Wednesday, September 16, 2015

History of the George Washington Pridemore House, Middlesboro, Kentucky

George Washington Pridemore House in Middlesboro, Kentucky.
Prior to a house being constructed on this lot the entire block it was located on underwent an interesting series of transfers that reflect the unique development history of Middlesboro. The Middlesborough Town Company originally held title to all properties in town. The entire management resigned under pressure from shareholders in October 1891. The company was reorganized in November that year as the Middlesborough Town & Lands Company.  The earliest transfer of the property later to have a house built on it was November 23, 1893, between the Middlesboro Town Lands Company and the Middlesboro Town & Land Company (Liber 29, Page 244). The price paid for the transfer between related entities was one dollar. Later the entire block No. 306 in the northeast section was sold by William Thomas Exhorn Fasbury and Frank Morris Crisp, from London, England, and Trustees of the Middlesboro Town & Land Company, to the Kentucky Investment Company on June 20, 1905 (Liber 49, Page 345). The land was sold for $400 in cash payable in six installments over the next 18 months.

The block was sold to J.T. Smith on February 2, 1906 (Liber 55, Page 64). J.T. Smith was listed in the 1912 City Directory as a “farmer” and had his house on the northwest corner of the block at 416 North 25th Street (no longer extant).    On July 10, 1923, lots 5, 6, 18, 19 and the south 50 feet of lot 17 and the north 50 feet of lot 7 were sold by J.T. & Maggie Smith to George Washington & Ida Mae Pridemore (Liber 87, Page 47).

George Washington Pridemore, Owner, 1923-1936
The Pridemore family name is a familiar one in Appalachia. Members of the Pridmore family (as it was spelled then) immigrated from England to New Jersey. The Colonial forebear of the family, John Pridmore (1650-1706), was born in All Hallows Barking Parish, London, England in 1650. Pridmore immigrated to the Province of New Jersey and lived in Piscatway until his death in 1706. Descendants stayed in New Jersey scarcely a generation more before setting out. Theodore Pridemore, grandson of John Pridmore, served in the Revolutionary War.  Following the war Pridemore settled in Lee County where he lived for several decades more. Near the end of his life Theodore Pridemore relocated to Martin County, Indiana, where he lived from 1831 until his death in 1839.

Of the members of his family that remained in Lee County, Theodore Pridemore’s son Jonathan Pridemore (1793-1843) lived his entire life in Lee County. Apparently Jonathan and his wife Charlotte Fairbanks were patriotic Americans, for they named all of their children after U.S. Presidents: William Harrison Pridemore (1820-1870), Thomas Jefferson Pridemore (1821-1880), Andrew Jackson Pridemore (1822-1908), James Madison Pridemore (1827-1920), and George Washington Pridemore (1833-1923). The tradition continued among their descendants too. Thomas Jefferson, Jr. (1853-1892), the son of Thomas Jefferson, Sr. (1821-1880), was born in Lee County, Virginia on January 4, 1853. Later he would make his way to Laurel, Kentucky where he died in June 1892. Among the children of Thomas Jefferson, Jr. (1853-1892), was George Washington Pridemore (1877-1969).

George Washington Pridemore (1877-1969) who later built the house that carried his name was born February 23, 1877 in Laurel County, Kentucky. The U.S. Census shows Pridemore residing in Corbin, Kentucky, in both the 1910 and 1920 U.S. Census.

Establishment of railroad lines was a key component in plans for industrial development in the Yellow Creek Valley. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad reportedly planned to run a rail line to the Cumberland Gap as far back as 1872.  Middlesborough founder Alexander Arthur had secured a commitment in 1877 from the Watts Steel and Iron Syndicate, Ltd. of England to build two blast furnaces. This was used as an incentive to have the Louisville & Nashville Railroad to turn their tracks towards Middlesboro.  By 1882 L&N had reached London, and the following year extended to Jellico, Tennessee. The hope was to reach Pineville by early 1888.  Around the same time the Knoxville, Cumberland Gap & Louisville Railroad was working to connect Knoxville to Middlesborough. A tunnel was cut through the Cumberland Mountain on August 8, 1889. The first train connecting Middlesborough with Knoxville came through on August 22 that year.

