I often mention the ladies of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) referring to them as DARlings. I have a lot of friends in DAR and most of them are DARlings. Husbands of a DAR are called HODARS and with modern slang terminology we give them a hard time. They even have a HODAR pin. My Mom was a DAR so I guess I’m a SODAR. My sister is DAR so I’m a BRODAR. My girlfriend and her twin sister are DARs so I’m not sure what that makes me. I think it makes George Blanks a FaDAR.
Without a doubt my favorite part of the Christmas season is visiting with the DARlings at the DAR house just up the street above the Greeneville-Greene County History Museum. They are gracious enough to open their home to visitors and share the spirit of Christmas with all who enter their doors. My Christmas tradition has been following the downtown activities, to visit the Andrew Johnson home, the City Garage Car Museum, the history museum, and then finish the evening with a visit with the DAR Ladies at their home, 107 W. McKee St. It is a pleasant time to relax and visit — to catch up, if you will.
The national DAR was founded in 1890 during a time when women were excluded from the predominately “man’s world” of patriotic and fraternal organizations. It was established to honor and perpetuate the memory and service of men and women who fought in the American Revolution. Over the last 130 years, these women of DAR have become the torchbearers of American Patriotism in communities across the country. This past year they reached a monumental milestone by signing their one-millionth member. I have been invited to bring greetings four times during their annual Continental Congress in Washington D.C. The Blanks sisters and I have dropped in for visits while in DC.
Our local Nolachucky Chapter DAR has a rich heritage of its own, separate from the national and state societies. Organized on Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22, 1921, it has been a cornerstone of local historical preservation and memorialization ever since. They have been quiet community taskmasters in making sure the heritage of our Revolutionary ancestors is preserved and protected. Their legacy, however, is much more than markers and stones.
Those organizing the chapter first met in Tusculum at the home of Mrs. T. S. Rankin. Carrie Clemons, who was a member of the John Sevier chapter in Elizabethton, was appointed organizing regent by the national organization. Others included Willie McCorkle Kiser and Mary Katherine Lawrence, who were members of the Samuel Doak Chapter in Morristown. The Samuel Doak Chapter placed the first marker at the Greene County Courthouse in 1918 honoring the State of Franklin, John Sevier and “the Patriotic Pioneers who followed him in the War of the Revolution.” The new chapter was not at a loss for leadership or experience.
The placement of the courthouse marker was a spark that ignited interest in the local ladies to organize a chapter here. The Ladies of Greeneville had contributed over $500 to the marker effort, which was a monumental amount at the time. Ladies who would be charter members of the chapter participated in the dedication. Mrs. Henry Brown hosted a luncheon at her home and Mrs. Andrew Patterson hosted a reception for all the guests and gave them a delightful tour of the Andrew Johnson home.
Carolyn Gregg, in her book “History of Nolachuckey Chapter NSDAR” published in 2002, has a photo taken of the ladies gathered at the home of Mrs. Patterson. The home was decorated in flowers, fur, and other greenery, U.S. flags and even a British flag hung from the porch and banister. The ladies were in their finest dress with the large fashionable hats of the day. A few well bedecked gentlemen are in the photo as well. Maybe HODARS? Those in attendance were a who’s who of local society that ignited the coming storm of activity that would transform the local landscape with historic preservation, education and patriotism.
The new chapter chose the name “Nolachuckey” as Gregg mentions in her book because of its influence on the area and for John Sevier who was known as “Nolachuckey Jack.” Many chapters have used the name of a local Patriot and one was suggested since several of the members traced to him. The Cherokee name for “rapid river,” the superhighway of the revolutionary period, won out.
The chapter chose to honor General Washington and the chapter’s birthday with a “Colonial Party” each Feb. 22. This evolved into the “George Washington Luncheon” the chapter now enjoys each February. I have had the pleasure of attending a few of these over the years and find them most enjoyable. The room and tables are all elegantly decorated with flags and emblems of General Washington. One year George Collins presented a program on George Washington’s Birthday Bicentennial Celebration of 1932 and brought along an array of items he has collected. In 2014, I was the honored guest, presenting the program in the persona of General Washington.
The newly formed chapter included Martha Patterson whose husband Andrew Johnson Patterson was the grandson of President Johnson. She, her husband, and daughter Margaret Johnson Patterson Bartlett, also a DAR, worked hard to restore and protect the Johnson legacy in Greeneville. There are newspaper accounts from the time of some wanting to move the tailor shop to the cemetery to serve as a visitors center and gift shop. The Pattersons, backed by the ladies of the DAR, were able to convince the state to erect the brick enclosure to protect the tailor shop. The Nolachuckey DAR held their meetings in the tailor shop for several years. They hosted a tea in 1933 for the National Regent, Mrs. Russell William Magna of Holyoke, Massachusetts, as she visited the Nolachuckey Chapter on her way to the state convention in Chattanooga. That small building indeed holds a wealth of history.
While the Pattersons are often credited with saving much of the Johnson legacy we enjoy today, they were fortified in their efforts by the ladies of the Nolachckey DAR. These ladies’ undying devotion to a cause literally helped move mountains.
The ladies started a scholarship fund in 1925 for Tusculum College. As years passed, scholarships were presented to a high school senior. They included George Clem High School, remembering the contributions of African Americans in the struggle for independence. This scholarship has helped many young ladies get a jump start on their continuing education.
