andrew Carnegie?
There are several historical accounts that support this claim. In a study of "Carnegie Libraries in Tennessee, 1889-1919" it is reported that industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835 - 1919) funded the construction of at least nineteen libraries and several educational buildings in Tennessee between 1900 and 1919, including one at the National Soldiers Home in Johnson City. "One library that did not get built would have been a $100,000 facility in Johnson City. The citizens refused the offer in 1889 because it would have required them to rename their town after Carnegie." Another account states that Carnegie offered to build a large steel mill if Johnson City changed its name to "Carnegie." Both these accounts could have some validity based upon Carnegie's other ventures during the same time period. "The second Carnegie Library was given to Braddock, Pennsylvania in 1889, which housed one of Carnegie Steel Company's major steel mills, the Edgar Thomson Works. Since this library primarily served the employees of the Carnegie Steel Company, and their families, the company funded the library." The Johnson City Comet news articles from 1889 are reprinted here.
items need to be researched in much more detail. It is curious that Civil
War General John Wilder named so many of his railway properties
in eastern Johnson City after Andrew Carnegie in the late 1880s and early
1890s and the exact association between Wilder and Carnegie, if any, is
not clear. General Wilder was quite an enthusiastic promoter and
some historians have thought he might have been only trying to use Carnegie's
name to stimulate interest from additional investors from throughout the
nation. Union Civil War General Clinton B. Fisk (benefactor and namesake
of Fisk University in Nashville) was another northern capitalist and railroad
developer said to be an investor in mineral extraction interests around
Johnson City during the boom years of the late 1880s. Andrew Carnegie
was the richest
man in the world and basically controlled the U.S. steel industry
during the late nineteenth century. It would be consistent with the aggressive
nature of Carnegie's steel industry acquisitions of the period, that Johnson
City's boom era of mining, railway, and iron/steel activity attracted
his attention and some level of interest was there, even to the degree
of being a partner, possibly through another name or company. John Wilder's
previous success in developing Chattanooga's industries and his international
fame as an expert in manufacturing (he hosted a visit to Johnson City
by the British Duke of Marlborough to view the Cranberry Mines, for example)
placed Wilder in the circles to easily have association with Andrew Carnegie.
The concept of Johnson City as a major center for steel and iron production
became moot after the
financial panic of 1893 when John Wilder lost his
fortune and many railway and related companies failed nationally. A close
parallel to the railway collapse of the 1890s was the "dot-com"
financial collapse a century later. Read a
biography of General John T. Wilder.
Did two brothers from Johnson City compete against each other for
Governor of Tennessee?
In the 1886 election for Tennessee's Governor, the Taylor brothers,
Robert (Bob) and
Alfred (Alf), ran against each other prompting the "War
of The Roses" campaign that gained national attention. Democratic
supporters of Robert L. Taylor wore white roses and Republicans supporting
Alfred sported red roses. Farmers' support for Robert Taylor helped win
him the election. Alf later was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1920.
The Taylors were natives of Carter County but both owned and lived in
the home at 1309 South Roan Street in Johnson
City (at different times) nicknamed "Robins'
Roost". Bob Taylor was one of the original founders of the Johnson
City Comet newspaper, an attorney, and a United States Senator, and
possibly the most charismatic politician in Tennessee
Who was the toughest
man to reside in Johnson City?
question Mike. This is a little too subjective for either Henry or the
Associates to tackle but we shall offer these comments: Henry reports
that in his opinion Johnson City took a backseat to Jonesborough in this
regard. Andrew Jackson as a young attorney and judge
in Jonesborough was absolutely fearless and it was not uncommon for
law offenders to turn themselves in rather than have Jackson come looking
for them - with or without deputies or a posse.
Jackson also challenged the noted attorney
Waightstill Avery to a duel in Jonesborough
but the issue was resolved satisfactorily without bloodshed.
Sharon, great question. A Johnson City
Comet issue dated April 14, 1890 features President Harrison's
visit. However, Ray Stahl's
History of Johnson City publication indicates that 1891 was the
date of the President's railway trip to the west coast and that the
Comet had a printing error that incorrectly showed the year in its
report. After researching this further it does appear that Mr. Stahl is
absolutely correct as subsequent issues of the Comet in April 1891 chronicle the President's trip to the west coast with almost daily articles. In Johnson City a crowd of over 5,000 turned out to see the President which was an incredible feat for a town with a total population of slightly over 4,000 people. Here are the Comet articles on the President's visit as well as a transcription of his speech.
