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Family Makes Treasure Trove of Early Chattanooga Photographs Available for Book

Posted by | October 2, 2014

The following article by John Wilson appeared yesterday on the website. It is re-posted here with permission.


A treasure trove of Chattanooga photographs that have been passed down in the Stokes family for generations has now been assembled in an upcoming book.

Chattanooga Around The Turn Of The Century: The Remarkable Stokes Collection will be published by

Pre-orders are now being taken for the book, which includes over 700 photos on large-size pages.

Chattanooga Stokes Collection 1

Publisher John Wilson said, “I first got a glimpse of the remarkable Stokes collection of old Chattanooga photos when I interviewed Ann Forstner Cooper Brooks, granddaughter of Will Stokes, in 1995. At the end of the interview at her apartment at Mountain Creek, she pulled out boxes of well-worn albums containing literally hundreds of amazing Chattanooga scenes. Though I only got a quick look, I could see there were numerous views of turn-of-the-century downtown from Cameron Hill, Lookout Mountain, and the few skyscrapers of the day. There were photos of the city’s well-known landmarks as well as charming pastoral scenes. I saw there were dozens of photos taken at Chickamauga Battlefield soon after it opened as a national military park.There were dozens more photos of the trains and streetcars that were then the city’s dominant form of transportation. Many of the pictures showed Chattanooga streets being shared by horse-drawn wagons, early automobiles and streetcars.

“Best of all, these were large, remarkably clear photos that were evidently produced by talented photographers using a fine camera.

“It was 19 years later when I got the privilege of seeing them again. Larry Burrows, friend of the children of Ann and a lover of local history, was allowed to scan and copy pictures in the Stokes collection. He shared them with me and eventually there was a conversation with Ann’s daughter, Connie Cooper Jones. She graciously agreed to allow full access to the collection so that they could be put in book form for all to see and enjoy.

Chattanooga Stokes Collection 2

“It turns out there were boxes and boxes of photos in the collection from early Chattanooga photographer David Stokes and son, Will Stokes. David Stokes was in Hamilton County before the Civil War and he fought with the Union Army. He married Mary Tennessee Fitzgerald, whose family was from Ooltewah. David Stokes was a painter and he also tried his hand at watchmaking. He was briefly the proprietor of the Eblen House, which was on Market Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. But, by the time he died at the early age of 58 in January 1901, he was known as one of the city’s most prominent photographers after opening his photography shop on lower Market Street about 1881.

“Son Will Stokes was even a more enterprising photographer than his father after learning the craft from him and from A.W. Judd. It was said that his ‘close application to his business and a continued study of modern improvements earned for him a reputation that spread to other cities.’ His first shop was opened in East Lake about the time of his father’s death.

“Will Stokes kept in his shop the photo books that still are a prized possession of his descendants and thankfully have been passed down and preserved. The photos were numbered, and a customer could pick out the ones he or she wanted prints of.

“Will Stokes served a term as president of the Chattanooga Society of Free Masons and was master of the F&AM Lodge 199. He suffered a lengthy illness when he was in his 50s and died in 1922 when he was 55.

“Some photos from the Civil War are in the Stokes collection and there is a picture of Market Street showing the New Orleans Store in 1875. Some other early photos remain, including an interesting one showing 9th, 10th and 11th streets around 1890. Many of the photos were taken by Will Stokes between around 1901 to 1920. The Walnut Street Bridge is the only bridge in view in many of the river scenes. But he made several of the new Market Street Bridge that opened in 1917.

Chattanooga Stokes Collection 3

“With photo software, it was possible to capture and highlight interesting details from many of the Stokes photos so that the original number in the collection was multiplied. Thanks to the interest of Larry Burrows and the gracious generosity of Connie Cooper Jones and her brothers, Jim, Joe and John Cooper, I am thrilled that the remarkable Stokes collection can now be seen and enjoyed by all.”