George Washington Pridemore became an employee of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad as a locomotive engineer. His World War I Draft Registration Card from September 1918 noted his permanent home address as Corbin, Kentucky, though his registration card was recorded in Bell County. This most likely reflected the fact that while he resided in Corbin in Knox County that his primary place of employment was in Bell County. As a locomotive engineer he most likely covered the route between Corbin and Middlesboro.

Work was not the only reason that Pridemore visited Middlesboro. An article in Thousandsticks from August 24, 1911, recounted how: “Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Pridemore, of Corbin, are here visiting Mrs. Pridemore’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Archie Wolfe.”  The 1912 City Directory shows Archibald Wolfe, a farmer, living with his wife Louisa at 221 N 10th Street in Middlesboro.

The appeal of living in Middlesboro was so great that by 1923 George Washington Pridemore bought property here. Pridemore purchased several lots on this Block on July 10, 1923 (Liber 87, Page 47). On November 10, 1923, G.W. Pridemore and his wife deeded a portion of land on the south side of lot #5 to be used as a driveway. The deed read that the grantee Carl Harris agreed to the following:
“Agreed to construct a driveway of concrete about nine feet wide from the East line of 25th Street that will serve the garages of all parties hereto, the distance being about seventy-five feet… Party of the second part will pay all expenses of construction and one-half of maintenance and upkeep” (Liber 88, Page 81).

The Pridemore’s continued to own property here for around thirteen years. In the 1926 City Directory, George Washington Pridemore was listed as an “Engineer” with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad with his home at 406 North 25th Street.   The 1930 U.S. Census showed George W. Pridemore, then aged 52, living with his wife Ida, and their daughter Mildred living in Middlesboro.

Apparently Pridemore had a commitment to keeping his still relatively new home in good repair. The front page of The Middlesboro Daily News on May 29, 1933, had the following report: “George Pridemore is painting the exterior woodwork of his house on north Twenty-fifth street.” 

At some point Pridemore’s profession changed. The 1934 City Directory listed George Pridemore as an insurance agent.  He would continue in that role for just a few years more. On April 27, 1936, The Middlesboro Daily News reported that “Mrs. Dora Buchanan and daughter, Jess, are taking the Pridemore home on Twenty-fifth street.”  Soon thereafter Pridemore and his wife sold the property to Oppie B. and Edward Lee Johnson for $4,000. In the title conveying the property, the following section indicated that improvements had been made in the form of a house:
“Parties of the second part covenant and agree that they will keep the improvements on said premises insured against loss by fire or tornado in some good and solvent insurance company at all times while any of said indebtedness remains unpaid.”

The Pridemore’s retired to their house in Dunedin, Florida, though they frequently visited Middlesboro. On September 16, 1942, The Middlesboro Daily News noted a visit of theirs: “Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Pridemore of Dunedin, Fla., are spending several weeks in this city. They have taken an apartment in the R.E. Howard home on Englewood Road.” Howard was a ticket clerk and operator with the L&N Railroad and had his home at 303 Englewood Road. This shows that Pridemore maintained a connection with the railroad and former co-workers even after he retired. Ida May Pridemore died in 1964 and her passing was reported on the front page of The Middlesboro Daily News. Her husband passed a few years later in September 1969. Both were buried in an above ground mausoleum in Dunedin, Florida.

Relatives of George Washington Pridemore featured prominently in one of the most notorious and nationally commented on episodes in the history of the Yellow Creek Valley. George Washington Pridemore’s father Thomas Jefferson Pridemore, Jr. (1853-1892) was a brother of James J. Pridemore (1842-1920). James’ children Charles C. Pridemore and Adelia Pridemore, both cousins of George Washington Pridemore, were principal figures in the Quarter House Battle of 1902.

