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About Jefferson County

History of Strawberry Plains

The first settlement in the present county of Jefferson was made near the head waters of Beaver Creek in the region now known as Rocky Valley.  This settlement was made by Adam Meek, Sr., of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in 1785.  Like most of the pioneers, Mr. Meek built his first cabin home of round poles and covered it with bark and grass.  It was located near a large spring on what is now the Mack Loy farm. About three-fourths of a mile from the house was a large cave, to which the Meeks would go when the hostile Indians were on the warpath.  Many an anxious night they spent in this cave.  There were no neighbors west of the Meek home, and settlers to the east were so few that Mr. Meek had to go to the neighborhood of Greenville (sic) to get his corn ground into meal.  To get feathers for her pillows and beds, Mrs. Meek had only to go to the banks along the spring branch where the wild ducks and geese had shed their feathers in the spring.

Afterward, with the help of a few neighbors who settled nearby, Mr. Meek built a strong log house, the logs being fitted down close together in order that the Indians might not shoot through the cainks (sic).  This new home was also provided with small portholes in the walls so that, if besieged by the Indians those within could shoot at the Indians without endangering themselves.

Some years later, Mr. Meek and his family moved down on the Holston River to a point one mile northeast of what is now Strawberry Plains.  Here they acquired a fine body of land and built a home almost on the same spot where the home of Mr. Poulas now stands.  Adam Meek, Sr., had three sons and one daughter.  The daughter, Sarah, married Lemuel McBee who lived in Grainger County across the Holston River from her home.  From this union came the McBees and Parrotts who now live at Strawberry Plains.   Mrs. Addie Moody and her sister, Miss Sallie Caldwell, are the grand-daughters of Adam Meek, Jr., as is Miss Margaret Meek who now resides on a part of the old Meek estate.  Adam Meek, Sr., died July 8, 1828, being the first man buried in the Strawberry Plains graveyard at whose grave there was placed a marker.

Strawberry Plains is said to have taken its name from the quantities of wild strawberries found there when the first settler, William Williams, came from Buncombe County, North Carolina, about the year 1808 and acquired 1200 acres of very fine land lying along the Holston River and including what is now the little town of Strawberry Plains.  It is said that the strawberries grew in such profusion that, when they were ripe, the fetlocks of the horses would be red with the juice of the crushed berries as they walked through them.  The Plains were then surrounded by forests and canebrakes, which were inhabited by Indians.

Williams and his wife built for themselves a log cabin, which was burned during the Civil War.  The home of W. E. Parrott is now on the same spot.  Their daughter, Sarah, was the first white child born at Strawberry Plains.  After the death of Mr. Williams, his widow and their little daughter removed by flatboat to the home of Mrs. Williams' brother near Huntsville, Alabama.  Later, Mrs. Williams married Thomas Wilkerson and they, with little Sarah Williams, returned to Strawberry Plains to the Williams farm, where the little girl grew to womanhood.  In 1826, she married the Rev. Thomas Stringfield and to them were born several children, but none of their descendants are living in or near Strawberry Plains today.

The Stringfield family was prominent socially, educationally, and religiously.  They, with the help of Creed Fulton and others, were the leaders in organizing and building the Strawberry Plains College.  The Stringfields gave both land and money for this institution, which was supported by the Methodist church and was located on the hill just southeast of the present site of the Methodist church.  The college was opened in 1848, Thomas Stringfield being superintendent or principal.  It was perhaps little more than a modern high school, but it was an outstanding institution in its day.  Many young men from Tennessee and surrounding states obtained their education at this college, and quite a number of them became prominent in their day.  Among the outstanding men who went out from this college were the Rev.  James Young, a Methodist minister raised in Powell's Valley, and his brother, David K. Young, who became an outstanding lawyer, at one time being a circuit judge.  William W. Stringfield, who became a Major in the Confederate Army, and his brother, James K. Stringfield, who became a prominent minister of North Carolina, were prominent students.  So was William Scruggs, who became minister to Venezuela and had much to do with the settling of a longstanding dispute between the United States and Venezuela.   Another was Andrew J. Fletcher, who became a Secretary of State in Tennessee soon after the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the main college building was burned by vandals, and the college was never reopened.  The boarding house, a three-story affair, remained vacant for many years, but finally was used for a public school house.  It was destroyed by fire in 1882.

The first public school on record stood on the lot on which I.  C. Simpson's house now stands.  The Register's Office gives a record of the county's buying the lot from the Stringfields.  We do not know how long a school was on this spot.  Later, there was a school near the spot on which Bill Jones' house is now located.  We do not know how long a school house was at this place; but, we do have accurate information concerning its being burned.  School was then taught in the old boarding house of the Strawberry Plains College, which had remained vacant for several years.  In 1882, only a few years after this old three-story building had been converted into a public school house, it was burned.  A small one-room school house was built near the same spot.  This building was used until about 1900, when the school was moved to the old Presbyterian Church, which stood between the present home of I.  C. Simpson and Rush Strong School.  The old church building was partitioned into two class rooms.  This building was used for school purposes until the erection of Rush Strong School in 1923.  The old building was torn down, and Bill Jones used the lumber in constructing a barn, which is still in use.