The photo book will be in a 11×8 1/2 format with a soft cover.  The number of copies to be printed by College Press at Collegedale will be based on the initial orders, so there will be a limited run.  The photo book is due to be ready for mailing or pickup around the first of November in time for Christmas giving.  The price of the book is $35.  For those who want it mailed, add $5 and list where copies should be mailed to.  Send checks for $40 to  For those who will pick up the book from John Wilson at later designated locations, send checks for $35 (for each book ordered) made out to

Mail your orders to:

John Wilson
129 Walnut St.
Suite 416
Chattanooga, Tn., 37403


The sorghum season is on!

Posted by | October 1, 2014

Kentucky and Tennessee are today the leading sorghum syrup producing states, and neither are shy about the fact. The Tipton-Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City, TN hosted a sorghum festival September 20, and over in West Liberty, KY the locals of that district celebrated their own 44th annual Sorghum Festival last weekend. Georgia has an official state sorghum festival in Blairsville, which opens October 11 and goes for a full week.

sorghum mill Kentucky styleA poor-soil brother of the corn family, sorghum grows all over the United States and as far north as Canada. To mountain folk, in the days when they knew sugar only in liquid form, there just wasn’t any other sweetening like it. Sorghum meant a rich dark-brown molasses, just right for corn bread and unbeatable for hot-cakes. It is still used for seasoning beans and for making cookies. A sorghum “run-off” was the most enjoyable event of the old-time farm year. Sorghum—the ‘sugar plant’—was mostly a small farm product, but during the Civil War years about sixty million gallons of it were manufactured. Today sorghum has been bred into a dry soil plant for livestock feeding.

The beers mentioned in early American writings were in no way similar to beer as we know it—and such was southern molasses beer, made from sorghum. A first distillation of fermented sorghum juice, molasses beer was found on the tables of most mountain farms, often as a substitute for milk, and was taken by small children at every meal.

The typical Kentucky family had two acres planted in sorghum. Most of it was for syrup, part went for cattle fodder, and the seeds fed the chickens. The sheet metal pan for cooking the syrup was similar to New England’s maple sugar pan, but the horse drawn sugar mill originated in the South. Northerners usually preferred to do their “farm squeezing” with wooden screw type presses.

Sorghum Festival 2008 at Ketner's Mill TNSorghum Festival 2008 at Ketner’s Mill TN.

Squeezed sorghum juice exuded from the mill through a burlap strainer and into a barrel. It was then transferred to the cooking pan. As the juice began to boil, it was paddled and cleared of impurities, turning from green to muddy and finally to clear brown. Four gallons of juice produced about one gallon of syrup; as a substitute for store bought sugar, sorghum was an easily grown crop with very little waste.

Unlike today’s sugar with its nutrients refined away, primitive sorghum syrup was not as good to look at, but it at least contained food value. Sorghum joined corn as one of the staffs of early farm life; it even found its way into paints and dyes.

source: Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was, by Eric Sloane, Dover Publications, 2005

sorghum+molasses sorghum+festivals Blairsville+GA Morgan+County+KY Gray+TN appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history


America’s only woman ironmaster

Posted by | September 30, 2014

Nannie Kelly Wright (1856-1946) was probably the only woman ironmaster in America’s history. Wright was the daughter of the famous riverboat commodore Washington Honshell, who helped form Cincinnati’s White Collar packet line. She was said to be the second richest woman in the world during the early 1900’s.

Wright hadn’t set out to become an ironmaster; she married into the business. In 1879 she wed Lindsey Kelly, who was serving one of two terms as an Ohio representative. His father, William Dollarhide Kelly, was an ironmaster, banker and farmer. In 1842, the elder Kelly had leased Etna Furnace, and in 1851, the Lagrange Furnace. By 1849, W.D. owned the land that is now owned by the Ohio Iron and Coal Company, and the Ironton railroad. In 1862 W.D. bought a five-year lease on the Centre Furnace at Superior, OH, and Lindsey took over its management the following year.

Nannie Kelly WrightBy 1891, Centre Furnace and the other Kelly holdings in real estate and finance were in distress. From 1894 to 1897 the iron industry in this country was practically at a standstill and stocks were worth about 15 to 20 cents on the dollar. Buyers at that price were scarce. Centre Furnace went into receivership.

