Rough cut outline ... Who is Mr. Dickson. : homepage

Who Was Dickson Elementary

Charles Lisenby Dickson, born December 30 1848, and his sweetheart Sarah Melissa Moody, born October 1 1851, happily lived their married life in Cooks Valley on a large parcel of land by the lake in a big white house. Their son Alvin Dickson would have his own son on May 22, 1896. That little baby boy name is John Wilburn Dickson. His life’s 42 year journey would end in 1938 but his footprints would live on. (update : 12/05/12 Charles and Melissa had several sons and daughter, of whom John and Alvin were brothers.)

There hadn’t been a lot of “school’n” in these parts. Tennessee (a Cherokee name) had become a state in 1796. You might say the area was borrowed from North Carolina in 1779 with a morsel of territory from Virginia. By 1850 the county had six or “two hands worth” of teachers and one became the official Superintendent in 1868.

1822 Elija’s ironworks included 800 acres of land on Eden’s Ridge in Sullivan County. The timber on the Eden’s Ridge land probably was used in the making of charcoal to be used in the furnaces. It is most likely the Pactolus Ironworks did not operate after the 1830s. The inconvenience of the ore banks and the cost of transportation over rough roads finally caused the local iron industry to disappear” Exchange Place

1828 Andrew Jackson President…

1830 s pioneers made it to the Midwest.

1843 Nashville State capital,

1845 Tennessee’s James K. Polk became President of the United States.

1850s East Tennessee leads in wheat production.

Just down the road in 1850 and over the ridge there was a small cabin style school located at the Exchange Place with teacher Miss Fannie Lynn.

Just a few miles down the road was Kingsport : population 1833 was 317. Way east a new town sprung up call Bristol when the railroad came to town in 1856. It wouldn’t work its way to Kingsport until 1909.

Remember, in 1830 scientific medidine was wholly unknown. Superstitions, folklore, and homemade remedies provided the “medical” guidance of the people. Furthermore, there was a rather heneral belief that diseases and epidemincs (smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever) were visitations of Providence.” Exchange Place

1837 Samuel Morse sent telegraph from Washington to Baltimore

When the census of 1840 was taken, Tennessee discovered that almost one-fourth of its adult whete population could neither read nore write. It was stung at being “made the subject of sneering remarks in almost every newspaper in the country.” “ EP

1846 a new church was organized at Eden’s Ridge and was first represented in the Baptist Association by Samuel Bachman and N. Roller.” EP


Finally, in 1854, upon strong urging of Governor Andrew Johnson, the legislature enacted a tax for the direct support of puclic education. The establishment of a public school system was a majoy milestone of the antebellum period, but private academics and colleges also grew in number and frequently in enhanced quality during the same period” EP

Books on David Crockett and Daniel Boon were the most popular read.

Hogs and whiskey played a part in Tennessee’s becoming in 1840 the largest corn-growing State in the nation. In 1850, Tennessee was the largest hog-raising State; therefore, Tennessee came to be known as the “hog and hominy State.” Wheat then became the popular crop. Also hogs, cattle, and mules and sometimes poultry, was driven on foot from Tennessee to other states. The western towns of Knoxville and Nashville were the important centers of distribution. EP

The Prestons from Exchange Place would join the Eden Ridge neighbors to drive cattle and hogs to market at the railhead in Bristol after the railroad was completed there in 1859. While the men were gone, the women would gather for a quilting bee at the Spahrs’ home just “over the ridge.” The completion of the drive was followed by a “joyous celebration.”” EP

King’s Port had been chartered in 1822 and was an important shipping port to the west. The town called The Boat Yard would now be called Kingsport. The boat dock was right next to the Cherokee’s ‘Long Island’, which was the beginning of the Wilderness Trail with its stories and fabled tales. After the Battle of Kingsport December 13, 1864, eighteen confederate men lay dead. Prisoners were sent to the union prison in Knoxville. Kingsport lost their charter.

Sullivan County was called the “Little Confederacy,” but the area sent 30,000 troops to the Union army!” EP

East Tennessee experienced the pangs of divided loyalties more than any other part of the State—or the South as a whole. James W. Preston , of Exchange Place, manumitted some of his slaves voluntarily, but supported the Condederacy with the products of his farm. Thomas Fain of the neighboring plantation, who also had slaves, favored the Union.” EP

When the war ended “The merchants found their trade to the isolated farmers dwindling because most farmers had no cash to pay for their products. The town of Kingsport declined. Many families left to build their lives someplace else. The daughter of James W. Preston of Exchange Place wrote that “Pa” went back to Abingdon to live because “there was no gentlemen left” near his Tennessee farm.” EP

1865 Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson became President of the United States.

