No local newspaper was published until 1878, well over a century after settlers began trickling into what would become Cocke County.
The year 1878 came 81 years after Cocke County was officially formed
From then until 1878, our men marched off to the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the horrible Civil War. Various economic downturns affected our economy, numerous waves of sickness, ranging from typhoid fever to tuberculosis, raged, the railroad was finally finished, and hundreds more men, women, and children moved into the area.
Today’s downtown Newport was little more than a village in the 1870s. Parrottsville was bigger, with more professionals, and Del Rio wasn’t far behind.
However, news from those early decades can be found in the papers of neighboring cities and towns. But even so, with the appearance of the Plain Talk in 1900, little bits of our history here and there can be found and fascinate us today.
Sometimes the articles are lengthy with bold headlines. Others almost get overlooked because of their brevity.
For example, I’ve always thought credit for the formation of Newport’s first public library should go to the Newport Business Women’s Club. In 1925 they opened a public lending library, and I still praise them for their support and dedication to provide such a service to our citizens.
But recently I ran across mention of an earlier library. On June 21, 1906, the Plain Talk carried the following brief:
Those who have books belonging to the Newport Library are requested to bring them to Harris’ Drug Store at once. The desire of the members is that they be exchanged for an equal number of books from the Morristown Library which was established by the same company. It is to the interest of every stockholder to turn in their books so they may get an entirely new lot. Don’t delay. Do it now.
While the “Newport Library” doesn’t sound exactly like a public library of today, at least local citizens were on the road to having such a convenience. I just can’t imagine life without books and libraries!
By 1911, Newport had grown to become a booming town, so much so that a petition was circulated seeking to have the “local express office” moved to a more convenient location. Transportation to and from Newport and other cities, of course, was mainly by railroad, and the depot (not the same one we have now) was a hotbed of activity, with multiple trains arriving and departing each day.
The express office was located inside the depot, and with the dozens of rail passengers arriving and departing, the building was extremely crowded. No social distancing then!
On April 27, 1911, under the headline Business Men (sic) Want Express Office Moved, the following news items appeared on the front page of the paper:
For some time the business men (sic) of Newport have discussed the possibility of a change to the location of the local express office, complaining of the trouble necessary to reach the office for the transaction of business. Ladies find it practically impossible to go through the freight warehouse in order to transact any business.
Tiring of this condition a petition was circulated Thursday by one of the business men, and practically every business man seen signed it, asking for the removal of the office to a more convenient place.
The petition circulated was as follows:
“Newport, Tenn. , April 23, 1911: We, the patrons of the Southern Express Co., realizing the inconvenience of the Express office at this place; the same being in the depot, and where it is always crowded, and inconvenient for the patrons; we respectfully ask that you place the Southern Express office on the Main street of our town, where the patrons of said office can conveniently get to same. We the patrons of said office earnestly solicit this change:
Signed: W.B. Robinson, wholesale produce; Geo. F. Smith, druggist; Willis & Larue, furniture dealers; M.A. Roadman, dry goods; J.M. Kyker & Son, Gents Furnishings; A.R. Blazer, John Taylor, H.M. Taylor, groceries; J.A. & F.M. Stokely, dry goods; Geo. W. Gardner, Publisher; Newport Plain Talk; Taylor Grocery Co., Newport Mill Co., J.P. Hedrick, furniture; C.A. Robeson, J.R. Seehorn, Hardware; G.A. O’Neil, restaurant; Merchants and Planters Bank, Jno. M. Jones, I.S. Griffin, dry goods; Ruble Brothers, dry goods; Stokely, Jones & Co., Carl E. McNabb, Minnis Drug Co.,Ed Robeson, Duncan & Greer, hardware; J.A. Susong, president, First National Bank; M.M. Stokely, Oscar O’Neil, R.L. Talley, Talley Brothers & Co., clothiers; C.B. Mims, D.A. Mims, “Merchant,” J.C. Mathes & Co., wholesale poultry; C.L. Ottinger & Co., wholesale poultry; A.J. Brooks & Co., McMillin Brothers, dry goods.
An article such as this is basically a census of Newport’s businesses of that date. Many of the names are familiar: George F. Smith also served as Newport’s mayor and had one of the first automobiles in town. G. (George) A. O’Neil was known as “Rooster” and several older citizens recall his excellent hamburgers. Ruble Brothers became known for their outstanding fashions, especially for women. To say, “Oh, this? It came from Ruble’s,” was a mark of distinction.
Oscar O’Neil was my dad’s uncle and had his finger in a number of pies over the years, both in the business world and otherwise. For over 50 years, he was an elected Justice of the Peace, a post similar to today’s Session Court Judge. As he grew older, he became a “go-to” person for those interested in Newport’s earliest days. Sadly he died in 1944, just a few years before I was born, and I was never able to have a conversation with him about the good, old days.
Have you heard someone say, “You never miss water until the well runs dry?”
In 1912, Newport citizens missed electric lights.
There was no actual utility company here at the time, but a dynamo at the Newport Mill provided needed power to many subscribers. However, whenever the dynamo broke down, our people found themselves in the dark. As you can see from the following article, dated June 6, 1912, a push for a more reliable power source was underway. The main headline states “Newport Is In Darkness.”
Newport has been in darkness since Saturday evening when the dynamo at the Newport Mill was burned out again. The dynamo was shipped away for repairs Saturday night on train No. 55 and will not be back until the first of the week.
The fact that the town is without lights has started again the old agitation for a lighting plant which will be expected to furnish power for manufacturing purposes. The Newport Mill Company furnishes light to the town, more for accommodation than anything else, and it is said that the time is auspicious for the installation of an electric light plant here, and it is argued that such a plant would prove a paying proposition.
The present arrangement is anything but satisfactory. The town has been without lights several different times during the past year. Once when the water washed away the dam it was weeks before there were lights. High water several times caused temporary suspension and at other times the high water made the lights dim and ineffective.
It has been remarked that Newport has more private lighting plants installed than any other town its size in this section, excepting where there is no electricity. These private plants have been here, too, only a short time, the business people becoming dissatisfied with the light proposition and as a result there are a dozen private plants in town and the lighting company officials have prospects for more business this fall.
In recent years, elk have been reintroduced to our area with a certain amount of success. The same can’t be said yet of the return of the wolf, but in 1912, workers in the mountains reported them alive and well.
To have their sleep interrupted by the howl of the wolf has been the experience of Engineer Herbert F. Holt and the surveying crew which is at work twelve miles above Crestmont on the headwaters of Big Creek. The camp is located very close to the Indian reservation and while Indians are common in that section wolves are somewhat scarce. Last week the supper of the crew was interrupted by the howls of a wolf which appeared on the opposite side of the creek and since then it has been nothing uncommon to hear them. A night watchman saw one walking down the railroad a few nights ago. The surveying corps will most likely be found with firearms in the future and Mr. Wolf will meet his fate.
Sadly, Mr. Wolf did meet his fate.
A little bit here—a little bit there. Slowly the pieces of our town and county’s history continue to come together.