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History of Jefferson City

From Mossy Creek to Jefferson City
A Historical Sketch of Jefferson City from 1788 to 1941

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Early photo of the post office

   Jefferson City was originally named for a creek...Mossy Creek.  The first explorers to the area chose the name because of the vivid green moss growing in the creek bed.  Apparently Mossy Creek was a supply point for these early explorers.   When Adam and Elizabeth Sharkey Peck and family arrived from Virginia in 1788, they found a small abandoned fort or blockhouse beside a spring of fresh water flowing into a nearby creek.  Tradition goes that the Pecks set up their dwelling in this structure until their own log cabin, slightly northwest of the present city, was ready for occupation.  Despite the danger from the Indians, Mossy Creek proved to be so desirable that by 1797 seventy-five to one hundred families had settled within a four-mile radius of it.
EARLY COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT ALONG THE CREEK BANKS

   Thanks to water power available on Mossy Creek, most of the earliest commercial development was along the creek banks, beyond the original Peck dwelling where Adam Peck built the first grist mill about 1795. About the same time, Thomas Hume opened the first store.  Thereafter, about 1798, Christopher Haynes established an iron works which operated for about ten years. According to the U.S. Post Office Department, Washington, D.C., the first post office was set November 21, 1816 at the old “Mossey” Creek Iron Works with Willie Zount Peck as postmaster, salary $2.17 a month.  Before 1818, settlers had to get mail from Greeneville.

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Employees and Mail Carriers

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Old Mossy Creek Mill

   Several grist mills operated in the area for years, the last of which was the Branner-Jarnigan Mill on the west bank of Mossy Creek, east of the city.  It was built by George Branner soon after he moved to Mossy Creek from Dandridge, about 1835.  Before 1838 George Branner lived in what the family called Manor House on a rise on the south side of the old road near the mill.  He built three cabins east of the mill.  The cabin farthest east was a tavern.   Branner also built an imposing brick dwelling on the northwest slope below Glenmore.  When Glenmore was built (1867-69), Branner’s house was removed, and the handsome bricks were used in the Timmon’s House and in the walks around Glenmore.
   Other early businesses were Patton Howell’s ax-handle factory, Henry W. Peck’s wool-carding machine, and Knight, Humes, & Gill’s cotton spinning factory, later owned by Col. S.W. Fain, who supplied thread for jeans, other weaving, and for mending at home by women of the area.  Thread and packing were shipped to other states and abroad.  Adam Peck & Co., Brazelton and Massingale, and W.A. Branner were also merchants by 1836.   For the first forty or fifty years lumbering was the principle non-farming occupation. Trees were removed primarily for local use and to make way for land cultivation.  The valleys were mostly grass covered with buffalo grass growing extensively, but the hills were timbered.   Two or three sawmills were then on Mossy Creek.  A large one owned by a Mr. Hayworth was located at the mouth of the stream on the Holston River.

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Jefferson City Outfitting Company

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Photo showing orange colored fence where people watched trains come through

POPULATION SHIFTS SOUTHEAST BY 1840’s

  By the middle 1840’s three factors helped cause the gradual southeastward shifting of the center of population and business:  The beginning of Mossy Creek Baptist Missionary Seminary in 1851, the intermittent mining of zinc ore some years after its discovery east of town by Willis Hammond and George Wright in the 1830’s, and the completion of the East Tennessee Railroad between Bristol and Knoxville in 1858.

   This line was later incorporated with the East Tennessee Railroad and Georgia Railroad under the name of East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad.  The story goes that the original survey through Mossy Creek was made to run the track along Mountcastle Street, but John R. Branner succeeded in having it changed to its present course.  At that time he gave the right-of-way through his property in addition to three acres of land upon which to build the railroad station.  This arrangement stipulated that every passenger train stop at Mossy Creek.  Branner later became the president of the line, which is now a part of the Southern Railway System.

