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Two Johnson City hotels lost to history

Hannah Swayze • Jan 21, 2018 at 9:34 PM

A simple walk perusing the downtown area of Johnson City will reveal plenty of historical buildings to passers-by.

But while eye-catching as these are, there are many that were lost to history.

Two hotels, both with similar fates, played roles in the history of Johnson City's social history: the Carnegie Hotel and the John Sevier Hotel.

During their prime, hotels were not as we use them today. These two especially, were the central hub of Johnson City life. These hotels were built as spectacles, perused in awe. City residents attended parties and balls, from the bustling growth of the late 1890s to the party days of the “roaring 20s.”

Carnegie Hotel

The Carnegie Hotel that stands across from the East Tennesse State University in Johnson City is not the Carnegie Hotel found in black and white photos found in historical records.

Originally, the Carnegie Hotel was built by J.T. Wilder, a general in the Civil War in 1891 at the corner of Broadway and Fairview.

The four-story hotel sat right on railroad tracks, a building that travelers couldn't really miss since all trains stopped at Carnegie Station.

The $125,000 hotel boasted state-of-the-art accommodations with 125 rooms stacking three stories. Each room reportedly was lavishly decorated and had outside ventilation.

In addition to being lodging, the hotel also remained the center of the city's social life for decades after its opening. It played host to social parties and balls attended by Johnson City residents and visitors.

The hotel was not even open for 20 years before it was being converted for other uses. Then, one early morning in 1910, the Johnson City Comet reported of its destruction in a fire. No extraneous efforts were made to save the building and it was not rebuilt. Eventually, it was used for storage for the nearby Empire Furniture Company as storage.

John Sevier Hotel

About a decade later, another hotel was constructed in Johnson City. The Hotel John Sevier, named after the first governor of Tennessee, was built out of the desire for the city to have an elegant hotel.

The $500,000 bill to construct the hotel was footed by teams from the Chamber of Commerce of just 160 people. According to the National Register of Historic Places, the funds were raised in only six days.

When the hotel finally opened on August 5, 1924, over 1,500 people attended the grand opening of this lavish hotel. Walking past the revolving door, something many attendees had never seen, the people marveled at the elegant amenities throughout the ten-story building.

The new hotel would take over as the central hub for social life in Johnson City.

In 1978, the hotel would cease to be a hotel. The tall building became John Sevier Center, an apartment building for elderly and physically challenged residents.

But, like its predecessor, the Carnegie Hotel, this building would, too, fall victim to a fire.

On Christmas Eve, 1989, the John Sevier Center caught fire claiming the lives of 16 residents.

The building still stands today on East Market Street.

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