Mingo Hollow where the Quarter House Battle was famously held in 1902.
While there are other accounts of the Quarter House Battle, such as that by historian Ann Matheny in her book The Magic City, we choose to focus on the unique role of the Pridemore family with the Quarter House. The Quarter House was a saloon built on the state line between Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1890s. It was located about three and a half miles southwest of Middlesboro in Mingo Hollow and accessible only by railroad. The Quarter House itself was a two-story building made out of heavy railroad timbers and surrounded by a log stockade with portholes usable for defense. Inside a white line was painted down the center of the floor of the main room so patrons could evade authorities. An on-premises distillery, rooms upstairs for women of ill repute, and staged entertainment – turkey matches, cock fights, even fights between a bulldog and wildcat – gave the Quarter House a deservedly wild reputation. Over a period of ten years nearly 50 people lost their lives and another 100 were injured.

Charles Pridemore, a cousin of George Washington Pridemore, first entered the story in October 1898. He got in to a fight with Will Combs who ran the restaurant at the Quarterhouse. When Will Turner tried to break up the fight he was shot. Later it was reported that Combs and Pridemore had been quarrelling all evening, and that the quarrel was a ruse for the premediated murder of Will.  Combs attempted to make an escape, though the paper reported that “Combs took to the mountains, but as he is a one-legged man, it is not believed he can get far.” Combs was captured and taken to Tennessee (because Will had been killed on that side of the saloon) and sentenced to five years in prison.

The troubles continued for Charles Pridemore. On November 1, 1899, there was a clash between Ball and Turner factions. The Balls who were Democrats, were campaigning on behalf of Taylor, a Republican, for Kentucky Governor. Charles Pridemore, then a Turner follower and supporter of the Democratic candidate William Goebel, met and began shooting at C.D. Ball. The Middlesboro Daily News reported “Their friends assembled and surrounded them. A long range street fight took place in which 50 shots were exchanged. No one was hit.”  Charles Pridemore would not live long thereafter. The Middlesboro Daily News reported “Charles Pridemore, aged 23, was instantly killed last night in a general row at the “Quarter House” blind tiger saloon, where a score of men have died with their boots on.” Mike Welsch, a “mountain desperado” was accused in his killing.

Matters at the Quarter House went from bad to worse for Lee Turner. The initial boom period that had built up Middlesboro and the Yellow Creek Valley had ended and the local economy was struggling. The Quarter House meanwhile drained away many customers from the saloons in Middlesboro, many of which were run by the Balls who were allied with their cousins the Colsons. There was a land dispute between Lee Turner and Gil Colson who claimed title to land on where the Quarter House was built. Courts in Tennessee found in favor of the Turners while courts in Bell County, Kentucky, found in favor of Colson. When Gil Colson required Turner to pay rent, Lee declined. The next time Lee sent his wagon and mules into town to pick up a load of whiskey that had arrived at the train station, his wagon, mules, and whiskey were confiscated for rent. Turner and a colleague Boone McCurry reclaimed the property. Colson countered by getting a warrant for the arrest of Turner who had stolen his mules and wagon.

Judge M.J. Moss ordered the arrest of Lee Turner. A posse was formed on February 12, 1902. They attempted to reach the Quarter House by railroad though the engineer and conductor refused. Instead the posse hiked nearly three and a half miles up the hill while railroad cars stood still. After the posse surrounded the Quarterhouse, Charles Cecil banged on the Kentucky side of the building asking for Lee Turner to come out. A shot rang from the upper floor and the bullet entered Cecil’s should and went through his body. The posse attempted to rescue Cecil though he died shortly after from his wounds. As darkness approached the Quarter House caught fire. Women inside were allowed to escape though several men were shot. John Doyle, a law enforcement officer, was shot in the bowels and died a day or two later.

