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The best books about Johnson City history

Rebecca Henderson, Community Voices • Feb 14, 2020 at 12:00 AM

More than a few people have recently asked me for the best book about Johnson City history. The answer really lies in the particular interest of the individual. The following list of books are ones I used and found very helpful as I researched the daily pieces of Johnson City history during the Sesquicentennial year of Dec. 1, 2018- December 1, 2019, or the current research I am doing.

• “Buddy,” subtitled “The Life and Good Times of Thomas Folsom Beckner Jr.” by Thomas Beckner is privately published. Betty B. and Bob Cooper loaned their copy to me, and I am so grateful. For nearly a century Beckner’s was an institution in downtown Johnson City; this book provides a fascinating family history.

• “East Tennessee State University, (Campus History),” by Don Good, is a wonderful resource if you’re focusing on the history of ETSU, dating back to when it was the known as the Normal School. Dr. Good has filled the book with captioned photographs. This is still in print.

• “Greater Johnson City: A Pictorial History,” by Ray Stahl, details the area’s history from as early as the 1670s and continues until around 1985. The book is rich with drawings and photographs. This book is difficult to locate, but area libraries probably have copies. I am hopeful the Stahl family will allow for a reprinting. Having this valuable resource electronically would be nice. (Mr. Stahl passed away several years ago.)

• “History of Johnson City and Its Environs,” by Samuel Cole Williams, was published in 1940 by The Watauga Press; it was copyrighted in 1954 and reprinted by the McCowat-Mercer Press in Jackson, Tennessee. Judge Williams’ work traces the history of this area back to the 1600s. I am indebted to Dean Larry Calhoun for loaning me this work. If you are interested in reading this booklet, my best suggestion would be to look for it in the reference section of a local library.

• “History of Washington County Tennessee,” compiled and edited by Joyce and W. Eugene Cox, is an absolute treasure trove. This book doesn’t have nearly the photographs the other books have, but the contributors have provided many details about the history of Washington County from the 1770s until the late 1990s. I purchased my copy from the Overmountain Press on West Walnut Street; I believe it was about $20.

• “History of Washington County Tennessee 1988,” by the Watauga Association of Genealogists, provides much detail about both Washington County and Johnson City. I located a copy in the Johnson City Public Library. To my knowledge, the book is not available for sale except on the internet.

• “In the Footsteps of Faith,” printed by Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church, is subtitled “A Tour of 14 of Johnson City’s Century-Old Churches.” Printed in 2005, I am thankful to Julia Herwig Beeson for loaning it to me. If this particular facet of Johnson City is of interest to you, your best bet to locate a copy would probably be in your church library or perhaps on the bookshelf of a member of one of the churches spotlighted in the booklet.

• “Johnson City,” by Sonya Haskins, is part of the Images of America series. This book is filled with captioned photographs; many of those are recognizable today; the book is easily obtained. Johnson City is truly illustrates the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

• “Johnson City,” by Tom Roberts is part of the Postcard History Series. The book is beautiful, and was published in early 2019. I have been so impressed with it that I’ve purchased several copies as gifts.

• “Johnson City and the People of Northeast Tennessee, Volume I,” was published by the Johnson City Press and Mountain States Health Alliance in 2006. The book is filled with captioned photographs, many submitted by the newspaper readers. While most of the book centers on Johnson City, you’ll find pictures from Elizabethton, Erwin, Hampton, Jonesborough, Milligan College, Piney Flats and Roan Mountain, as well as additional locales. This book is available from both Amazon and the offices of the Johnson City Press; if purchased from the newspaper, the $5 price goes toward the Christmas Box. While we typically don’t think too much about the Christmas Box this time of the year, contributions are welcome year-round so needy, hungry families can have food around Christmas.

• “Johnson City Country Club,” by Tony Ferro, was published to celebrate the club’s first century in 2013. Filled with beautiful pictures, this book provides a unique perspective of Johnson City history. I bought my copy directly from the country club; you do not have to be a member to purchase a copy.

• “100th Anniversary History and Directory 1871-1971, First Christian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee.” This was written and compiled by Mary Hardin McCown and Josephine Carpenter Owen. First Christian is my church; this book is a wonderful resource not only for the First Christian’s first century, but it also has some interesting things about Johnson City. My minister, Ethan Magness, was generous enough to loan me his copy. Like “In the Footsteps of Faith,” if you’re especially interested in the faith history of Johnson City, I think your best option to see this book might be to locate a copy in a church library or maybe on the bookshelf of a long-time member of First Christian. I didn’t learn of this books existence until close to the end of Johnson City’s Sesquicentennial celebration, so I didn’t use it for any of the information from Dec. 1, 2018 through Dec. 1, 2019; however, I am using it for research I’m doing currently.

• “Remembering Johnson City,” by Bob Cox, is a wonderful resource. If you like Mr. Cox’s “Yesteryear” column in the Johnson City Press, you will love this book. It’s filled with rich history and supplemented by photographs.

• Finally, I would absolutely be remiss if I did not include “Johnson City 150 Years” by the Johnson City Press in my listing. This gorgeous coffee-table book didn’t come out in time for me to use it for the information I researched from Dec. 1, 2018 through Dec. 1, 2019. However, if you’re looking for a wonderful resource, an heirloom-quality book that you will be proud to pass on or give to your children, you can’t go wrong with this book. And if you’re wondering about the perfect gift for an upcoming graduation or wedding, this fits the bill perfectly! (The Johnson City Press offices still has a few copies available.)

Each of these books are wonderful resources; each will give you a different perspective on the history of the Johnson City area. Together, they paint a nice picture.

Rebecca Henderson of Johnson City is an author and community volunteer.