The printing press that was used to publish the early editions of the Johnson City Press, the first one occurring on June 12, 1934. (photo by Eddie LeSueur, Greater Johnson City: A Pictorial History, Ray Stahl, 1983)
On June 10, 1984, Terri Higgins, Johnson City Press-Chronicle staff writer, composed an article titled “1934, Bad Times and Good Times.” It concerned the 50th anniversary of the newspaper, which began publication on June 12, 1934.
The country was deep into the Great Depression, with job shortages, little cash on hand and people wearing worn and patched clothes.
Local residents, who numbered about 25,000, somehow managed to savor life. “Draggin’ the Main” became a popular amusement with youth, who cruised the downtown area just to see who was present. Trendy stores included King’s, Dosser’s, Beckner’s, Masengill’s and Kress’.
Popular hangouts were The Chocolate Bar, The Shamrock, Peoples’ Drug Store, The Savoy and The Gables. The Smoke Shop provided an atmosphere where young men could hang out and partake of tobacco products.
In the 1930s, girls on dates usually had to be home by 11 p.m. at the latest. It was common for couples to date together, frequently gathering on someone’s front porch and talking for hours.
Dances were held regularly in people’s homes where thick, breakable 78-rpm records were played on wind-up Victrolas. The foxtrot and waltzes were popular. Songs included “Stardust,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “I’ll Always Be in Love with You.”
Upscale dances were held in the John Sevier Hotel Ballroom where the Buddy Dean Band and others regularly performed. The hotel was also the center of social activity for businessmen and women who assembled there for lunch in the trendy restaurant.
Afternoon tea dances were all the rage. Ballroom dances were dress-up occasions where young men wore suits and ties. Young women usually owned one or two evening dresses that could be slightly altered for each use. No one ever laughed at hand-me-down or worn-out clothes, because it was more the norm than the exception.
Downtown entertainment venues provided “picture shows” at the Majestic, Capital (later Tennessee) and Liberty theaters. George Arliss could be seen in “The Green Goddess” or John Wayne in “Sage Bush Trail.” Sometimes live shows were provided in the theaters, with traveling magicians, dance teams and actors making routine appearances on the downtown stages.
At the beginning of the tobacco season, everyone flocked to the Big Burley Warehouse on Legion Street for visits by big bands with such leaders as Sammy Kaye, Ted Fio Rito and Guy Lombardo. The cost was $2 a couple.
In the summer months, the Sur Joi swimming pool (now the Carver Recreation Center) at West Watauga and West Market was the place to go. Women wore wool swimsuits that cost between $2 and $6 and covered their head with plain white swimming caps. Men’s outfits were cheaper at $1.50 to $3.50. Pool admission was 30 cents for adults and 20 cents for the youngsters. Season tickets were also available.
A nickel ride on one of the five streetcars in operation in the city would take the traveler to Soldiers’ Home, East Tennessee Teachers College, Carnegie or the recreation area that carried a variety of names: Lake Wataussee, Lakeview Park and Cox’s Lake. Two streetcar conductors warmheartedly remembered from that era were D.T. Cash and John Lusk.
Cabs became a necessity because not everyone owned an automobile. People often rented cars for special trips and dates. Although driver’s licenses were not required, vehicles had to have a tag on the front and back. Longer trips called for a ride of one of the nostalgic steam locomotives that chugged through the city daily.
This was the way of life on June 12, 1934, when the Johnson City Press opened for business, 80 years ago.
Email Bob Cox at boblcox
@bcyesteryear.com or visit