The first church in Strawberry Plains was probably Methodist, for the Stringfields, who were among the early settlers, were Methodists.  When the first Methodist church building was built we do not know, but we do know that the history of the M. E. Church speaks of the Reverend David Adams preaching at Strawberry Plains 1840-1844.  The present Methodist Church was constructed about 1872 and is the oldest church building in Strawberry Plains today.

The first Presbyterian Church was established about 1830.  Four church buildings had been burned down before the Civil War was over.  Shortly after the Civil War, the last building was built on the spot between the present school house and I. C. Simpson's house.  On June 28, 1873, the Second Presbyterian Church, or Southern Presbyterian Church, was organized as a result of a political division in the old church.  For about a year, the Southern branch of the Presbyterians met in the Methodist Church until their church, which is the present Presbyterian Church, was completed.   For some time, both Presbyterian Churches held services and had pastors, but later they used the same pastor and used the two buildings alternately.   Still later, the Northern Church ceased to have services, and the members who resided at Hodges quit coming to the Southern Presbyterian Church and began having Sunday School and preaching services in the Hodges School Building.  The old Presbyterian Church was vacant for several years, but about 1900 it was sold to the county for school purposes, and a church was built at Hodges.

The Baptist Church was organized September 9, 1917, in the old school house.  Efforts to raise funds for a building began in the fall of 1918.  The building was completed in 1919.  In the meantime, church services were held in the school house.  Although the Baptist Church is the youngest in Strawberry Plains, it is perhaps the strongest church in the town.

We have found no record when a railroad was built through Strawberry Plains.  It is beyond the memory of any of our citizens.  It is said that the railroad yards and land for the depot were donated by the Stringfields on condition that the depot would never be moved.  The New Market Wreck, in 1904, proved the necessity of a double track, which was laid in 1907.   During the Civil War, the railroad bridge was a strategic point.  Four forts were built for its protection:  one on Holston Hill, two on the Hamilton farm, and one on the hill above the Methodist Church.  At one time, Jack Keeling, a Confederate, defended the bridge single-handedly against a large group of Federal sympathizers.  He did not know until after the combat was over that he had lost his left hand.  He had been standing in a little shack built against one of the piers, killing them one by one as they attacked him in the darkness.  The brave deed was given much publicity throughout the South.  Later, however, the bridge was burned.

Bailey's, Swaggerty's, and Hendrix' stores are all old buildings; Bailey's probably being the oldest.  The filling stations, garages, and restaurants are of recent date.  The first garage in Strawberry Plains was built and operated by Billy Rhines.  It was in the bend of the old highway near the present site of W.  E. Parrott's private garage.  This garage was built in the spring of 1918 and was the only garage between Knoxville and Jefferson City.   After a year or so, business became so good that Mr. Rhines sought a better location.  He tore down his garage and built another as an addition to a shop operated by Bill Boyd.  This soon became inadequate.  The Strawberry Plains Motor Company was formed, a new building constructed at the same place, and a Ford agency secured.  For about two years the agency was held and Ford cars were sold.  Then the agency was lost, and the company dissolved.  The building is now occupied by the Standard Motor Company.

The first grist mill at Strawberry Plains, of which we have any record, was a water mill at the Big Spring.  Later, a steam mill was built under the railroad bridge by M. J. Parrott.  Several years ago Charlie Duignan ran a saw mill near the same place, and at one time there was a canning factory nearby.  About fifty years ago, a Dr. Sensabaugh built the grist mill which is now known by the name of Strawberry Plains Milling Co. and is owned by J. P. Gardner.

The Post Office has been in all the old store buildings in Strawberry Plains.   It was moved to the present building in 1922.  Before that time, it was in an old building where the bank now stands.  A bank was in the same building.  Until two or three years ago, there were three Rural Routes out of Strawberry Plains, but they were combined into two at the retirement of Bill Witt, who had been a carrier for many years.  The rural routes from Strawberry Plains serve parts of three counties -- Jefferson, Knox, and Sevier.

The first telephone exchange was built in 1905.  Before that time, there had been a telephone line from Piedmont.  The first switchboard was in the old Masonic Hall.  It was in 1929 that the Bell Telephone Company took over the exchange and installed the dial system.  For a time, there was free connection with Knoxville, but now Mascot is the only exchange which can be reached without paying a toll.  This situation has caused many telephones to be taken out.  The number of telephones is much less than it was a few years ago when the exchange was owned by local people.  The switchboard is now in the back of the Bank Building.