E.E. Cowden, then a train dispatcher recounted an incident just after the fight started. A conductor called Cowden for instructions what to do with a train car stopped on the tracks due to gunfire ahead. Cowden told him this was beyond the jurisdiction of a dispatcher to advise. Ultimately it was decided that everyone should lay on their bellies in the car and the conductor use the hand brake to allow the train to run at a slow speed past the firefight and down the grade of the mountain.  

Following the fight a reward was made on the capture of Lee Turner. He had avoided the Quarter House Battle because he was in LaFollette answering another legal charge. Lee Turner was apprehended by his cousin, John “Popeye” Turner, though the two exchanged gunfire resulting in the death of Popeye. Later he reported to LaFollette and gave himself up to the Tennessee marshal.  Lee was arrested for the killing though became acquitted on a plea of self-defense.  Around that time he also transferred the claim on his property to the American Association.

Lee was later arrested in June of 1903 for his role in the killing of Charles Cecil and John Doyle during the Quarter House battle, and also indicted for complicity in the murder of Charlie Pridemore. During the ten months he was in the Bell County jail he was visited by a young lady friend who looked after him. Turner determined that he’d win her hand when he secured his liberty, which pledge he faithfully kept.  The Barbourville Advocate reported “They were happily united in marriage, and he today asserts that she to him is an angel on earth, and has been instrumental in making a man of him.”

Eventually Turner’s case was dropped in April 1904. September of that year he opened a new saloon called “The Stag” that was located on the south side of Cumberland Ave between 19th and 20th Streets. Around 1912, Lee, his wife Adelia, and son John R. were shown living and working at 220 Lothbury Ave.  Lee Turner lived on until 1939, though due to mental problems he ended up dying in a mental institution, leaving behind his wife Adelia Pridemore and one son John R. Turner.

As a postlude to several of those involved in the Quarter House Battle, E.E. Cowden, the dispatcher lived at 611 North 25th Street as of the 1912 City Directory. Sallie Pridemore, sister of Adelia Pridemore who later married Lee Turner, lived with her mother Minerva Pridemore at 608 North 25th Street in 1912.  E.E. Cowden in remembering his role in the Quarter House Battle many years later recalled how Lee Turner “was my nearest neighbor on North 25th, last two houses, me in the Chumley brick and Lee across on the 25th.”  In 1923 the George Washington Pridemore House was built one block to the south of the Cowden’s and Turner’s at 406 North 25th Street thus making North 25th Street an important location in the understanding of the Quarter House saloon and the only surviving structure of those associated with this notorious chapter in Middlesboro’s history.

Edward Johnson, Owner, 1936-1946
Edward Johnson was named Deputy Collector in 1923.  The 1926 City Directory listed Edward Johnson as the general manager of the Climax Coal Company. He was living along with his wife Oppie at 2931 Cumberland Ave.   An advertisement in the October 7, 1927 issue of the Middlesboro Daily News announced the opening of the “E.L. Johnson Coal Yard.”  The advertisement text read “A coal yard at 21st Street and carry a high grade coal, low in ash. Sold by the ton of 2000 pounds.” The timing of Johnson opening an independent operation was perhaps fortuitous because the Climax Coal Company declared bankruptcy in August 1929.

Johnson became increasingly active in public life of this area. Edward L. Johnson campaigned  for County Court Clerk on the Independent ticket in 1929.  A change in administrations occurred between retiring Mayor Joe Hollingsworth and new Mayor Ike Ginsburg on January 1, 1934. Hollingsworth was elected City Clerk at a salary of $135 per month, and Edward Lee Johnson was named as deputy clerk, with no salary. Johnson was tasked with keeping an account of the proceedings. A writer of The Middlesboro Daily News the next day referred to the past administration as “characterized throughout by stupidity, greed, and plunder.” 