1866 Tennessee restored to the union July 24

After the civil war, Sullivan County population was 13,136 in 1870 and in ten years grew to 18,038. Records now show in 1870 that there were now twenty-six teachers. Kingsport had put together a nice ‘High School’ by then with at least forty graduates in 1877. By 1881 the ‘Kingsport High School’ was located by the Reedy Creek. It helped that the State of Tennessee in 1873 started to distribute funds to the county to help create needed schools outside the city.

By 1888 the Kingsport Post Office had fifty postboxes being used.

If you followed the old Cleek farm road on into the Bloomingdale area, there was the well known Kingsley Seminary, founded 1877 and shut its doors 1901.

By 1909 when the railroad entered Kingsport, there were no secondary schools yet in the town. Most of the previous schools in the area had slowly dissatisfied parents so the children were being ‘home schooled’.

Suddenly down in that little town called Kingsport, a whisper went out that a ‘city’ was to be born. Large corporations were quickly moving in as a new city was being designed from model up. The need for education became the talk because employees were starting to look elsewhere for work and education for their children. The value of education became the issue of discussion. The farms were seeing the beginning of the industrial job market in a changing America.

By 1915 Kingsport’s population was 1,206. In just one year it became 7,182! A new name could be heard: Magic City of the South.

In Kingsport some schools began to appear on the ‘church circle’ and even flowed over into its neighbor Methodist Episcopal Church for extra room. Anna Lee Mitchell was the Principal.

Kingsport officially incorporated on March 2, 1917. It was designed as ‘the garden city’, later known as the ‘model city’. Education then became a priority of the city officials. ‘Progressive’ planning brought some of the nation’s first traffic circles or roundabouts, one of the first with a city manager form of government and built its school model developed at Columbia University.

One month later from the new Kingsport charter, April 6, 1917, the United States declared War on Germany as they entered World War I. By December, they country had declared War on Austria-Hungary.

The War had essentially started July 28, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. It ended November 11, 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles.

Thus, in October 1915 as war loomed, Kingsport had 1,206 citizens. Outside the city limits were the county few and the farms and livestock. By October the next year the population had increased to 7,182. In one year the population had risen 500%! The city was going to need workers. The war called for it. The culture demanded it. Education was a priority. War had begun. Industry was a necessity. The able bodied men were being shipped into foreign countries for practically the first time. The world was changing rapidly. The economy began to boom which was a welcome sign after the recession of 1897. Women had entered the work place and the nineteenth amendment was passed.

As the war ended, the country began to reevaluate their decision to enter wars on foreign soil. Maybe they had been too hasty. “Without knowledge the people perish.” The Biblical Hosea 4:6 could easily be taken to mean – an uneducated people cannot make proper decisions and thus a nation can perish. Close to 117,000 Americans had died.

Suddenly Russia had fallen and become the Soviet Union. Suddenly there were knew nations in Europe no one knew about. Suddenly there was a League of Nations. There were race riots. Women were entering in previously men-only positions. The economy was beginning to teeter. Republican William Harding was voted in as President of the United States with the people wanted less government and less entanglements outside the nation’s borders.

Education was vital.


Now just up over the ridge and down in the mid ridge farm area was the Hicks family. They had little girl named Carrie. She lived just at the bottom of the ridge road where it met the ole dirt road they called the Ore bank. Carrie was born January 8, 1899 and lived right there at the fork of the ridge road and Orebank in a big white farm house with a barn crib on the side of the hill.

John Dickson and Carrie met at a picnic.

At the time of John and Carries courting, there were mainly five families that lived up and down the Orebank that headed towards the small unchartered town called Kingsport. It was a river town with creeks and swamps and a big mountain that watched over its destiny. By the time these two got together, the men of vision such as John Nolen (designer),John B. Dennis and J.Fred Johnson had already molded a town into an ingeniously designed city whose beauty and convenience of location had turned it into an important hub of industry and manufacturing and thus, jobs.

A person could pretty well cross the ridge and head down into the creek valley by catching orebank and then taking the steep dirt farm road that crossed the Cleeks farm and headed on into the Bloomingdale area. The Reedy Creek valley had befriended the Buffalo, the Cherokees, the Explorers called Boone and Crockett, the early Settlers, the wearied Civil War Soldiers, horse and hoof and then the distant new sound in the city that the horses called noise, the Model T.