Nannie Wright, a close observer of political and financial affairs, reasoned an upward trend was due. She paid the taxes and in 1899, using her own money, she bid on the furnace and 12,000 surrounding acres at auction, for $19,950.

Wright learned the iron business, renovated the furnace and the company houses provided for the employees, and began hiring workers when many were out of work. She conducted regular property inspections and made regular weekly trips to Cincinnati. Many times she would go down to the furnace and work along side the men. It was often rumored that when she worked down at the furnace, she dressed as a male (she denied this). Centre Furnace was one of the first companies to produce and ship iron by rail during the Spanish American War.

Wright’s business interests revolved around Centre Furnace and the Kelly Nail & Iron Co. of Ironton. She served as director of the latter institution for years and was also financially interested in the Belfont Iron Works, Ironton Engine Co., and Ironton, Huntington, Cincinnati and Catlettsburg banks.

Centre Furnace, Superior OHNannie and Lindsey had only one child, a son named Lindsey. The younger Lindsey had rheumatism, and as a child had spent time in Texas hoping for some sort of relief. He died in Cincinnati in 1904, only 20 years old. Lindsey had died the year before. The distraught widow began to travel frequently, and left the iron business in other hands for awhile.

She set out on her first world tour in 1898, took another in 1906 and a third in 1913. In all she crossed the Atlantic 14 times in years when it was the unusual rather than the ordinary. In London she was presented to the Court of St. James during the reign of Edward VII.

In 1906 Wright sold Centre Furnace to the Superior Portland Cement Co. In 1908, Nannie, age 55, married D. Gregory Wright, age 34. They divorced in 1919. During these years, Wright kept her stocks in Centre Furnace and other family holdings, but in 1923 she decided to sell many of them. She invested the profits but lost her home and most of her wealth in the stock market crash of 1929.

Despite such great losses, Wright was able to lead a comfortable life. She moved into the Marting Hotel in Ironton and by selling off such personal assets as jewelry and art managed to support herself until her death on September 12, 1946.

sources: Profiles of Ohio Women, 1803-2003, by Jacqueline Jones Royster, Ohio University Press, 2003
Nannie Kelly Wright, compiled and edited by Virginia S. Bryant, Lawrence County Historical Society, 1989


They slapped handcuffs on his wrists. "I guess you’ve got me"

Posted by | September 29, 2014

New York Times.
September 15, 1912, Sunda

CATCH SIDNA ALLEN BY TRAILING GIRL; Wesley Edwards Also Captured at Des Moines — His Sweetheart Gives Clue.

DES MOINES, Iowa, Sept. 14. — With arms and feet pinioned in heavy irons and watched over by an armed guard, Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards, members of the outlaw gang who murdered Judge Massie and others at Hillsville Court House, Va., in April last, and who were arrested here to-day, are now en route to Virginia in the custody of detectives.

Allen was arrested by Detectives W.G. Baldwin, H.H. Lucas, and William Munday of Roanoke, VA, at the Cameron boarding house at noon. Edwards, it was learned, was working with a grading gang in the western part of the city. As soon as Allen was in custody search was made for Edwards. The latter avoided discovery until this evening, when he was found on an Ingersoll Avenue car coming into the city. He dropped to his knees and tried to crawl out unnoticed, but was recognized as he reached the car door and was taken to the police station.
Wesley Edwards of the Hillsville VA courthouse massacre
Maude Iroler, fiance to Wesley Edwards of the Hillsville VA courthouse massacreAllen and Edwards will not fight extradition, but express willingness to return to Virginia and face trial.
Wesley Edwards’ sweetheart, Maude Iroler of Mount Airy, NC, was the innocent cause of the arrest of the last of the clan for whom a country-wide search has been conducted. This eighteen-year old girl came all the way from her home in North Carolina with the secret of Wesley Edwards’ whereabouts. She loved him and determined to wed him despite the stain attached to his name since he fled from the courtroom in Hillsville.