Was Johnson City the first city chosen for the National Soldiers Home in Tennessee? Janie F. - Albany, NY
No. Congressman Walter P. Brownlow (who obtained the massive amount of federal funding necessary for the project) originally considered Greeneville, Tennessee, the largest city in the 1st Congressional District at that time, as the site of the Home (present day Veterans Affairs Center in Johnson City). Greeneville was given a choice of either the Soldiers Home or the U.S. Court House for their city. Following Greeneville's decision in favor of the Court House, Johnson City became the site of the Soldiers Home. Speculation has occurred on this subject that Greeneville citizens may have been concerned of bringing in large numbers of very ill persons to the community given the crude state of health care and lack of antibiotics around 1900. It is also speculated that the scale of the project that Brownlow intended to build (an entire medical campus) was possibly not clear. The National Soldiers Home was an unprecedented federal project for its time (particularly to be placed in a southern state following the Civil War) and led Johnson City's economic resurgence following the railroad financial collapse of the 1890s.
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Why were there three
passenger depots in Johnson City instead of a larger one serving all
three railway systems?
Prior to the 1893 financial crash that stopped John Wilder's 3-Cs Railway
project (forerunner to the Clinchfield), Wilder had started construction
on a massive "union" depot that could have served several railway
lines. Wilder's union depot would have been located near the original
Carnegie Hotel in East Johnson City. Both the Southern Railway and ET&WNC
shared a depot from 1892
until 1912 (present Free Service Tire facility). The shared depot was
referred to as a "union depot" as evidenced by this saloon
advertisement but in actuality was not of the scale envisioned by
a depot typically classified as a "union" depot.
Where did General John Wilder reside in Johnson City? Jefferson P. - Chickamauga, GA
General John T. Wilder lived at the corner of Spring and West Maple Streets in Johnson City (located across from First Methodist Church)and his home has been beautifully restored. Supposedly the annex building behind the main home served as a "warroom" for the planning of major railway lines and other projects in the late 1800s. Here are a few photos of the home:
John Wilder owned a second house almost identical to his Johnson City home in Roan Mountain, Tennessee which operated for several years as General Wilder's Bed and Breakfast." Wilder also built the original Cloudland Hotel in Roan Mountain and recognized the scenic beauty and tourism potential of Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina which were to be served by his railroads. View an 1890s photo of the Cloudland Hotel. Below are a few views of Wilder's home in Roan Mountain:
How many children did Henry Johnson have and what were their names? Shirley B. - Johnson City
The 1850 Census of Tennessee lists the Henry Johnson household as follows:
Johnson 41 years of age, his wife Mary was 39, children: Sarah
age 15, Edward 13, John 11. Both Edward
and John fought for the Union Army in the Civil War and accompanied noted Federal scout and pilot
Captain Daniel Ellis on a February 1864 trip to join forces in Knoxville.
Have the Johnson Associates discovered any previously unknown facts about Henry? James R. - Raleigh, North Carolina
James, a surprising revelation was recently discovered in an Archives
of Appalachia collection that was documented by the famed historian Samuel
Cole Williams. Judge Williams in 1941, wrote a news article with the fact
that Henry Johnson, in addition to being a merchant and a farmer, was
also an inventor. In 1835 Henry registered a patent with the
U.S. Patent Office for a threshing machine which separated the seeds of
wheat plants from the husks and stems; the wheat seeds becoming grain,
the stems straw. Read the article here.
Whatever happened to the Daniel Boone Trail marker that was formerly located at the old Science Hill High School? Larry L. - Newport News, Virginia, Science Hill Class of 1956
Larry, a Johnson City Press article detailed this longstanding mystery. The story as recently told to the Johnson Associates is that in April 1979, while the old high school was in the process of demolition two civic-minded gentlemen, who have elected to remain anonymous, saw the old monument (an arrowhead - shaped section of concrete with a bronze marker bolted in) lying on the ground and after passing by again later in the day saw the partially crushed monument being loaded onto a dump truck, presumably destined for the city landfill. One of the men asked if he could have the historic marker (bronze plaque)- and the construction crew said that was fine with them. The two gentlemen unbolted the marker from the concrete monument which would have been virtually impossible to move and salvage due to its weight. Since April 1979, the historic marker has been safely in storage wrapped in a soft protective fleece-lined sleeve. Here is a photo of Johnson City's historic Daniel Boone marker. It is thought that the hole in the marker was due to leeching from the limestone based concrete. The marker is in excellent condition otherwise. As noted in the news article, the metal used in the casting for the marker was from the Battleship - U.S.S. Maine.
The Daniel Boone marker along with the Lady of the Fountain statue, and numerous historic railway artifacts have been preserved only due to the actions of heroic individuals who felt these items would one day have great significance to Johnson City's heritage and should not be destroyed. Note: The Daniel Boone marker was reconstructed and rededicated on June 6, 2006 in close proximity to its original location.