Sharing Memories at the History Branch

‘We are in the business of memories’

Posted 2/14/21

When the coronavirus put a halt to many of the library’s in-person activities, Margot Still, history branch manager, started looking at other ways of engaging residents in local history and the History Branch of the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library.

Although the History Branch had been sharing online activities on Facebook since 2016, its offerings began to expand.

One of its newest features is short documentaries on people and organizations in the community. Another focus is its Unknown but not Forgotten photos. They also may have a photo sparking interest and talk about a local building, road or place.

“One thing we have learned doing Facebook,” she said, “People gravitate to images — whether it is a photograph or a piece you pull out of the newspaper. They want some kind of visual. They are not interested in just the story or fact. They want to see a picture or an article clipping out of the newspaper or something out of a yearbook. Yearbooks are great.

“It generates chatter. … The goal is we want people talking about local history and the History Branch,” Still noted.

“We are interested in those photos you think no one will be interested in. It may not be we are intrigued by Great-Aunt Mary’s wedding, but she may be standing in front of a building that is no longer there.”

Still said they get a lot of requests for photos of the inside of the Cleveland Mall, Village Shopping Center and the Cherokee Hotel.

“I have never seen photograph of the interior of the Cherokee Hotel,” she said. “We have pictures of the Cherokee Hotel under construction taken from the clock tower of the old courthouse … you can see the scaffolding.

“You never know when you are going to find these pictures. I had some blueprints walk in the door for the old Coke Company on South Ocoee Street … one of additions being made at the Post Office. It was a descendant of someone who had worked in the building who had found them in the attic.

“I want people to understand we want those pictures. If you are not sure anyone wants it, bring it in. Let us look at it. We will tell you if we would like if for our collection,” Still said.

“We have guidelines in our policy. Things we can and cannot accept. Everything in our collection is open to the public. You can’t put any restrictions on it,” she said.

“Here’s the thing about history and photographs. History is like a smell. It is the strongest sense you have. It triggers a strong response in your brain. You will see a photograph and it will trigger happy memories,” Still said.

“It is a breath of fresh air for people to remember happier times in your life. … It conjures happy memories. You knew everybody. You went to Kresge’s and stopped at Coles Drug Store for a milkshake — the best ever.”

She noted one of the most popular posts they did was the intersection of Keith and 25th Street from the 1970s.

“It stirs up memories,” she said.

With the assistance of volunteer Magen Ellison, Still launched the new video documentaries featuring people and places in Cleveland and Bradley County.

They have completed 11 videos. The current topic is a three-part series on newspapers.

Ellison noted they used history items from Bill Snell, Roy Lillard and John Morgan Wooten in the research.

“When I found discrepancies, I would pull from the microfilm at the primary source,” Ellison said.

An example was during the time of Will L. Rodgers and William A. Rodgers. “The sources continually interchanged the L. and A. We found the actual newspaper articles” to clarify, Ellison said.

“We try to keep videos to about 20 minutes, but there was so much great information” on newspapers, it was decided to put them in three segments.

“We have interesting tidbits of Bradley County newspapers — just the facts,” Ellison said.

“They are very popular,” noted Still. “The first newspaper segment had almost 1,000 people in 24 hours.”

While narrating the newspaper installments, Ellison begins with Cleveland’s first newspaper — Cleveland Dispatch — and continues in the three videos to unfold interesting details about the 25 newspapers printed in Cleveland up to present as well as their editors and publishers.

The Dispatch’s first issue was April 19, 1854, just a week before the Cleveland Banner’s first edition. The O’Brien brothers — J.W. and Samuel — were publishers. The Whig-leaning paper continued until 1857

The Cleveland Banner, which made its appearance on May 1, 1854, was published by Robert McNelley, who had started at the Athens Courier at age 15. McNelley moved his weekly paper to Cleveland and into the Ark building in downtown Cleveland, Ellison said.

McNelley was a strong supporter of the Confederate cause, using his columns to spread anti-Union sentiment. In 1863, he was arrested by Union troops. For two years, publication of the Banner was suspended.

In April of 1864, the Battle Flag, a Union publication, was available with Wallace Gruelle and Thomas King at the helm.

As a “personal jab at McNelley,” the Battle Flag used McNelley’s equipment and supplies to print the Union paper, according to Ellison.

Information on other newspapers includes the East Tennessee Herald, an “American Party” paper which touted anti-immigrant views; Southern Clarion, May 1857, which featured agricultural information as well as local items; Ducktown Eagle; Ocoee Register, 1873; DeLaney’s Register, 1885, which showcased agricultural and industry news; Commercial Republican, 1873; Cleveland Herald, 1873, which “boasted it had a larger circulation than any other local newspaper.”

Each of the three segments features a period in the life of newspapers in Cleveland and Bradley County. These included several ownership changes in the Cleveland Banner, as well as some name adjustments. Other newspapers included the Polk County News, the Charleston Enterprise, Hiwassee News, Merchant’s Appeal, Cleveland Tribune, Cleveland Star, Journal, Cleveland, Press and the Morning Star.

The Banner has continued to “thrive.” Some of the information includes rivalry between the Journal and Banner. In 1899, a knife fight erupted between the Journal’s J.B. Stern and the Banner’s Felix Davis. The Cleveland Banner’s history making events included the in-production testing site for the Fairchild Photo Text Setter.

“At the very end, the Cleveland Daily Banner has the last laugh — it is the last newspaper,” Ellison said.

One of Still’s favorite videos was on C.L. Hardwick and his wife, Clyde.

People do not realize how much Cleveland is indebted to the Hardwicks’ generosity. They gave property for North Lee School, Hardwick Field, Mosby Park and Johnston Park.

Clyde Hardwick was the daughter of Sarah Tucker Johnston, whose children gave Craigmiles House to the city in 1923 to be used as a public library.

“At the time it was No. 7 in the state,” Still noted. “Clyde carried on the family tradition of contributing to the library. She gave money for the library addition.”

Still said, most people “don’t really know the history of things they drive by every day. That is what we do at the History Branch — We work to further our history.”

Among the other videos done are ones of Paul Huff, the Medal of Honor winner; the Craigmiles brothers; Bradley Central High School; hospitals in Cleveland; Arnold Elementary; and Julian Raht.

Still and Ellison have a long list of ideas for future posts.

“We are in the business of memories,” Still said.

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