Anyone who trails the past is familiar with the DAR markers at important sites wherever we roam. DAR is responsible for many locations being marked that otherwise would have been lost to time. They placed their first marker here in 1924 at Tusculum College, recognizing it as the “First Institution of Higher Learning West of the Allegheny Mountains.” They placed a marker at the Johnson home in 1926 and one at the grave of Hezekiah Balch in Old Harmony Cemetery in 1931.
In Greene County, they placed a marker at the David Crockett Birthplace in 1932, long before it was a state park. They marked the site of Greeneville College on the Old Asheville Highway with a boulder and marker in 1940 to much fanfare. The DAR has never limited its recognition of a historic location to the Revolutionary period but encompass all notable historic sites, locations, and periods.
The 2007 publication “Historical Markers Placed by The Tennessee Society Daughters of the American Revolution” includes 58 pages of historical markers from bronze to stone to sites themselves that our Nolachuckey Chapter has marked and preserved for future generations. That is truly an incredible body of work.
Another cornerstone of the chapter has been the preservation of the Old Harmony Cemetery. Seeing the resting place of many of Greeneville’s founders decaying, the ladies once more sprung into action to save and restore this important landmark.
The Nolachuckey DAR has fought a relentless battle to help maintain the cemetery. In 1970 they placed a stone marker honoring the men who lost their lives in four wars. With the new town hall building next to it, Mayor Hardin encouraged the DAR to build the wall and fence around the cemetery. They have marked graves of early community leaders and soldiers. Many programs and events have been held in this location over the years. They have regularly held “clean-up days,” and I have participated in their stone cleanings. Sadly, the cemetery continues to decline due to the ravages of time and grounds keepers occasionally hitting stones with mowers.
Sherry Britton has done an incredible job as DAR chairperson of the Old Harmony Restoration Committee. Sherry is also one of the best genealogists around and works with incoming members as chapter registrar. Sarah Webster has been instrumental as well in the work at old Harmony.
As the 1776 bicentennial approached, the ladies worked diligently to see that the many unmarked or those whose Revolutionary era gravestones were unreadable received new stones noting their service. Goldene Burgner served as Bicentennial chairperson for the chapter. Anyone who has traced local history owe a debt of gratitude to Goldene. She transcribed marriage records, land records and church histories written in German. Her voluminous amount of work is another contribution to the community by DAR.
Any worthy project requires funding, and the Ladies sponsored “The Fashions of Yesteryear” pageant held at the Doughty home at 309 N. Main. It featured men’s, women’s and children’s clothing from the pioneer period through the time of the pageant in the 1950s. Several articles of clothing were original. I have programs from these events, and the number of people involved is staggering. An incredible amount of time went into making these pageants the successful events they were.
On Dec. 19, the date Washington’s Army marched into Valley Forge, longtime DAR member Mary Belle Purvis passed away. She was recognized nationally in 1953 as the outstanding junior member of the DAR. She also served as a page at the 63rd Continental Congress in Washington. I knew her from my research days at the library. If you were looking for something, Mary Belle knew where to find it. She and I shared the Broyles family connection.
Additional national awards Include: in 1995, Sarah Webster won the National Conservation Medal; in 1998, Richard Doughty, Greeneville historian, National History Medal; and in 2017, Carolyn Gregg, National History Medal.
Margaret Patterson Bartlett bequeathed her home built in the style of the Johnson Homestead to the Nolachuckey Chapter DAR. It has been the home of the chapter since its transfer in 1995. It is befitting that the home of a charter member dedicated to so much of our local story should share this storied home with her chapter.
Charter members Edith O’Keefe Susong and daughter Quincy Marshall O’Keefe kept readers of the Greeneville Sun informed of chapter activities. They are both in, and the only mother and daughter in, the newspaper hall of fame. Third generation Martha Arnold “Arne” Jones also kept Sun readers up to date on DAR activities. She had been a member for over 60 years at her passing.
In 2017 Carolyn Gregg wrote a play, “Meet the Johnsons.” After a couple of local presentations, it was the program for the Appalachian District DAR which the Nolachuckey Chapter hosted at the General Morgan Inn. I still have DAR members from other areas tell me that was the best program they have ever attended.
While we could have a roll call of all the members and their many contributions to the chapter and their many influences in other organizations today and through the years, it would be a monumental undertaking. DAR records the many hours of community service of its members, and with members logging over 100 hours this would a monumental task as well. Their ancestors’ contributions to the founding of this country are immense. They are represented not only at local DAR/SAR events but on the state and national level. The Nolachuckey DAR is truly a local treasure.
The chapter remains strong on all fronts and is led by a descendant of Nolachuckey Jack, Marinella Charles, who currently serves as regent. While I could say much about the chapter, I asked Tennessee State Regent Cecile Wimberley her thoughts on the chapter turning 100.
She said, “Since the organization of the Nolachuckey Chapter 100 years ago, the members of this chapter have given back to their community and state in varied and meaningful ways. One example of service began in 1929 when the chapter started contributing to the scholarship funds at Tusculum College. This DAR scholarship is one of the oldest of its nature in the state and is a stellar example of chapter efforts to continue educational endeavors in local communities. The TSDAR looks forward to the chapter’s next 100 years of service to God, Home and Country.”