Friday, October 03, 2008

Downtown Kingsport's First Businesses

(Kingsport 1914 - from City of Kingsport Archives)


I was eating lunch with Leland Leonard at the Jan-Mar the other day when he pointed out the window to the Nall building across the street at 115 Broad. “My company’s offices were in that building in 1915,” he said. “Then it was called Armstrong Purkey McCoy.”

Today it’s simply Armstrong Construction Company but it’s only a block away at 151 Shelby.

It got me to wondering, what businesses were in downtown Kingsport in 1915, before the city was even a city? And how many are still in business?

I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task because there is no city directory for 1915, no phone book. There wasn’t even a Kingsport newspaper in 1915; the Times didn’t begin publication until the next year. I had to assemble my list from 1916 newspapers and early photographs.

It’s not complete but it’ll have to do until someone invents a Time Machine.

The City of Kingsport Archives has a 1914 picture of downtown taken from Cement Hill. There is no Broad Street in the photo, just compacted dirt and the outline of what would become the street. There were five buildings on Broad, one at each corner intersection with Main, two buildings on the west side of Broad, a vacant lot or two and a building at the corner of what would eventually become Broad and Market. The corner building on the east side was the Bank of Kingsport. The corner building on the west side was Kingsport Drugs. What would in a year’s time become Armstrong Purkey McCoy is just a construction shack behind the bank in 1914. I can’t make out what the other Broad Street businesses are from the photo.

From old newspaper clippings I learned that one of the first downtown businesses, if not the first, was the Kingsport Stores, later known as the Big Store. This general store – it literally sold everything including caskets - was at the corner of Main and Shelby and owned by J. Fred Johnson. Dr. E.W. Tipton, identified as one of Kingsport’s first permanent residents, told this newspaper in 1937, “When the Big Store was first erected folks came down from the mountains from miles around just to look at it. They didn’t care so about trading as they did to see the big building that other folks told them was actually used as a store. I’ve seen them stand around for hours at a time with open mouths scarcely believing that what they saw was real.”

The building no longer exists but in ‘37 Tipton said it was the oldest surviving building in downtown, having been built in 1912.

In the June 22, 1916 issue of the Times I found ads for a number of downtown businesses. Citizens Supply on Main, purveyors of lumber and building material, advertised: “Fly time is here but there are no flies on us. We take measures, make and hang screen doors and windows on very short notice….Let us screen your porch and there will be no flies on you.”

There’s another ad on that page for Clinchfield Portland Cement and a small notice for the Strand Theater, which was at the corner of Main and Shelby, across Shelby from the Big Store (it would be renamed the Gem Theater in November 1924 when the Strand moved to Broad).

So we had the Kingsport Stores, Kingsport Drugs, Bank of Kingsport, Citizens Supply, the Strand Theater, the train depot and Armstrong Purkey McCoy, all near the Broad-Main intersection. But that wasn’t all.

Today the Strauss Building is at 137 Broad Street but in 1916 it was on Main, next to the Bank of Kingsport. A newspaper ad read:

“When in Kingsport Meet Me At

“Busy Bee Restaurant

“Clinchfield Drugs

“G.A. Carter, Public Stenographer

“Dr. A.D. Miller

“Dr. Geo. Keener”

Magistrate Fleenor

“Barnes, Dodson & Worley (lawyers)

“Above offices in Strauss Building next to Bank of Kingsport.”

Also on Main Street, a block or so to the east, was the Hotel Kingsport, which promised “Fireproof, Sanitary, Modern, Rates $2 and $2.50.”

I went through the first four issues of the Times from 1916 and found references to these other downtown businesses:

Williams Bros. Jewelry Store, Tipton Building, Broad Street

First National Bank of Kingsport

Balint, The Tailor, Hotel building, Main

Neal Harrison & Feagins Imp. Co., farm implements, Main

Walker Nelms General Mdse, No. 7 Broad St.

Fuller Realty, Market and Cherokee

Kingsport Airdome (airdomes were open air theaters)

A few blocks away were these:

“The People’s Market, Broad and Shelby, building formerly occupied by Clinchfield Drug.” (This interested me because Broad and Shelby don’t intersect; they run parallel. A later ad corrects the address to Sullivan and Shelby Streets.)

Mosrie Brothers Café, Sullivan Street

Durham’s Barber Shop, Arrants Corner on Sullivan

Kingsport Furniture, Kinzer Building, Charlemont

Kingsport Electric Co. (electric contracting, auto repairing), Sullivan Street

Hotel Callahan, corner Charlemont and Boone

M.T. Whitaker furniture, Sullivan

R.P. Brickey dry goods, Sullivan

G.W. Woody & Son Pressing Club, (cleaning and pressing) Sullivan

Buck Bros. Hardware and Furniture, Sullivan St. near Cherokee

I count more than 35 businesses in the downtown area by mid 1916 with many more to come. The Times front page on June 22, 1916 bragged, “It is estimated that the number of business and residence buildings going up in Kingsport will easily run around the five hundred mark.”

Bank of Kingsport and First National Bank are still around under different names. But the Hotel Kingsport is gone, along with Mosrie Brothers Café and all the other early businesses.

The only business that I can find still surviving under its original name, or close to its original name, is Armstrong Construction, the business that inspired this column.





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