The 100th anniversary of the Veterans Memorial in Carter County will be celebrated this weekend. Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press
ELIZABETHTON — Carter County will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its Veterans Memorial this weekend.
While the monument honors Carter County veterans of all wars and Mary Patton, who made the gunpowder used at the Battle of Kings Mountain, another man should also be remembered Saturday for leading the charge to preserve the monument from the plans of urban renewal to remove it from its place of honor in the traffic circle next to the courthouse.
The monument had a special place in the heart of George Dugger Sr. since he was a 17-year-old boy watching the monument being built in 1913.
For Dugger, the monument was not just a stone edifice honoring the county’s veterans. He saw it as helping to bring together Carter Countians who were still divided by the Civil War.
In his memoirs, Dugger said veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish American War formed an association to build the monument to honor veterans of all wars up to that time. Confederate soldiers were invited to participate.
As the monument began to take shape in 1913, Dugger said he usually passed by the area two or three times a week.
“I could observe both Confederate ex-soldiers and Union ex-soldiers coming down to the monument to observe the progress. They were too old to work, but they fraternized with each other in a very friendly manner. The conduct of these ex-soldiers who had fought each other bitterly in the Civil War impressed me and I dedicated myself to endeavor to perpetuate the fine and noble spirit in which they entered into the construction of the monument.”
Dugger said he had a “special reason” for doing everything in his power to preserve the monument. He said he had promised his mother that he would not harbor hatred against ex-Confederate soldiers and their descendants. He said the reason he made the request was because his grandfather, W.W. Williams, was a Union veteran who had long harbored a hatred of Confederates for all they had done to the family. This included killing Dugger’s grandmother. His father and uncles never found where she was buried.
Dugger said he kept his promise to his mother. He attended the University of Georgia Law School and said nearly all of his professors were sons of Confederate veterans. He said he honored them and received a good legal education from them. During his legal career, he said he practiced before many Democratic judges who were the descendants of Confederate veterans.
When the community learned that an urban renewal project for Elizabethton included the removal of the monument, Dugger filed a suit against the Elizabethton Housing Authority and the city of Elizabethton.
“I brought the suit to keep the monument, not because of any ulterior motive, but for the reasons of my conscience and memory of my mother dictated that I do so,” Dugger wrote in his memoirs. Dugger was also a veteran of World War I.
Dan Laws Jr. joined the case as an attorney for the plaintiff and Walter Curtis was the lawyer for the city and the housing authority.
Leading up to the trial, Dugger was elected chairman of the monument committee composed of veterans organizations, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
In his lawsuit, Dugger argued that the county owned the land on which the monument stood. He said it was a 100-foot square parcel that the county had owned since its creation in 1796. He said the city of Elizabethton only owned an easement in the street for street maintenance.
Curtis argued the monument was at the intersection of two streets and all public streets had been awarded to the city when it was chartered.
He said the new Highway 19-E project included an exit leading to downtown that would funnel heavy traffic along Elk Avenue. The monument was seen as a traffic hazard. Dugger said the monument at its base was 30 feet wide and the street right of way was 80 feet. He said that left more room for the two lanes of the Bristol Highway that was 20 feet wide and carried 6,000 cars per day. He said if all the county’s 100-foot lot was used, there would be enough room for three lanes around each side of the monument.
Curtis also said the monument was structurally unsafe and in danger of falling. Dugger said that was not proven.
Curtis said a reconstruction of the monument “an exact duplicate in every detail,” would be placed near the Doe River next to the Covered Bridge, where it would be safer for widows and children to approach it.
On May 31, 1974, Chancellor Dayton Phillips, a veteran of World War II, issued his opinion. The opinion covers 10 pages of court transcript and Dugger said it was “a beautiful opinion which should live forever in the hearts and minds of all patriotic citizens of Carter County.”
Phillips described an event from World War II in which a wooden wall was built around the wall that contained the 4,900 names of Carter Countians serving in that war. It was topped with a wooden Statue of Liberty. It cost $10,000 and was paid for by a subscription of $2 paid by the families of each serviceman or servicewoman.
Dugger said the event was sanctified by the only surviving member of the committee that built the monument, Major C.R. Hathaway of the Spanish American War. Dugger said Hathaway had authorized the extension of the monument to be in memory of the soldiers of all wars, including World War I and II and other wars of the nation.
Phillips said the $2 per serviceman subscription meant the monument “became a sacred trust and the Chancery Court is the one court in the state that can uphold an active trust or dissolve it.”
Phillips commended the many veterans and patriots who testified in his court that they did not want the monument moved.
“It has been a great relief to see the many fine patriotic men and women come to this witness stand and still take a strong stand for our country and for the memory of those who have fallen in battle and for the living and for the generations to come.”
Phillips said Dayton Siler, an engineer who graduated from the Naval Academy, had provided convincing proof the monument was structurally sound and the chancellor offered his own observation that he had never witnessed a traffic accident at the circle containing the monument.
In conclusion, Phillips said that while the Elizabethton Housing Agency was doing an important job, he ruled it was “not in the public interest to remove their monument and tear it down. There is no way you can duplicate the monument. There is no way that you could put the same stone and the same sentiment and the same value to it. It is more than just concrete. It represents the great ideals that these men and women have fought for.”
In his memoirs, Dugger said “it is my fervent wish that that monument will serve as a beacon light against hatred among our people and that it will stand as a living memorial to the sacrifices given by Carter County soldiers on nearly all the battlegrounds of the world. The litigation should be forgotten, but the beautiful sentiments surrounding the construction of this monument by all soldiers who knew war and who knew patriotism should live in the hearts and minds of Carter Countians for generations to come. We invite all our new citizens to get the spirit of the soldiers on both sides of the desperate struggle in the Civil War and help inculcate in our young people an appreciation of tolerance among all people.”