Long before the Fountain City A&P, well before the White Store (now Food City) and many decades before Kroger, there was J.H. Newman and Sons Grocery Store. Photographic records indicate that the store was originally on the corner of Hotel Avenue and Broadway at Lot No. 1. The 1920 City Directory mentions the John H. Newman and Sons Grocery for the first time in the alphabetical listing of the property on Hotel Ave.
There were no street numbers listed prior to the 1927 directory and, by this time, Newman’s store is listed at 114 Hotel, once the location of the Creamery Park Grille (Lot No. 5). Tracing the deeds to that location proved very interesting. In the process, a map of the Miller and Cooper Addition (by civil engineer J.C. Thomas, dated 1911) was discovered that shows lots 1-10 on the south side of Hotel Avenue with their dimensions.
Lot No. 5 passed from W.H. Weaver to J.C. and Nannie Woodward and S.H. and Mary A. George on Sept. 14, 1895. Col. J.C. Woodward (1841-1913) was the Lexington (Kentucky) capitalist who bought the park, lake and Fountain Head Hotel properties in 1890 and developed the Fountain Head Hotel and Resort into a premier East Tennessee “destination place” with amenities well ahead of its time.
The George family was also well known, particularly for George’s Department Store on Gay Street. Sol H. George (1839-1924) had been a stockholder of the company that constructed the Fountain Head Hotel and later of another company that built the Fountain Head Railway. He married Mary A. McMillan and the couple had three sons, Edgar, Albert and Sol M. Both Albert and Sol M. were long-time officials of the department store.
After passing through several owners, Lot No. 5 was bought by J.H. Newman from H.H. Tinsley on June 22, 1920. The deed described the lot having a frontage of 25 feet, 59 feet in depth on the east side and 65 on the west, “with a two-story frame store house now occupied by J.H. Newman and Sons on (the) first floor and as dwelling purposes on (the) second floor.”
(The lot is now vacant, having once been occupied by Jeff Patin’s popular but ill-fated Creamery Park Grille, which was destroyed in a fire on Feb. 10, 2016.)
John Henry Newman was born on May 22, 1861, in Sevier County, the son of William Newman and Mary Polly Kittrell. According to family tradition, John visited the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, possibly to have his corn crop ground into meal, and there he first met Virena, the daughter of Hiram S. and Mary J. Blair of the Fair Garden Community of Sevier County. John H. Newman and Virena Blair (1870-1950) were married on Jan. 1, 1886, in Sevier County.
Their family would eventually number 11 children: Charles G., Nellie Jane, Bertie, Asa Mack, Cora, Allen B., Johnnie B., Kate, Willie Lou, Paul S. and Theodore A. Charlie died of a ruptured appendix at 15 years of age, but the other children lived to adulthood. After residing on Jackson Avenue and later on Tazewell Pike, the family moved to 321 Watauga Ave. in 1921. There John and Virena would live out their days.
When Fountain City’s Central Baptist Church was organized in 1914, John and Virena Newman were among the charter members. John was a deacon and Virena was active in her Sunday School class. Of the 31 who left First Baptist to form Central Baptist Church about one-third were members of the J.H. Newman family.
Mack Newman, one of John’s sons, gradually assumed management of the store. An era ended on Sept. 15, 1947, when John Henry Newman passed away at his home. After services by Dr. Charles S. Bond and the Rev. A.F. Mahan at Mann’s Mortuary, he was interred at Lynnhurst Cemetery.
Retired optometrist and active historian Dr. Jim Tumblin writes a monthly series called “Fountain City: Places That Made a Difference” for KnoxTNToday.com.