Preserving history is of paramount importance to members of the John Bohannon (Simon John Pleasant Bohannon) family of Greeneville. The surviving grandchildren include Andy Daniels, Gloria (Goi) Parkins, Tommy Thomas, all of Greeneville, and Drucilla Surber of Morristown. (Another grandchild known by many in Greeneville was the late John Thomas.)
Goi and Andy recently talked about why preserving history is so important and reviewed photos of the Bohannon home place as it exists today.
As one way of preserving the past, Goi has taken wood from the original Bohannon home place and barn and had a pavilion constructed for the whole family to enjoy. The 62 acres, now owned by Goi, is on Whitehouse Road.
“I wanted us to be able to have family get-togethers on the property,” Goi said. “When we get together, we share memories and stories from the past. I had so much fun growing up playing around the home and barn, I wanted my children and grandchildren to have the same experiences.”
Unfortunately, the original home place was falling down when she got the property, but they preserved as much from it as they could.
On November 13, nearly 90 family members and friends gathered for a family reunion to enjoy the pavilion. The family brought in musicians John Price and John Brown to entertain them for the special event.
“The music they provided was so wonderful,” said Goi. “It felt like these guys were part of our family.”
In addition to a bountiful meal, the adults enjoyed stories from the past and the music, while the kids enjoyed using their imaginations playing games, fishing and riding boats in the pond, and playing with the animals.
Goi, who has a flair for decorating, used bales of hay, pumpkins and lots of potted flowers for the event.
The chimney of the old homeplace is the focal point of the pavilion. The mantel of the chimney is centered with a clock, a gift from Goi’s mother, flanked by photos from past family members.
Many of the doors out of the homeplace and barn have been used to make other pieces of furniture, such as chairs, love seats and more. All of the machinery from the barn has been kept.
Goi is especially proud of the spring-fed creek that ran through the property, and she recalls her “Papa” telling stories about how people came from everywhere to drink of the “mineral waters”. They had the waters made into a spring-fed pond.
“Honestly, my hands look wonderful after being in that water,” Goi said. “It’s amazing.”
Also on the chimney is a quilt square, “The Feathered Star,” designed after a circa 1870s quilt that was made by John Bohannon’s mother, Martha Jane Harmon Bohannon. The quilt square was made for the home place and also for a Depot Street location, and was designed and painted by Barb Evans and Linnie Greene.
“We have always been interested in our family history,” said Andy, “but we also are interested in the history of Greeneville and Greene County.”
Andy and husband, Greeneville Mayor W. T. Daniels, live in the 1820s-era Valentine Sevier Home on Main Street, next to Walters State Community College.
About John Bohannon
Andy says that local “old timers” remember John Bohannon. He came to Greeneville from the family farm in 1905 at the age of 19.
According to Andy, John was raised by his father, who was described as “a strange man but very kind to his son — never once whipped him. He had no desire to make a lot of money but would rather take things easy.”
Some of the things Andy has learned include: John’s father was in North Carolina at the beginning of the Civil War but went to Illinois to sign up with the 118 Illinois Infantry. He served in Grant’s army at Vicksburg. Of a group of 100 men to which he was assigned, only two lived and John’s father was one. During the war years, John’s grandfather had moved to Greene County, so his father came back here to live.
John said he made a contract with his father that he would take over the farm and his father wouldn’t have to do anything. From the first day, he never did one bit of work — even to carry in a load of wood. If John was working and the slightest chore needed to be done, his father would call John, and he would stop and come in and do it. He would not break his contract and was teaching John not to make a contract unless he intended to keep it.
John walked into town to school, which stood near the Greeneville Hospital.
His first job was helping cut ice from Reaves pond and store it in wood shavings to sell in the summer. The second job was steaming tobacco for Sam Street for 25 cents a day. Later he worked as a carpenter and caretaker at the post office.
Andy recalls stories of how he became known for taking small jobs on the side and applying his genius in engineering.
“Though he had not remained in school too long, he was a natural mathematician and soon found that he had a firm grasp of problems of construction and engineering,” she said.
“Send for John Bohannon” was a slogan that became quite popular in Greeneville.
A couple examples of John’s involvement include the columns at the Greene County Courthouse and the Nolichucky Dam.
John & His Horse, ‘Dan’
While the present county courthouse was being built, John worked with the crew. This was his first real big job, Andy said.
“The boss called him over and said, ‘John the columns are ready, why don’t you put them up in front of the courthouse.’ John replied, ‘Sure thing, just give me some time to go home and get what I need.’ The boss said, ‘OK,’ and kind of snickered a bit. John went home and came back with his trusted horse, ‘Dan,’ and rope and other things and began to work,” she said, sharing this often-retold tale.
“When the column was close to the top, John had arranged some sort of pulley. He had Dan pull the rope, pulling the column up. Then John made sure it was plumb and secured it in place. Now when you look at the columns in front of the courthouse, think those were put up by one man and a horse. John was on his way to success.”
Andy then shared the story she has often heard concerning his role with the Nolichucky Dam:
“In 1912 a group of educated engineers were pondering the construction of a spur railway track to carry some heavy equipment over a six-mile course to the newly constructed dam on the Nolichucky River. John convinced the engineers to let him handle the situation. He said he could do it without a track, so he was accordingly awarded the contract to do the job.
“He designed and had built by Lamons Wagon Company of Greeneville a wagon of heavy materials and durability. Then with six teams of horses he solved the transportation problem. It was done faster than a track could be built.
“These same engineers had another problem — no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t lower the generating units into place. They swore the units were built too big. The familiar call went out, ‘Get John Bohannon.’ John studied the situation over and went out and came back with big blocks of ice. He put the ice in first and the generating units on top, as the ice slowly melted, the units slowly went into place. These units were installed in 1913 and two more in 1922.”
John Bohannon owned several buildings and businesses downtown, one of which people recall was a service station at the corner of Irish and Summer streets.MORE PHOTOS ON PAGE 6