Tidbits from 1902 shed light on Cocke County history

Miss Mary Metcalf, milliner at O’Neil’s Store, in 1902

I’ve never met a century-old newspaper I didn’t like.

A few years ago it was my good fortune to receive several Newport Plain Talk’s from the paper’s earliest days. Then, as now, readers enjoyed tidbits of news about their friends and neighbors: births, deaths, business openings and closures, political happenings, school and sports events. Sometimes the news item was no more than one sentence in length, but it’s amazing at what we can learn today from these early publications.

On February 20, 1902, the newspaper carried the following stories:


The property owners of all the lots from the O’Neil store to the Peterson Corner have about completed arrangements to build up a solid brick block on these lots this summer. This will be a great improvement to our town The old wooden shacks which have long filled this square have not only been an eye sore to the town, but a constant menace on account of fire. They will soon disappear. There is no boom in Newport, but when it comes to a strong, steady growth Newport is always in the lead. Newport will in a short time have streets which will be a credit to any city and our friends in the country are taking up the fight for good roads. The people in this county have decided they will have fair nominations and elections hereafter and that the tricksters must go. Take off your hat and watch Cocke County forge to the front, or what will be still better, join the procession.

The T & NC RR has erected a fine steel bridge across the Piegeon (sic) and the road will be completed to the state line by the time the violets are in bloom. This will open up a large section of undeveloped country and bring several new enterprises to our county.

Another news item also spoke of “O’Neil’s store.” This enterprise was owned and operated by my dad’s uncle, Oscar O’Neil, who was involved in numerous business ventures from the 1880s on. This was located on today’s Main Street on the side facing the railroad and Brown and Costner-Maloy funeral homes.

We are reminded of the near approach of spring by the appearance of O’Neils store, where the counters and shelves are piled up with bright new goods. They are beginning to prepare for a big millinery opening some time next month.

And, yet another tiny blurb gave more news about the milliner.

Miss Mary Metcalf, milliner at O’Neils, was an arrival on the noon train today.

Deaths of two citizens also made the news: James Manning and Mrs. Amanda Rader.


Mr. James Manning, age 70 years, died at his home near Bridgeport Wednesday morning after an illness of a few days.

Mr. Manning was one of the best citizens of the county. No man in the county was held in higher esteem for honesty and integrity than he. He has been an influential member of the Baptist church for more than fifty years. Mr. Manning’s influence for good has been a power for many years in this county, but he never seemed to realize it. He was a quiet, dignified gentleman.

He leaves a wife and a large number of relatives to mourn his loss. Funeral services will be held at his home this evening, Rev. Mr. Brown officiating.

Mrs. Rader’s death earned one sentence. For those of you who don’t know, Thesha was a small community near today’s Harned’s Chapel.

Mrs. Amanda Rader, wife of Phillip Rader, of Thesha, died last Friday and was buried at Salem church on Saturday.

In 1902, as now, tempers flared and injuries resulted. Such was the case when an “altercation” occurred.


James and Rote Fine and John Griffin had an altercation Wednesday evening at the home of Mr. Wilds about three and a half miles south of town (probably in the Green Acres area), the occasion being a wedding, which resulted in Griffin receiving three bad wounds in the back and one on the left arm.

Jim Fine had his nose split with a knife. Griffin claims the Fines were both on him at once, but that he did not cut Fine. There were several present.

More excitement resulted when a ferry boat broke loose and two young men were in danger of becoming fatalities.

Rescued by W.B. Robinson

Saturday morning all Newport was thrown into a fervor of excitement caused by the breaking of the cable used to propel the ferry boat, owned by L.W. Taylor, after the vessel had reached mid-stream and having on board two young men. Alf Jones and Geo. Davis, nearly costing their lives, as the boat fortunately lodge just a few feet from the dam.

Several unsuccessful attempts were made in the morning to rescue the young men from their perilous position, but it was not until nearly 4 o’clock that they were safely brought ashore, Mr. Bruce Robinson being their deliverer.

The departure of citizens from Cocke County for the “greener pastures” of such places as Texas was of interest to the paper’s readers. McKinney, Texas is located in Collin County and many local families moved there seeking better lifestyles, beginning well before the Civil War.

Mrs. Polly Smallwood and five year old son of Cosby left for McKinney, Texas Tuesday.

Even the resignation of a post office clerk was newsworthy, but in this case, it’s the “rest of the story” that is of greater interest.

Miss Hattie Ragan, who has been connected with the Newport post office the past four years as clerk, has tendered her resignation to take effect April 10th. The postmaster and the many patrons of the office express regret at her retiring from the office as she has made a faithful and obliging clerk.

Hattie Ragan was my father’s first cousin, the daughter of William and Mary Alice (O’Neil) Ragan. She was born in 1880 and died in 1985, age 105. Following the death of her mother, Cousin Hattie’s father quickly remarried, a decision that angered both Hattie and her younger sister Bessie tremendously.

Hattie, who was supposed to leave for college, instead “up and married” Edward McNabb. The newlyweds moved to the Oklahoma Territory, taking Hattie’s Bessie with them. There Hattie and Edward had a daughter, Oklahoma Alice, whom we called “Okla.”

The McNabb-Ragan marriage failed, and by 1910, Cousin Hattie, divorced and the mother of a toddler, along with her sister Bessie, moved to Texas. Eventually both Hattie and Bessie married and the group moved to California. Hattie and her new husband, Alvin Glass, had no children, and neither did Bessie and her husband, Albert Stone. By the time I grew old enough to be interested in the family history, both Hattie and Bessie were widows, living together at 4405 Burns Avenue, Hollywood, California.

In 1979, a few months after Kay and I married, we visited with Cousin Hattie, then nearly 99 years old, in California. Her memory was sharp and her stories of her early days in Newport were amazing.

Lastly weddings always garner interest and this paper reported on two such social events from the Parrottsville community.

We have two weddings to report this week. First, Mr. Wiley Ottinger of near this place and Miss Elizabeth Driskill of near Parrottsville were united in the happy bonds of matrimony Thursday morning at 10 o’clock at the bride’s home, W.R. Neas officiating. After the ceremony, the happy couple with a few friends returned to the home of the groom where a sumptuous dinner awaited them.

Sunday morning Mr. John Gregg and Miss Anice Kelley, both of this place, were also married at 10 o’clock. We extend to each our kindest congratulations and trust that their pathways may be forever scattered with roses. May success crown every effort of their lives.

And, so it was, with phrases such as “by the time the violets are in bloom” and “their pathways may be forever scattered with roses,” the Newport Plain Talk alerted their readership to the news around Cocke County!

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