Edwards lived here under the name of Joe Jackson, and Allen went under the name of Tom Sayres. The latter worked as a carpenter here, while Edwards was employed by the city with a paving gang. Not a hint of their identity was given to the members of the Cameron family.

The girl left her home last Monday, little thinking that dogging her trail were four detectives, led by W.G. Baldwin of the Baldwin Agency of Roanoke, VA. The men went on the same train that brought the girl to Des Moines. They followed her closely. She made her way where she expected to find her hunted fiancé.

She entered, telling Maude Cameron, who opened the door for her, that she had come to see Joe Jackson. A tall and powerfully built man entered the yard. A short distance off were three other men. The man who advanced to the door was Detective H.H. Lucas.

“I want to get a room,” he said to Miss Cameron.

“Set inside,” she said.

Lucas entered, and just as he reached the foot of the stairs Sidna Allen came to the top of the stairs. Allen evidently did not recognize Lucas, who started to ascend. When within a few feet of Allen the detective suddenly produced two revolvers.

“Hold up your hands,” Lucas ordered sternly.

Sidna Allen of the Hillsville VA courthouse massacreEven with the odds against him Allen snarled angrily, but he knew that Lucas’ eye meant business. His hands went slowly up. Allen was looking for a chance to escape, but Lucas was joined a moment later by Detectives Baldwin and Munday, another member of the department. The trio closed in on Allen. One produced a pair of handcuffs. They were slapped over his wrists.

“I guess you’ve got me,” said Allen quietly as he sat down in a near-by chair.

“Where is the other man?” demanded Baldwin of the members of the frightened family, who were hovering near.
The detective was told that Edwards was at work on Thirty-eighth Street. Leaving Munday and Lucas to guard Allen, Baldwin notified the police. Chief Jenney, with Detective Badgley, responded.

Baldwin and Charles Cameron, a member of the Cameron family, leaped into an automobile and sped away for the place where Edwards was supposed to be working. They did not find him then, but captured him later on a street car.

Sidna Allen, in his cell tonight, talked freely of the events of the last few months, but declined to say anything of his movements immediately after the Court House tragedy. He and Edwards remained in the mountain country of Virginia and North Carolina for about a month, and then got over into Kentucky, going to Louisville, where they spent several days.

Their next stop was St. Louis, where they remained for a week. They had sufficient money for their needs, and traveled first class.

“I don’t know why we came to Des Moines,” said Allen, “unless it was that I thought we would be safer here. Several years ago I was in the Klondike, and I figured that the officers would think I had gone back there. So we came to Des Moines, and I got work as a carpenter, and expected to remain here until it was safe back home.

“I would have given myself up long ago if I had thought we could get a square deal, but see what they’ve done to Floyd my brother, and Claude.”

full article online at


Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by | September 28, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with the story of historical presenter Larry Rowlette, who since 2000 has regularly inhabited the character of Johann Culmann, founder of Culman, AL. “I enjoy spreading the message of heritage, tradition, and values everywhere I go,” Rowlette says. “I also try to live by those same words, because it gives me something to work toward – honoring the heritage, speaking and promoting the tradition, and living the values each day.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

Today the Whipple Company Store, built in 1890 by coal baron Justus Collins, is the only remaining coal company store of its architectural design type in southern WV’s Pocahantas coal basin. Its oval arch entry sheltering a deeply recessed porch is typical of a design style once commonly found in the 30 or so company stores that dotted the basin in the early 20th century. “People think of this place as a museum, but to me it’s a place for sharing stories,” says Joy Lynn, who with her husband Chuck purchased the compound in 2006.

We’ll wrap things up with an oral history excerpt from one Mrs. Nellie Wilhoit, about her recollections of life growing up on a farm in Cleveland, GA. Mrs. Wilhoit discusses mountain superstitions in White County, GA from the early 20th century.

And thanks to the good folks at Warren Wilson College’s Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from David ‘Fox’ Watson in a 1979 recording of The Reel of the Hangman.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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