The men of this area had lived as Cherokees with sqirmishs nearby at the west end of Orebank which one day soon would be Dickson family property. Men had marched to Sycamore Shoals Fort and then into North Carolina to defeat the British – which inspired the Thirteen Colonies to increase their rally of Independence. Men spoke of the War of 1812. Other men and their families were coming in the area by the wagon load, some staying, some moving on, some heading to the river with dreams of far western lands. In 1850 from the east, along the ridge, they would clang out the beginning of their descent to the Exchange Place to swap horses and money. Many men stories to tell of the Civil War - many were kept secret. Then men began using words such as
“Electricity”, “Light bulbs” and “Industrial”. There was a heartbeat of ‘rebuilding a nation’. If a newspaper could be found there would be daily amazing new stories of discoveries and inventions. In far away lands War began to pull more local men away from farms and to foreign countries – more stories, more tombstones.

But for now, courting, getting married and having children would need hard work and the resolve to be a good provider. John and Carrie did just that.

Work needed done. Farms needed harvested. Cattle needed driven. The Cleeks, Hicks, Barters, Bostics, Mitchells, Prestons had the big farms from east Orebank to the west end - which met the Bristol Highway that would take you into the city. Farms such as the Prestons went from the top of the ridge of chestnuts, down to the Reedy Creek valley and all the way north into the Bloomingdale area.

This was farm territory, but the ‘Model City’ was growing just a handful of miles in the west.

John and Carrie started their life together on the other side of the ridge in Cook Valley where their first daughter Louise was born. They moved to a house on Chestnut Ridge, not far from Preacher Ratliff, in October 1921, and began running a nearby goods store. Their second daughter Agnes was born. I was just down the ridge on the Orebank dirt road that Louise would ride a horse to Church. Orebank also had a small county school.

If you headed into the city on the highway, when things leveled out you would pass through a nice piece of land owned by the Bond family. Mr. Bond had purchased it from an unrelated Dickson family and had set up his homestead as well as a small store.

World War I had ended. Kingsport was now chartered and growing as the magic city, the model city, the garden city.

John Wilburn Dickson Carrie-John Wilburn Dickson
John Wilburn Dickson & Mrs. Carrie Dickson

There was something in John that drew him to that eastern border of the designed ‘Model City’. Opportunity had open arms. He began to eye the Bond store. When J.L.Bond decided to sell, John leaped. In that Summer of 1922 the Dickson’s now had two stores. Carrie ran the one on Chestnut Ridge and John ran his new store on the Bond property.

John Wilburn Dickson Property John Wilburn Dickson House John Wilburn Dickson House John Wilburn Dickson House Card
John Wilburn Dickson property and house on Bristol Highway presently called Center Street which intersects Memorial Boulevard.

Suddenly, J.L.Bond decided to sell it all. Fifty acres! There must have been many discussions when word got out. This was prime eastern land and the city was rapidly growing.

In the secrecy of destiny, J.L.Bond sold the Bond farm and house to John Dickson October 16, 1923. The Dickson family moved in December 4, 1923.

Did John and Carrie have the money. No. The deal was the American handshake of trust. J.L.Bond must have seen something in John Dickson that harmonized with men such as John B. Dennis and J.Fred Johnson. With a small down payment of cash, the Dickson family now owned the title of 50 acres.

They settled in the big farm house and Charles, Peggy and John Wilburn Junior were born.

The Bristol Highway was THE highway. If you were heading west, you came across the Chestnut Ridge, through Kingsport and then could head to Knoxville. Now this wasn’t just the highway for the four wheel engine run wagons, automobiles, but was also the highway for the exciting cattle drives from the Orebank and eastern farms.

In the Spring the young Dickson children would love to be awaken in the morning hearing the “clunk, clunk, clunk”. They knew the cattle drive had come to town! The cattle would be headed to the stockyard down by the railroad tracks in the heart of the city. Men came through on oxen wagon and would stop by the house and get a drink at the Dickson well. Carrie was well know for the hospitality of her kitchen. There was not much else to the east but the farms, so this ‘open door of hospitality’ was the welcomed gate to the city. In a fast growing industrial paced world, the scent of a cattle drive was a breath of ‘fresh air’.

Reedy Creek could easily have been called Red Creek. East of the Cleek’s farm the Bridwells owned a Packinghouse. If a person was fishing the creek when the packinghouse went to work, Reedy Creek would soon be running red from the Bridwells meat packing process. The cattle could come from the Cleeks farm, Hicks farm, passed the Prestons and well respected school educator, Annie Mitchell.

