Demolition takes away much of Johnson City man’s history

Gary B. Gray • Jul 29, 2013 at 12:05 PM

Lynn Taylor slowly strolled back and forth on West Main Street last week, peering up from time to time and reminiscing about the now-demolished Johnson City Furniture Co. — a location he and his family had basically called home since the 1930s.

“The store’s always been my family’s life — our livelihood,” Taylor said from his home near Science Hill High School. “I was never a mile from downtown. Both sides of Main Street were packed on Saturdays. It was a beehive. It was something else.”

The city demolished the furniture store to add 30-40 more downtown parking spaces and to repair the decrepit Brush Creek culvert lying underground. It’s part of Johnson City’s effort to revitalize the downtown area.

“I have mixed emotions about them tearing it down,” he said. “I had basically lived my life there since the 1930s. I was 70-something when I finally got out. What should I be doing at that age, anyway?”

Taylor was born in a house off a section of Unaka Avenue that became part of Interstate 26.

When his father was in his 20s, he operated a service station on King Street. His aunt owned a nearby building, and his cousin still owns the Taylor Office Building on Boone and King streets.

In 1899, his grandfather owned a livery stable where Johnson City Transit now operates.

“My grandfather always felt like Johnson City was going to move west, and he encouraged his children to buy west of the railroad tracks.”

In the 1920s, Taylor’s uncle, Gene Taylor, actually began a furniture business near what is now the Fountain Square named Taylor Furniture Co. He later moved that business to the Smith Higgins building, basically east of the Johnson City Press’ current location.

In 1935, Sam Taylor, Lynn’s father, began his own furniture business, Johnson City Trading Co., at the 133 W. Main St. location, and bought the building from Hamilton Bank. He did this after returning to Johnson City following a run of employment with the state as a tobacco inspector.

Meanwhile, Lynn graduated from East Tennessee State University and then received an accounting degree from Benjamin Franklin University in Washington, D.C. He then spent four years in the Navy before returning home and going to work for his father.

His father was also a former Johnson City mayor, city commissioner and Washington County election commissioner, and he recalled that his mother processed absentee ballots at the store.

In 1938, the building, along with other businesses, were devastated by a flood.

“There was water up to your knees,” said the 84-year-old, who was not yet in his teens at the time. “Daddy went up to Virginia and bought a few truckloads of new furniture. This basically changed the way we did business. Daddy and a man named Ezra Feathers would go out and buy furniture that includes the old-style oak ice boxes.”

The 1940s came along, and business picked up.

“My brother, Sam, and I grew up in that store,” he said. “We did whatever daddy told us to do. We did the dirty work. About that time, my father started getting involved in politics. The business was doing well. It was around then that me and my brother encouraged him to rename the store to Johnson City Furniture Co., because we were selling mainly furniture. We added on so we’d have more showroom space.”

In the mid-1960s, the Taylor family received a telephone call informing them that the building was on fire, and they headed to the scene.

“A bunch of people had come down to see what was going on, and they helped us take as much out of the store as we could,” he said. “We we’re back in business that next Monday morning.”

The inside of the building had to be completely rebuilt, and the family kept the business afloat at the same site. At that time, Lynn’s father was 67, and he decided to split the businesses interests between himself and his two sons.

My father passed away in 1980, but my brother and I continued to operate the store until 2003,” he said. “(First Presbyterian Church) bought the building two years before that. They wanted to enlarge their parking lot. We collected our accounts, locked the doors and went home.”

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