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Railroads, iron, education and health care: A Johnson City timeline

Johnson City Press • Dec 1, 2018 at 5:46 PM

As Johnson City readies for its 150th birthday a year from now, we thought we’d highlight some of the town’s highlights in a timeline. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but here are some key events in Johnson City’s history:

1769: Tennessee's first colonizer William Bean built a cabin along Boones Creek.

1780s: Col. John Tipton established his farm in what is now south Johnson City. During the effort to establish the State of Franklin, Tipton was a leader among loyalists who wished to remain part of North Carolina. On Feb. 27, 1788, the two sides clashed in the Battle of Franklin at Tipton’s farm, which is now the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site.

1849: The East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad was chartered to be built from Knoxville to the Virginia state line at Bristol.

1856: Founding father Henry Johnson built his store near Brush Creek along the stage road adjacent to the railroad’s path and waited for the railroad to come to him.

1857: The East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad construction crew entered Washington County and built a water tank at Johnson’s store, giving the new town its first designation, “Johnson’s Tank.”

1860s: The town’s name was briefly changed to "Haynesville" during the Civil War in honor of Confederate Sen. Landon Carter Haynes. The town’s original name was restored after the war.

1866: The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (ET&WNC) Railroad is chartered to bring another railroad to Johnson City. The line ran from Johnson’s Depot to the Cranberry magnetite iron ore deposits in North Carolina. Construction began in spring 1868 and the railway to Cranberry was completed in 1882.

Oct. 27, 1867: The original Science Hill Male and Female Institute was dedicated on a knob overlooking downtown with classes beginning the following August. On Jan. 20, 1880, a charter was granted to Science Hill as a private school. It later became a public school as Johnson City’s high school. A new building was erected on the same site in the 1910s, and the school moved to its current location in 1960.

Dec. 1, 1869: Johnson City receives its first charter from the state of Tennessee. The town would became a strategic rail junction for the southeastern United States. Three rail lines — the Southern, the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Railway and the ET&WNC — all met near the site of Johnson’s original depot.

Jan. 3, 1870: Henry Johnson received all 60 votes to be elected the city’s first mayor.

1870s and 1880s: Johnson City’s economy booms as its railroad hub and iron smelting industry position the city to become the “Pittsburgh of the South.” The city’s population grew from around 500 people to 4,200 by 1893.

1889: Civil War Gen. John T. Wilder established the Carnegie Land and Auction Company east of Johnson City to capitalize on the iron boom. Carnegie included its own Main, Center and Broadway Streets and a hotel built in 1891. Newspaper accounts at the time indicated that backers hoped to draw industrialist Andrew Carnegie to build a steel plant here by offering to change Johnson City’s name to Carnegie. Wilder also built the Carnegie Furnace, later renamed “Cranberry,” in Johnson City to refine iron. Ironically, Johnson City would eventually absorb Carnegie, hence Broadway, Center and the avenues named 8th-12th in the eastern section of town. Both Carnegie and Wilder’s “3-Cs” railroad failed via the depression of 1893 caused by a run on the banks, knocking the bottom out of Johnson City’s iron market. Johnson City’s iron boom was also diminished by the plentiful supply of iron from the Mesabi Range of Minnesota.

April 14, 1891: U.S. President Benjamin Harrison visits Johnson City as part of his "whistle-stop" tour with speeches at key locations and what is touted as the first transcontinental tour by a president. An estimated crowd of 5,000 people turned out to hear Harrison speak.

1901: Congress established the Mountain Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers adjacent to Johnson City. Construction was complete and the facility opened in 1903 with the original 37 buildings completed in 1910. Today, the campus is the Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and National Cemetery, Mountain Home.

1904: The iconic Lady of the Fountain was erected on Fountain Square.

1908: Johnson City’s downtown streets are paved with brick.

April 2-3, 1910: The Carnegie Hotel was destroyed by fire.

1911: The East Tennessee State Normal School, a higher education campus for developing schoolteachers, was established southwest of downtown Johnson City. The school would grow into what is now East Tennessee State University. Both the Soldiers Home and the Normal School marked the origins of Johnson City’s next boom.

1921: Appalachian Hospital, later Memorial Hospital, opens in downtown Johnson City.

1924: The John Sevier Hotel opened on Aug. 5. The hotel was planned in three stages, with a second section completed in 1929. The third phase was never completed.

1928-29: The Columbia Records recording sessions now known as the Johnson City Sessions took place, making Johnson City’s "Fiddlin' Charlie" Bowman a national recording star.

June 1934: The Johnson City Press begins publication and later absorbs the city’s other daily newspapers.

1943: Johnson City’s higher education institution became East Tennessee State College.

May 10, 1955: The voters of the city of Johnson City elected to become a home rule municipality.

1958: ETSC integrates, enrolling its first four black students.

1963: ETSC becomes East Tennessee State University.

1965: The Johnson City School District integrates.

1970s: Most of Johnson City’s business sector moves north with the opening of Kmart and the Miracle Mall, marking a downturn for downtown.

Oct. 20, 1970: President Richard M. Nixon visits Johnson City and speaks at ETSU.

March 12, 1974: The state Legislature overrode Gov. Winfield Dunn’s veto to establish a medical school at ETSU and the VA. The first class of 24 students arrived on campus four years later. The school would bring much needed medical care to rural Northeast Tennessee and pave the way for health-oriented growth of Johnson City that continues today.

May 14, 1976: President Gerald Ford visited Johnson City, speaking at Freedom Hall Civic Center on the campaign trail.

1980s and 1990s: State of Franklin Road was developed as arterial loop around Johnson City.

1980: Johnson City Medical Center opens, replacing the old Memorial Hospital.

Dec. 24, 1989: The former John Sevier Hotel — by then a center for low-income residents — burned, killing 16 people.

2000s: The revitalization of downtown Johnson City gains steam.

2009: Niswonger Children’s Hospital opens at Johnson City Medical Center.

2014: Founders Park is completed in downtown Johnson City as part of the city’s flood mitigation project. That project, including the park, became the catalyst for downtown’s progress.

August 2014: The Tweetsie Trail rails-to-trails project opens between Johnson City and Elizabethton on the former ET&WNC rail bed.

Jan. 31, 2018: Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System merge to form Ballad Health as the major medical provider for the greater Tri-Cities area and most of Southwest Virginia.

Oct. 1, 2018: President Donald J. Trump visited Johnson City as he campaigned for U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn.

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