Thursday, May 6, 2010

John Sevier Center

This eleven story building in downtown Johnson City, TN was known as the John Sevier Hotel when it opened in 1924. It adopted its current name, the John Sevier Center, when it was renovated in 1979 and turned into subsidized housing for the elderly. There are two things the Sevier Center is known for: First, it was one of the places Al Capone stayed in Johnson City on his trips to Florida. His visits to the "Appalachian Wing" of his bootlegging operations were so frequent that Johnson City earned the nickname "Little Chicago" (more here); and Second, this was the site of Johnson City's worst tragedy when shortly after 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1989 the building was ignited by careless smoking. It took firefighters six hours to contain the blaze which took the lives of 16 residents and injured 51 others, including 25 firefighters. More on the tragic fire here and here. In case you're wondering who John Sevier was, click here and here.

You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.
--Al Capone (1899-1947) American gangster

6 comments:

  1. What an inspirational quote... I do really like the history, I had no idea Al Capone came through JC.

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  2. I'm sure his momma was proud of him. ;)

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  3. wow you made that building look beautiful!!

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  4. Having done an intense study of the John Sevier, as well as used actual documents (and the log of when the hotel was beginning, log located in the Archives of Appalachia where I worked), there has been no proof of Al Capone staying in the hotel. Although it makes a wonderful story, there is no documentation whatsoever, However, it was said/rumored that "if" he did stay there, he went down the street to the Windsor Hotel (now torn down) where the "seedier" customers went.

    Now, a bit of further back history. The land that the hotel/apartments is on was once owned by T. A. Faw. He was in competition with Henry Johnson in regards to merchandising. Where Johnson stopped allowing people to come and get water from the creek at his location (due to the water instead being pumped into reserve tanks for the trains), Faw allowed them. Up the hill from the hotel was a school and they used to come down to get their water from Faw's store. When Faw passed away, his daughter Sally inherited the store and land. She later sold it to the developers of the hotel. Here is a link to the Faw property: https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesofappalachia/4459915991/in/set-72157623680003012

    While the hotel was being built, pumps were run 24 hours a day to keep out the water from Buffalo Creek. Later, the creek was "walled in" so to speak so that produce and dairy could be kept cool. (There is also "rumors" of hidden tunnels down there, which the whole basement has since been walled up and nothing remains of the creek or supposed tunnels).

    The day the hotel was opened, many businesses were closed to celebrate this grandeur, which was actually the first of three phases for the hotel. Phase 2 and 3 never developed as the stock market crash shortly afterward caused the company to end any further attempts to upgrade the hotel. Here is a picture of the proposed expansion: https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesofappalachia/4453773713/in/set-72157623546300371

    You can also access other pictures through this site of early Johnson City history.

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  5. Oops, to add in regards to Al Capone going to the Windsor - he stayed at the Sevier (supposedly) but went to the Windsor for the booze, girls and other seedier entertainment.

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