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Photo showing old Yoe Hotel (Mossy Creek's first) with steps leading to second floor

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Southern Depot showing city well

   The old east-west highway ran through the town along the railroad, which was eventually double-tracked.  A bright orange-colored fence was erected, and the name Depot Street, now Main, was given to it.   Children often climbed the fence to watch their favorite trains come in and see the engines take in water for their boilers from the old water tank high on its heavy, derrick-like foundation located back of Godwin Brothers Store.
POST CIVALWAR DEVELOPMENT LED BY J.R.BRANNER

   Mossy Creek did not escape the Civil War.  On December 29, 1863, a battle was fought, with the Union forces on one side of the creek and the Confederate forces on the other side.  This encounter resulted in a defeat for the latter.  During the tragic days after the war many southern civic, government, and military leaders had to sign a Certificate of Allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.

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Old Mossy Creek Bank

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J.R. Moser and son in front of his livery stable

   John Roper Branner, often leading the way in the early development of the city, built the imposing Branner-Jarnigan mansion, (Glenmore Mansion 1867-69) on the eastern edge of their city.  He did not live to see it completed.  His heirs sold it to Milton P. Jarnigan who moved there in 1882.   However, before this transaction took place, Glenmore was for several years home of the Branner Institute for Young Ladies.  Its first session was in 1876-77.  A copy of the initial catalogue shows an ambitious program in music, art, literature, languages, science, and mathematics.
   Nicholas & Trotter built the first hardware store.  In the same period Jarnigan & Tittsworth opened the first drug store or apothecary shop on the southeast corner of Main and Branner.   The Yoe Hotel, Mossy Creek’s first hotel, was three stories high.  The Depot Street level held the Ingram Brothers Barber Shop and a confectionary stand which sold tobacco, sweets, and on Saturday, ice cream.  Behind these was a room where “drummers” could display their wares which they had for sale.

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Early photo of Woolen Mills

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Photo of first public school, later to be used as city hall building and fire station

    A much-looked-forward-to even during part of the Yoe’s life-span was the arrival of huge baskets of bread brought in by Jim Tate, once or twice a week, via train from Kerns Bakery, Knoxville, and sold on the street near the front of the hotel about 5:30 in the afternoon.  While Mrs. Ada Northern managed the Yoe, Carson-Newman College owned it, and J.D. Bible, treasurer, collected the rent.   About 1915 it was torn down after being sold to D.L. Butler.
   Other later hotels included the Jefferson, on the south side of Main Street, managed by Mrs. Ashmore, and then by Mrs. Ethel Manley, who had a photo studio with window displays.  Two tearooms were the Evans, where Holt Fieldhouse now stands, and the Burnette, on present Walnut Street.  An early jail stood beyond the upper bridge on the west side of Mossy Creek.   It was about eight-by-eight feet with one very small window and door.

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Another early photo of school building

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Ingram and Tate Barber Shop

   Several livery stables, the taxi service of the day, catered to the citizens and the “drummers.”  On special occasions two black men, Clark and Crum Taylor, bedecked in high-topped hats and long-tailed coats and perched high on the front seat of a carriage, wheeled along fast to answer the needs of customers.  Under the name Frame’s News Bureau, S.M. Frame published the following newspapers: Mossy Creek Lancet, 1873; Weekly Register, 1897; and the Watchman.  Asquith Job Printing Shop was later located on the west side of Branner.
MOSSY CREEK BECOMES JEFFERSON CITY IN 1901

  Before 1900 two communities, Carsonville on the south and Frame Addition on the west, were in existence.  Although these communities were separated from Mossy Creek by farmland, they incorporated in 1901 under the name Jefferson City with a charter voted on February 7, 1901. The first meeting of the city fathers was held in an old print shop located north of the railroad tracks.  According to history, a few of the business and professional men were called “mossbacks” when they traveled to other areas.  Consequently, they supported the name change to Jefferson City.

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"Glenmore" built by John R. Branner, 1868-69

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Early photo of First Methodist Church

   The first mayor of the newly named city was W.T. Russell, a prominent member of the faculty and administrative staff of the college.  In 1903 he was followed by R.M. (Bob) Bales, a leading businessman, who served two terms.   The first telephone service was cooperatively owned by the People’s Telephone Co.  J.V. Cline was the manager for many years.  The first light and power system was privately owned.  One of these owners was a Mr. Goofenhour who sold to a Cleveland concern, which in turn sold to TVA, and Appalachian Electric Cooperative followed.  The light and power plant was located on Mechanic Street across from Johnson Spring Factory.  Its smokestack can be seen today.  Lights were turned on at twilight and off at 10:00 p.m.
   Clarence Bales and John Lawrence were involved in the first attempt to construct a water system in the early 1920’s.  The water was brought in wooden pipes from the spring to the old reservoir built on two levels behind the Sarah Swan Dormitory.  The wooden pipes leaked so badly that metal ones were installed in them.