Many of the roads in Eastern Tennessee were old buffalo trails. The buffalo ran shoulder to shoulder the perfect width of a one lane road.

But in the 1930’s these two ten foot wide concrete lanes were rare. Other than the Bristol Highway, there was hardly a road east of this location other than the unpaved Orebank or Cleek ridge road.

So with dust flying on the Mitchell house as they passed by, the cattle would head down the western Orebank slope, later known as ‘Jack Frost Lane’ for its winter beauty, and end up on the concrete Bristol Hwy. Not even a half mile later it would take the right hand turn at the Dickson property and head towards the stockyard. Everyone respected the cattle drives and cleared out of the way. Certainly, pot holes were not the only topic discussed about the roads ‘fresh’ appearance after the cattle scented the air.

John Dickson now had fifty acres in his hand which need paid for. John Dickson went to work. He could not actually afford the 50 acres so his inventiveness and entrepreneur skills began to blossom. He had the grocery store, a few trucks that delivered brick from the brick plant to Eastman Kodak, a team of mules that dug basements, and before he knew it had been inspired right into the position of local magistrate. He became known as John Wilburn “Squire Bill” Dickson. He served Sullivan County eight years.

Whether by design or destiny, John Dickson was becoming a farmer in the county to a city builder. ?????

It was now that the character of John Wilburn Dickson began to truly shine.

In 1932, three years into the Great Depression, the Dickson’s third child Charles was ready to start first grade. Just in the direction of the city was the Highland Community of Sullivan County. They had their own school and ‘daddy’ took his son to begin the molding of an American. The school sent Charles home, along with a half dozen other children, because they could not find a place for him to sit.

So ‘daddy’ then took his son to a school in the other direction in the Litz Manor community. It was also full. By now John realized twelve to fifteen students had no school to go to.

This was 1932. The cattle were the ones driving. There were no school buses. Wall Street had crashed. Jobs would become harder to obtain. Simple hard working people had families. Education was vital to give their children their own chance. World War II loomed.

John Wilburn Dickson Magistrate

The heart of the magistrate realized another school was not just needed, but was a necessity.

The first thing he had to do that day in 1931 was to go to court to present to the county the need of another school. The leg work began. It was said that he went “over and beyond the call of duty” in his efforts to make sure the children had paralleling opportunities. John loved the people in Highland and wanted to do something for them.

John Wilburn & Carrie Dickson Children
Bill, Peggy, Bud, Agnes, Louise

John Wilburn Dickson Family

jb stapleton and bill dickson in front of his mothers store
JB Stapleton and Bill Dickson in front of his Mother's store.

What drove the pioneer spirit in John Dickson could only be answered as ‘Character’. He had nothing at stake nor would benefit outside simply having a school for his children.

He had already sold most the land across the road. Subdivisions were already built. It was up to the county to find land. There was that one area that was essentially a grazing field, but he did not own it. Somewhere in the footwork, this one piece of seven acre property became a focal point. Many discussions constantly brought the county city leaders to the kitchen table of the Dicksons. Carrie continued her hospitality reputation. Deals were considered.

At last, in January of 1933, the County agreed, land owners agreed and lawyers agreed. The vote was made.

A new school would be built.

But there was no money.

In an irony of names, this property had been owned by a different Dickson family who sold it to the Bond family who sold it to the John Dickson family who sold it and now was leading the first ever Sullivan County Bond Sell to raise the finances for a new school. It was successful. Building began.

The school was to be for grades first through eighth. When the doors open in late October 1933, the small group of twelve to fourteen students who could not find a seat in a classroom had grown to first year enrollment of approximately five hundred students!

When the first PTA - Parent Teacher Association - meeting was called the next month, the school was still just the ‘new school’. A name had to be chosen. The nearby city of Kingsport named their schools after the Presidents of the United States.

But it was the P.T.A. meeting of February 1934 that brought the absolute surprise to the Dickson family. The P.T.A. voted that the name of the new modern school of Sullivan County Tennessee should be, by anonymous agreement, - DICKSON - In honor of the man who with singleness spent two years of his life in dedication to give the children of Sullivan County a place that could begin their leadership skills and character to be the next generation of American ….

We were shocked. Momma couldn’t believe it. PTA met and named it.” The Dickson family was now in awe of the honor.

Here is the gratitude speech:

In January, 1931, Magistrate J. W. Dickson ask County Court to allocate funds for a larger school building in the east end of Kingsport. At that time, only one 4-room building with two 2-room shacks that were rented by the County for the first and second grade children were being used for school. These buildings had board walkways, which were covered with mud most of the time. The rooms were so crowded that some of the children had to sit on boxes. Jefferson School was built near these old buildings.