It has already been explained how Strawberry Plains got its name from the wild strawberries, which grew in such profusion when the first settlers came.  About 35 years ago, the porters and flagmen on the passenger cars, which passed through Strawberry Plains, began calling the town Straw Plains for short.  Within a few years the name of the depot was changed to Straw Plains, and postmasters even began using post-mark stamps which bore the name of Straw Plains, although the name of the post office was never officially changed.

On an occasion in 1914, Mr. Copeman, General Manager and Vice President of the Southern Railroad, was passing through Strawberry Plains in his private car and stopped by to visit the Meek family.  One of the daughters, Bertha Meek Rogers, requested Mr. Copeman to have the name changed back to its original name.  Mr. Copeman replied that he would be glad to comply with the request.  The name of the depot was changed back to Strawberry Plains, and the flagmen and porters were required to call it properly.  The postmaster had to change his stamp, yet there are many people who call the town Straw Plains.  Perhaps half of the people do.  Mail addressed to Straw Plains will be delivered just the same as though the proper name were used.

Twenty-five or thirty years ago, Strawberry Plains was much smaller than it is now.  There was not a house from the Minnie Hall house to the Allie McBee house.  Adam Hamilton's house was the only house in the section of town called Jay Bird Hill.  One of the oldest houses in Strawberry Plains is the one in which Lonas Bailey now lives.  It was built by Meek Kenedy, a depot agent.  Later, in 1876, he built the Porter Gardner house, which at that time was the only house on that side of the railroad.  The old Stringfield home was remodeled into the house in which Dr. Webster now lives.  This is probably the oldest dwelling in Strawberry Plains.  The Smalling house and the W. E. Parrott house are old houses, and so is the Hodge house, which was rebuilt by Dr. Dukes when he first came to Strawberry Plains.  The S. C. Parrott house was built by Jacob Borches, an early merchant and resident.  This house was remodeled by Mr. Parrott about twenty-five years ago.  The Campbell house was built by Dr. Sneed; the Swaggerty house by W.  W. Willis, father of Tom Willis; and the Luther Bailey house by Dr. Siske.

Strawberry Plains has been influenced greatly by the opening in 1903 of the Campbell-Dean Quarry and of the Mascot Zinc Mine some time later.  The quarry is just across the river from Strawberry Plains in Knox County.  This is one of the largest quarries in the South, employing several men who live in Strawberry Plains.  In 1928 the quarry was leased to the American Zinc Co.  The name became Holston Quarry, and the settlement around it Holston Hill.  There are also many men in Strawberry Plains who work at Mascot in the zinc mines.  The construction of the McBee Bridge across the Holston River and the hard-surfaced road from Strawberry Plains to Mascot in 1930 have encouraged more men to live in Strawberry Plains while working in Mascot.  An event, which will long be remembered in Strawberry Plains, was the explosion at the quarry which happened on June 27, 1922.   Nine men were killed, and much property damage was done.

The bank of Strawberry Plains was incorporated in 1919 and opened on March 1, 1920.  It was started in an old store building, and the first cashier was Charles Edwards.  For a while, W. E. Parrott ran the postoffice in the same building.  In 1924, the new bank was built.  Other cashiers were W. E. Parrott and Tom E. Stone.  A. C. Parrott was president.  The stockholders decided to close the bank during the winter of 1933.  At the present time, it is in the hands of receivers, with W. E. Parrott as liquidating agent.

The Andrew Johnson Highway, or Highway No. 11-E, was built through Strawberry Plains in 1924 and 1925.  Before that time, there had been public roads to Mascot, Knoxville, Jefferson City and Dandridge, but these roads were not hard-surfaced.  It was in the summer of 1932 that a hard surface was placed on the street from the bank to the depot.  About the same time, the other streets were covered with crushed stone.

Strawberry Plains today is an unincorporated town of approximately four hundred (400) people.  Of these, about forty are Negroes.  About half of the men in Strawberry Plains are employed by the American Zinc Company of Tennessee in the zinc mines at Mascot or at Holston Quarry across the river from Strawberry Plains.  Others are engaged in operating the stores, shops, garages, filling stations, restaurants, and the mill.  There are a few farmers and railroad section workers.

One of the important industries of Strawberry Plains is the production of watercress for shipment to New York and other points east.  The cress pond is owned by a man in New York, but is operated by Bill Jones, a local man.   Near Strawberry Plains is the Blue Grass Dairy Farm, where an average of one hundred cows are milked.  Most of the milk is bottled ad sold on routes in Knoxville, but some of it is made into cheese.  Strawberry Plains has three general merchandise stores, three restaurants, one grist mill, two garages, and four filling stations.  It is located on a double track of the Southern Railroad and very near the Holston River.  The Andrew Johnson Highway runs through the town.  There are three hard-surfaced routes to Knoxville.  By the shortest and newest, the distance is a little less than 12 miles.  The shortest route to Dandridge takes one over about 6 miles of graveled road, but one can reach Dandridge on hard surfaced road via Jefferson City or Trentville.

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