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Dr. McCowan's Bible Class-First Methodist Church 1936-37

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Early photo of First Presbyterian Church

   Since this system was impractical, in 1923-24 when J.W. Ellis was mayor, the city bought Bird Spring and an acre of land from Dr. John Fain for $7,500.00 and pumped water to the old reservoir on top of what is now North Hills.  Pipes were laid both north and south to the Southern Railway tracks where there was a problem getting underground.  This was finally solved, and the system was used until TVA had to purchase another source of water supply for the city because Bird Spring was inundated by Cherokee Lake.  The new water source was found on Lamar Rankin farm at the head of Mossy Creek and is still used today.
   For many years a red bus, driven by a Mr. Presley, ran between Jefferson City and Dandridge.  The road was so dusty that all aboard had to wear dusters.  In addition, the women wore large hats with veils that passed over the top and down the sides of the face to tie under the chin.  Baskett Brothers of Morristown provided the first east-west service in 1923, and Tennessee Coach Company bought them out in 1930.

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Early photo of First Baptist Church

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Post Office after its dedication in 1940

THE NEW POST OFFICE AND CHEROKEE DAM ARE SIGNIFICANT IN 1940

   On August 10, 1940, the present Post Office was dedicated with a gala occasion featuring a large parade from City Hall to the new Post Office.  Morristown High School Band, the local American Legion Boy Scout Troops and men from CCC Camp No. 1447 stepped proudly along to halt at the speaker’s stand where W.B. Wooten, a representative of the Post Office Department, Chattanooga, gave the history of the local office from its beginning to that day.  Congressman B. Carroll Reece spoke at Henderson Hall.  This was followed by an old-fashioned basket lunch spread on Carson-Newman campus.  At 1:30 p.m. a Colonial Fashion Show at Henderson Hall was a big hit.  Field Day at Carson-Newman Johnson Athletic Field closed what was called “the biggest celebration in the history of the city.”  Ben Catlett was then mayor.

   August 1, 1940, brought Jefferson City into national news.  On that date work started toward the building of Cherokee Dam, a short distance northwest of the corporate limits.  The gates to the dam were closed December 5, 1941.  Impoundment of the water, supposed to take place in twenty months, began considerably earlier.  Thus, current was made available to Oak Ridge during part of World War 2, and the entire project was completed in 1942.   Of the original five to six meandering miles of historic Mossy Creek, only one and a half miles remain when the lake is full.

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Early photo of Cherokee Dam

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Miss Hazel Stepp's second grade class, 1921

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Second public school, with both grammar and high school students

   Despite the passing of many years, the change of the city’s name and other changes, two conditions from the old days are much the same.  From here and surrounding locations, according to a newspaper article of 1853, “The views are not excelled anywhere for picturesque beauty.  Landscapes of wooded hills and cultivated valleys stretch out til the eye rests against the blue dimness of the distant mountains to behold wondrous loveliness…The courageous, dignified and refined people make Mossy Creek a most delightful place to visit.  Hospitality is second nature with people here, and a visitor never fails to come again.”

Historical sketch excerpted from Diamond Jubilee-Bicentennial (Mossy Creek-Jefferson City), 1976.

More Photos of Historic Jefferson City

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Mossy Creek Hospital

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Old Jefferson City Hospital

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First separate high school

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Bernice Bible (Mrs. Bernice Shipley) and her basketball team

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First Carson Newman Administration Building burning in 1916

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Second Carson Newman Administration Building, which burned in 1974

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Boiler being moved to second Carson Newman Administration Building

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Early photo of Davis Hall, better remembered as "The Barn"

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Early photo of Nelson Merry and Thompson Hall

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Starting foundation to rebuild Administration Building at Carson Newman

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Old Engine 1, Jefferson City's first fire truck 1937-38

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Copyright 2005
City of Jefferson City

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by Robert Miller for the City of Jefferson City, TN