That Court tabled the motion. He asked again at each Court Session until 1933.

In 1933, he asked for a Committee of Court Members to visit this county school – bursting out on all sides. They did visit the school and agreed that this was a crowded sight, but there were no funds.

Mr. Dickson then found out that Bonds could be sold for school buildings. This was proposed in Court and was debated upon. The Magistrates would not vote for this school unless they voted for a school in West View.

In January, 1933, the Court voted to sell Bonds for this school and one in West View. These were the first Bonds sold in Sullivan County.

The contract was let and construction on the building began. The building was finished in October, 1933, and school was started late with 12 teachers and 560 students.

The first P.T.A. meeting was in November, 1933, and at that time the school had not been given a name. At the February, 1934, P.T.A. meeting, it was voted to name the school after Magistrate Dickson, due to his faithful two-year fight for a better school and also being one of the Dickson family that had owned the land since 1888.”

Although the family of John Dickson was different than the previous owners of the land also named Dickson, the paradox seemed fitting.

Dickson School which started from a desire to find a dozen young children a place to learn, was now open with 560 students.

It was the stimulus and the catalyst …

Was it the strength given, the patriotism exhuded or simply a mission accomplished that brought John to his exit from the American stage? But there in his home on his farm land, John Dickson passed away at 42 years of age on ----, 1938.

His obituary read “Although Magistrate Dickson had been aunable to attend sessions of the couty court since July, 1937, he had become well known throughout this section for his progressive stand relative to county affairs, especially in the improvement of county school conditions. Through him and his constituents a new school building, modern throughout, was erected in Highland and now bears his name.”


The P.T.A booklet from 1947 reads, “Dickson P.T.A. - Dedication – This Year Book Is Lovingly Dedicated to My Father JOHN WILBURN DICKSON Who was instrumental in securing for us this building. LOUISE DICKSON HAWK”

OBJECTS Of Parent Teachers Associations

To promote the welfare of children and youth in home, school, church, and community.

To raise the standards of home life.

To secure adequate laws for the care and protection of children and youth.

To bring into closer relation the home and the school, that parents and teachers may cooperate intelligently in the training of the child.

To develop between educators and the general public such united efforts as will secure for every child the highest advantages in physical, mental, social, and spiritual education.”


February 17 (Founders Day) – National Theme will be used.

March 16 – Looking Toward World Citizenship

April 20 – Health – Foundation for Better Health and Physical Fitness

May 18 – A World United For Peace and Progress”


These comments in themselves speak clearly of who John Wilburn Dickson was and IS within the bricks of Dickson School, Sullivan County Tennessee, City of Kingsport Tennessee, and the influence thereof throughout the United States of America and the Global Community.

One young man, One long dream.


It was Spring again, and the cattle drive was heading up the concrete Bristol Highway towards the city’s train cattle stockyard. Dust flew over on the Dickson house to the left, and certainly some dust flew over on the Dickson School to the right.

1962.February 20 Kingsport Times News:
"...Dickson School PTA which was first held on November 17, in 1933, under the name of Highland Park Teachers Association. Mrs. R.L.Hawk was elected first president of this association.
In 1934, the name of the school was changed to Dickson Grammar School upon recommendation of Lewis Chase, first principal of Dickson School.
On November 15, 1938, a memorial service was held for the late Mr. Dickson. J.Fred Johnson made a speech. A picture of Dickson was unveiled by his daughter, Peggy Dickson, and was presented to George O'Dell, who at the time was principal of Dickson and is now principal of West View School. ..."

Honors Kingsport Dickson School PTA February 20, 1962

higland did 1 2 3 grade. liteel scholl

dickson was the big school. 500+ came.

4 to 8 grade

1939 first already there. bill jr went there.

1934 1st grade

he never dreamed it be named after him.

mr dickson loved those people in highland and wanted to do something for us.

city through a fit wanted to name after president

community rose up said no, the presidents didnt spend 2 years to het us school, mr dickson did.

We were shocked. momma couldnt believe it. pta met and named it.

1922-23 dickson, by two entrances, mom had cook dinner for all the commisioners all the time.

need get sidewalks"

(took magistrate from her husbands father) RL Hawk, her husbands daddy.

orebank 5 families, crossed orbank, barters bluff, big srping,

barters, bostic, annie mitchell, preston place hicks faerm, cleeks,

from top chestnust ridge to hills to where north high school is.

Rough cut outline ... Who is Mr. Dickson.
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