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Restless public eagerly looked forward to construction of a New Solders' home in 1901

Bob Cox • Nov 17, 2019 at 12:00 PM

A local 1901 Johnson City newspaper displayed a bold headline on April 20, 1900 stating, "Not Later Than June 1."

Three subtitles followed: "Will Work Be Begun on a New Soldiers' Home?"/"People Now See the Beauties of the Selected Site"/and "Farms Which Comprise the Reservation Have Been Surveyed.” The clipping gave an update on the new impressive facility:

Johnson City, April 20, 1901: "The farms, which comprised the Soldiers' Home reservation, had been surveyed and a plot of the ground had been prepared by a surveyor, Col. Thomas E. Matson, who was well-known in the East Tennessee business arena. The reservation contained 460 acres of some of the finest land in Washington County.

"Of course, there were other lands that were valued much higher than the farms constituting this boundary, but for beauty of situation and adaptation to the uses for which it was selected, there could scarcely be a more pleasing location found.

"Samuel Cole Williams of the law firm of Kirkpatrick, Williams & Bowman was employed to prepare the titles to the land for the reservation. His team went to work immediately.

"A superintendent was sent to the reservation to take charge of affairs and expedite the work of construction and improving the grounds. The purchase of the land, its improvement and the construction of numerous buildings were expected to use up the appropriation of $200,000 by December 1. By that time, an additional appropriation of $500,000 would be required.

"It was soon settled that the Home would be located on the Lyle lands, two miles southwest of the city and near the Embreeville Junction of the Southern Railway.

"The board of managers settled this question before leaving here but left the matter still open for certain conditions to be met. These conditions were made satisfactory with the board and thus all doubt was removed about the location.

"And while this selection of property for the reservation came as a great surprise to almost every one there, the people were becoming reconciled to the situation and now saw advantages to the town by reason of the Lyle lands having been selected for the site of the Soldiers' Home.

"One of these advantages was that it was the means of giving Johnson City a sewerage system without delay, as the sewer from the home had to pass entirely through the corporate limits of the town.

"In this way, the city would get the use of something like four miles of sewer, which the home will be under the necessity of building outside city limits.

"Other advantages that became a probability were as the construction of a pike road to Jonesboro, the county seat by way of the Soldiers' Home where there was a dirt road, which became so muddy in winter as to be almost impassable.

"The general consensus was that a streetcar line would be built from Johnson City to Mountain Home and eventually connected with Jonesboro. (Note: The streetcar from Johnson City to Jonesboro and back became a dream but never a reality).

"If these improvements could be made, as the indications were that they would be, then citizens living in the remote parts of the county could, while in Jonesboro on business, make a run over to Johnson City and the Soldiers' Home, spend an hour or two for only a dime and get back in time to mount horseback and travel home.

"The eastern boundary of the Soldiers' Home reservation was only about one mile from Johnson City's "Public Square" (now known as "Fountain Square" with the addition of a new fountain). The lands were situated on a ridge or plateau, which stretched alongside the Southern railroad and opposite the Embreeville Junction.

"These lands sloped gently to the south and from them there was a majestic view of the great mountain chains southward, which stretched away to the cloud-capped Roan in the distance.

"A superintendent of construction was expected to arrive there any day to take charge of affairs. The architect who was to submit plans and specifications for the first buildings would accompany him. The first to be erected was a Power House, then following it was would bring about a Kitchen and Mess Hall.

"Delays were not acceptable. This work was to begin in a very short while, not later than June 1, even if the work had to be opened to competitive bids. ‘June 1’ was literally etched in stone with no tolerance for negotiation.

"The people were beginning to fully appreciate what the Soldiers' Home was to be to Johnson City and that it truly would be a perpetual source of revenue to all local markets and trade.

"And in connection with that, they fully appreciated the services provided by Congressman Brownlow, for, in securing this great institution for Johnson City, East Tennessee and the South, Brownlow had performed an act regarded as a miracle."

Reach Bob Cox at boblcox@bcyesteryear.com or go to www.boblcox@bcyesteryear.com.