Edward and Oppie Johnson were living at 609 ½ Gloucester Ave by the time of the 1934 City Directory.   Just over a year later on March 28, 1935, Edward Johnson is identified as City Collector in an article describing efforts to collect past due taxes and fees for business licenses on behalf of the City.  After acquiring the Pridemore House on September 15, 1936, the Johnson’s immediately set out to make improvements. An issue of The Middlesboro Daily News from September 25, 1936, announced: “Mr. and Mrs. E.L. Johnson are having the G.W. Pridemore home on North Twenty-fifth street, which they recently purchased, remodeled.” 

In October 1936, when the T.V.A. was considering extending electric service to Middlesboro, Johnson was among those involved in the negotiations in his capacity as City Clerk/Collector, and tried to influence his fellow citizens through the Citizens Committee for T.V.A.

Ad for 406 North 25th from September 19, 1940. Middlesboro Daily News.
Renovations took an extended period of time. It was not until November 17, 1936, that the Johnson’s moved in to their newly remodeled home.  The Johnson’s apparently were in need of additional revenue for in the September 19, 1940 Middlesboro Daily News they advertised a “Comfortable bedroom with sun parlor, shower bath, garage. Mrs. Edward L. Johnson, Ph., 96.” A similar ad was published the February 22, 1941 issue of the Middlesboro Daily News was an advertisement for a “Furnished Room with Sun Parlor, Shower, and Garage, 406 N. 25th. Ph. 96, Mrs. E.L. Johnson.”

After a long illness Edward Lee Johnson died May 14, 1944. A funeral was held in the house on North 25th Street two days later.  Johnson was buried at the Middlesboro Cemetery.  Following Johnson’s death, his daughter Francis J. Johnson received an undivided half interest in the property.  She promptly transferred her interest in the property to her mother Oppie B. Johnson for $1 on June 5, 1944. She sold the property to Ellen G. Woodson and Dr. E.D. Woodson on May 29, 1946 for $12,500. Oppie Johnson died on May 4, 1966 in Knoxville.

World War I draft card of Edwin Dupey Woodson.

Edwin Dupey Woodson, Owner, 1946-1971
Edwin Dupey Woodson was born September 2, 1888 in Lincoln County, Kentucky. He married his first wife Ellen Farra Gregory on October 12, 1910. On June 5, 1917, Woodson enlisted in the Army. He was living and working in Pineville at the time as a jeweler optician and already was married with two small children. Upon returning from the war, Edwin Woodson became an Optometrist in Middlesboro. His office was at 1924 Cumberland Ave. According to the 1934-35 Middlesboro City Directory, Edwin and his wife Ellen resided on North 20th Street.   The Woodson’s were living on Arthur Heights by the time of the 1940 U.S. Census. In addition to Edwin and his wife Ellen, also living with them were James, Julia, and Ellen Woodson.

Ellen Farra Woodson who was married
in the Pridemore House.
The Woodson’s acquired the Pridemore House at 406 North 25th Street for $12,500 on May 29, 1946. An important event occurred at the Woodson house on October 20, 1950. That evening at 8pm, Ellen Farra Woodson married Thomas Edward Shipley. A portrait of Woodson in her bridal dress and a full description of the ceremony ran in The Middlesboro Daily News  several months later on December 16, 1950.

Edwin’s wife Ellen passed away April 29, 1969 at the Middlesboro Hospital and Clinic after a brief illness.  She was subsequently buried in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Washington County, Kentucky. Sometime between April 1969 and March 1971, Edwin married Jane C. Woodson. 

The house was sold on March 24, 1971 to Jack Lee Blackard and Opal Fox Blackard. Later that year Edwin’s mother Anna died at the age of 103 on September 8, 1971. She was subsequently buried in Middlesboro. Jane C. Woodson died some time prior to August 1975. Edwin Woodson became executor of her estate.  He passed away Monday, April 12, 1976, at the Middlesboro Community Hospital following an illness that lasted several months. He was 88 years of age.

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