This & That
Natural Resources of Johnson County
By Jack SwiftA study of the history of Johnson County reveals that it has been a very productive county from the viewpoint of its vast natural resources: timber, iron, manganese, rich soil, streams of rippling water just to name a few. These natural resources at one time or another have been a part of the county’s economy.
In the early 1900s, cutting, hauling and processing timber was king in Johnson County as companies took advantage of the vast acreage of virgin timber that existed on the mountains and hills of the county. In our last Johnson County Historical Society meeting, Retired educator Herman Tester spoke on the timber industry and railroads in this aria. Herman and his wife Nancy are natives of Johnson County. They live in the Sulfur Springs area of Washington County, Tennessee.
In his interesting talk he mentioned that the railroad coming to Johnson County greatly improved the county’s economy by providing a way to get the timber to distant destinations. Moreover, he noted that after the railroad came, narrow gauge railroads were wisely built off the main line into the mountains, enabling more efficient transportation of the logs to the main tracks and on to lumber mills.
Since there is no iron or manganese mining in Johnson County today, we might forget that there was extensive mining of both metals here. Extensive iron works already existed here when Johnson County was carved from Carter County in 1836. A good deal of iron was mined and forged after that as well. To a lesser extent manganese was also discovered and mined in the mid 1900s. I recently ran across a newspaper clipping from the Johnson County News-Bulletin that had the headline, “Manganese Operations to Increase in County. The clipping was dated January 28, 1954. The opening sentence read, “Manganese fever is gripping the county.”
Of course the rich soil of Johnson County has been farmed for many years. Some of the cash crops that local farmers have grown are green beans, tobacco, corn, wheat, hay and others. At one time of all those, green beans were the most important. Johnson County, once called the “Green Bean Capital of the World,” had three bean markets and many acres of beans were grown which was a boon to the county’s economy. The Johnson County Bean Festival was an annual event for several years. Among its agenda were a horse show, a queen contest, a carnival, a county fair, a parade and many other exciting events.
The streams in Johnson County are now only used for fishing and recreation, but in the early years of Johnson County they were important as a source of power to grind grain, saw wood into lumber, and run other machinery as well. Elijah Dougherty had a number of operations going by harnessing Mill Creek for a number of industrial operations. I can remember when there were several water- powered mills in the county that ground corn and other grain for farmers. The miller took a certain amount of the grain for a toll. I remember as a child going to the mill with my father and I was always amazed at the loud noise and the many pulleys and belts that were a part of the machinery.
Today, farming I venture to say is the main cash operation that depends on the soil as a natural resource. I know of no mining for ore that is being done at the present but timber cutting and processing are still a part of the county’s economic base.