Albert Calhoun Grimm was born of German ancestry on Dec. 30, 1868, in Dauphin County, Penn., north of the state Capitol of Harrisburg. Those were hard times in the largely German immigrant community. Therefore, from age 9 to 15, he worked on a farm in his home county. At first, his sole compensation was clothing and board. During the second year of farm work he earned a total of $50 and board. For the next 2-1/2 years he worked on a farm in Northumberland County just north of the Mahantango River near Shamokin. Then, eager to continue his education, he enrolled in Schuylkill Academy in Lebanon County. After graduation, he taught school for five years.
His physician recommended a milder climate for health reasons. In about 1894, ignoring the advice of Horace Greely to “Go west young man,” A.C. came south. He said later that that he chose the location by “letting a pencil wander over a map of the South until the point stopped near Knoxville.” He “read” law, was admitted to the bar and established a law practice that would last 60 years.
On Dec. 24, 1896, Albert C. Grimm was wed to Jessie Gault, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Samuel H. Gault. Her father was a foremost physician in Rogersville. The beautiful and popular bride and her rising young attorney husband were married in the First Presbyterian Church of Rogersville. In the early 1900s they bought the former home of Major R.C. Jackson on Tazewell Pike in Beverly, just east of Smithwood.
Grimm formed his first law firm with attorney E.M. Webb, who was later elected a Circuit Judge. One of the firm’s first clients was C.B. Atkin, Knoxville furniture manufacturer and capitalist. The firm continued to represent Atkin for many years. Later Counselor Grimm took in two associates, A.E. Mitchell and Karl Steinmetz.
Although Grimm enjoyed the practice of law, his native ambition drove him to run for Chancellor in the Republican Primary in 1918. It was a hotly contested race against Hugh M. Tate. Before Election Day, March 21, the local papers were replete with political advertisements, charges and counter-charges, recrimination and denial. Grimm’s advertisement in The Knoxville Journal and Tribune of Feb. 14, 1918, began thusly:
“The charge is being guardedly made that I was involved in serious trouble in my native state during the years gone by, and that I am now living under an assumed name in my adopted state, on that account. This charge is absolutely false. No financially responsible person has ever dared to assume responsibility for it, and will not dare to do so now.
“There is no mystery about my early life. I am not afraid to take you into my confidence with reference to it. I, too, was born under the Stars and Stripes, beneath the folds of the American flag, though in the State of Pennsylvania. Political schemers, by thus trying to arouse prejudice against me on that account are placing a low estimate on your intelligence and political integrity.”
He ended the ad with these words: “My appeal is for a higher political standard, and for your attentive, watchful, calm and resolute co-operation and support.”
There is no evidence that his opponent used “dirty tricks” but third-party campaigners, no doubt, cited Grimm’s German ancestry. If they look back three to four generations, up to 60% of Americans have German ancestry; but this was 1918 and the “War to End All Wars” (World War I) had just ended. Moreso, he was from the North and divided East Tennessee had not sorted out the emotions that followed the Civil War, which had ended only 50 years earlier.
When election results were announced, Tate had 2,839 votes and Grimm 1,676. Grimm had lost his first election, although he was heavily supported in Smithwood (53 to 10) and in Fountain City (62 to 28). The Republican Party swept the Knox County races in the August 1 general election. Hugh Tate garnered 4,485 votes to 2,299 for Democrat Charles Hays Brown. He would later be appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission and move to Washington where he resided the rest of his life.
In 1924, A.C. Grimm was elected circuit judge to fill out an unexpired term. He won the Republican nomination in 1926 and was re-elected for an eight-year term. He served for an entire decade (1924-1934) but eventually lost to Hamilton S. Burnett, who later became an associate justice of the Tennessee State Supreme Court and was eventually elevated to chief justice.
Judge Grimm’s service on the Circuit Court bench won him a reputation as the taxpayer’s friend. At times he would sharply remind attorneys that he would not tolerate delaying tactics in his court. He reminded them that the courts were sustained by the taxpayers and that a waste of time was a waste of money. If he felt he could not speak out when a trial dragged, he would leave the bench and pace the floor of the courtroom, seeking release of his tension through physical activity.
After leaving the bench, Grimm formed a partnership with Hugh A. Tapp. Later Richard Carson was added to the firm. An early associate in practice, A.E. Mitchell, said of him, “As a lawyer Judge Grimm ‘was a bulldog’ in behalf of his clients … (and) a man whose religion was his loyalty to his client. There never was a man with more integrity to his client.”
After 46 years of marriage, the bonds were broken when Jessie Gault Grimm passed away on Aug. 22, 1943, having celebrated her 71st birthday on Aug. 12. She had been ill for a year but her condition became serious only two months previous to her death. Mrs. Grimm had been a member of Second Presbyterian Church, an active member of the Bonny Kate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a past-president of the board of directors of Mount Rest Home. Her two children, Albert C. Grimm Jr. (1901-1963) and Mrs. Lynn A. (Elizabeth) Sisk (1897-1986), survived her. The surviving grandchildren were Gilbert Grimm, Mrs. Tom O. Kesterson and Mrs. J.H. Wright.
Soon after the death of her husband, Lynn A. Sisk, sales manager of Mahan-Kerr Motor Co., local Ford dealer; Elizabeth Grimm Sisk made her home with her father. Elizabeth Sisk kept a stable of show horses there and was known all over the Southeast as an expert horsewoman and columnist. For over 25 years, she covered major horse shows for Saddle and Bridle Magazine, a national publication with a large circulation.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel printed a story on the occasion of Judge Grimm’s 83rd birthday on Dec. 30, 1951. It included this tribute, “On week days the senior partner still shows up at Grimm, Tapp and Carson at 8 a.m. punctually. He has been closing shop a little early in recent years, about 3 p.m. Since his birthday happened to fall on Sunday, he is celebrating at his Beverly home where he’s spent the last 50 of his 83 years. Only a little family dinner was planned, with some old friends dropping in during the day with well-wishes. Despite serious illnesses not long ago, Judge Grimm is feeling his best in years.”
During 1953, the Judge was hospitalized for a series of operations but had returned to the office until a few months before his death on Feb. 2, 1954, at St. Mary’s Hospital in his 85th year. Although he was no “joiner” in general, the Judge was a Presbyterian, a Mason and a member of the county and state bar associations. After services at Gentry Chapel, he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery near his home.
(Author’s Note: The author wishes to express his appreciation to Jamie S. Rowe and Gladys Dial Kirchner for assistance with this essay.)
Jim Tumblin, retired optometrist and active historian, writes a monthly series called “Fountain City: Places That Made a Difference” for KnoxTNToday.com.