The Johnson City Salvation Army quietly marked its centennial anniversary in the fall of 2010 with a homecoming celebration wrapped with childhood memories of the Salvation Army’s work here in the 1950s and the sharing of old photos and mementos tucked away in scrapbooks by soldier families.
While a great deal of oral history of the Army’s first four decades in Johnson City was lost with the 2009 death of the church’s oldest member, 102-year-old Frances Gertrude Scarborough, the Washington County Historical Association’s “History of Washington County” book includes a few of the details.
According to the book, the Salvation Army’s earliest base of operation was in what in 1910 was known as the Eagle Building at 204 W. Main St., current location of the Johnson City Press.
In 1917, the army temporarily ceased work here but reopened in March 1921 in a building at 101 Whitney St., about two blocks from its original downtown location.
Over the next 30 years, the corps moved several times before taking up permanent residence at its current site on the 700 block of Spring Street in 1948.
The original chapel was a two-story brick building at the corner of Spring and Walnut, site of the current Salvation Army playground and picnic pavilion.
People who were homeless were lodged upstairs in the building and donated clothing for anyone who needed them were stored in the basement.
A vacant lot at the corner of Spring and Ashe streets where today’s Salvation Army chapel is located provided a play area for children of the church.
Through the 1950s, a separate Salvation Army outpost operated in the city’s Maupin Row community under the leadership of minister Theodore Arrowood. Arrowood’s wife Reecie, who brought many the neighborhood’s families into the Salvation Army church, is still fondly remembered as “The Angel of Maupin Row.”
During the holidays, Salvation Army bell ringers were stationed in small wood huts strategically placed outside some of the most popular stores in the busy downtown shopping district. And a dime board that collected donations for the Salvation Army was posted outside the Kress five and dime store throughout the year .
In the 1960s, government food commodities were distributed through the Salvation Army from a storefront near the intersections of Division Street and Highland Avenue — boxed cheese, rice, white beans, yellow cornmeal and canned pork and beef.
In the early 1970s, the Salvation Army built its current office building and chapel on the lot adjacent to the old chapel and from there launched two of its most enduring community outreach programs, its public kitchen serving daily meals to the hungry and the Angel Tree program that solicits and distributes toys and clothing for low-income children at Christmas.
After the old chapel burned in the late 1970s, the army swapped its land in Maupin Row to the city of Johnson City for the lot on Ashe Street, where after several years of fundraising, the Center of Hope that houses today’s Salvation Army shelter and kitchen was constructed.
Other well-known nonprofit services were also launched from shared space in the Salvation Army building, including Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, which began its food distributions from two tables set up in the basement, the Johnson City Downtown Clinic operated by East Tennessee State University’s School of Nursing and the Family Promise ministry for homeless families with children originally known as Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Johnson City.