Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Brief History of Greenback, TN

History of Greenback

(excerpts from an article by Linda Albert, appearing in The Daily Times, February 19, 2000)

In 1870, Loudon County was created from parts of Blount, Monroe, and Roane Counties. The Blount faction included the area now called Greenback and the old port town of Morganton. As the railroad progressed through Loudon County, the river city of Morganton began its decline as shipping was done by rail rather than by boat. Once a thriving community of more than 1,000 residents, Morganton had been a lively trade center due to steamboat traffic on the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers. Merchants from Maryville and other towns came to Morganton to buy goods brought in by boat and the main thoroughfare from Maryville to Morganton still bears the name, Morganton Road, one of few present day reminders of the prosperous town of the 1800s. The town itself now lies buried under the waters of Tellico Lake, its only remaining landmark the cemetery near the Baker's Creek boat ramp where Morganton Road abruptly ends.

While the coming of the railroad in 1890 signaled the fall of Morganton, it brought about the birth of Greenback as people began to settle along the railroad on land formerly owned by the Thompson and Hall families.

How Greenback Came to be "Greenback"

The first store in the Greenback area was established by Lorenzo W. "Renze" Thompson in 1876, known as Thompson's Stand. According to Greenback historian, the late Edwin Jones Best Sr., in the book, "A Place Called Greenback," Thompson's Stand "was quite a convenience for people at the eastern edge of Loudon County and their neighbors just over the line in Blount County. Except for Ellison Scott's blacksmith shop, which stood by the store, there was no other establishment or institution to bring people to Thompson's Stand. There still was no mill, no church, and no school. More importantly, there was no post office." Thompson sought to remedy that lack in 1882 and made application to have a post office at the Stand, with himself as postmaster. The first name he submitted, Thompson Station, was rejected, so his second choice, Pine Grove, was submitted. It, too, was rejected, as were Baker's Creek and Allegheny Station.

The name the postal department finally accepted, Greenback, came from the Greenback Labor Party, which advocated cheap (paper) money and labor reform. Local man Jonathan Tipton, a member of the Greenback party and a candidate for the Tennessee General Assembly on the Greenback ticket in 1882, was the inspiration for the name. On February 6, 1883, the Greenback Post Office was established. Lorenzo W. Thompson was named the first postmaster.

Coming of the Railroad

Toward the end of 1889, a new railroad coming from Knoxville fueled a growth spurt for the emerging town. According to historian Best, "things were beginning to bustle down the Morganton Road at a point where the railroad was expected to intersect it. The Swanay brothers built a little store near the intersection. Joe Scott, a son of the Greenback blacksmith of earlier days, started a produce business in a little building he put up in the emerging new town." Lorenzo Thompson, who by this time had sold his ownership in the Stand, moved the post office into the Swanay Brothers Store and named Albert m. Swanay as assistant postmaster. Thus, the future town of Greenback was born.

The first passenger train service began July 4, 1890, and Greenback began to grow. By the end of 1891, R. L. Polk's "Tennessee State Gazetteer and Business Director" listed several establishments in Greenback: J.P. Ellis, physician; William Kerr, grist mill; William Ridings, blacksmith; James Simerly, shoemaker; J. Stevens, blacksmith; and G.W. and J.S. Swanay, general store.

By 1898, Greenback had three store, one white and one black baseball team, a barbershop, a one-room school, a blacksmith, a corn mill, a livery stable, and its only hotel, the Alleghany Hotel. The Alleghany hotel was used by traveling salesmen and by people who came to Greenback by train and then took buggies or hacks from the livery stable to Alleghany springs Hotel, a "watering place" and summer resort located at the nearby yellow Sulphur Spring. Here, the cream of society would come to take advantage of the medicinal properties of the iron, sulphur, and freestone water that the luxurious Alleghany Springs had to offer. The Alleghany Hotel remained in Greenback until being torn down in 1947.

Greenback's Progress in the 1900s

In 1907, a second railroad line was completed, and the L&N Depot opened February 23, 1914. The Bank of Greenback opened for business in 1912, but like many other banks, it closed march 20, 1931, during the Great Depression. Merchants and Farmers Bank opened a few months later. Several of the two-story, wooden buildings in the town were destroyed by fire in 1917, but were rebuilt. Another fire in 1923 burned several businesses, including the Greenback Motor Company, and a third large fire in 1929 burned the Greenback Flour Mill. By 1920, Greenback had two telephone companies. An operator connected the caller with the person he or she wished to speak to, and since everyone was on a party line, some people listened in for entertainment. Electricity was brought to the town in January 1929.

Greenback was incorporated in 1957 and Glenn McTeer was the first mayor. Things have changed quite a bit in Greenback since then, but the pioneer spirit of its people remains intact. The pride in the community, both past and present, is best evidenced by the community center that was opened in 1978. The townspeople, with no outside help, no federal grants, built the center themselves over the space of two years. It now houses the Greenback Library, City Hall, and recreation facilities for all ages.

Greenback Today

According to the 1990 census, the town of Greenback is home to 630 residents, but mayor Tom Peeler expects that number in the 2000 census to rise closer to 1,000 people. The town has access to most major utilities and services -- including water and sewer, natural gas, electric utilities, garbage pickup, telephone, and cable television -- although all are through outside providers and not the City of Greenback. The town is proud to be one of only a few cities that operates without any property tax revenues, deriving income solely from state and federal sources. Greenback has a volunteer fire department that operates on annual subscription fees and lots of help from the volunteers. Emergency and Rescue Squad services are also available in Greenback. The town today is home to several businesses, including a drug store, bank, farmer's coop, convenience marts, veterinarian, dentist, children's consignment store, mom and pop restaurants, barber shops, WYKO Industries, and Pyron Metals. A K-12 school (Greenback Public School), several churches, the community center, library, and post office round out the town's directory.

What to do in Greenback

If it's bustling city life you're after, it's probably best to just stop at the one flashing red light in Greenback and keep moving toward Maryville or Knoxville. But if the quieter, friendlier life of a small, rural community appeals to you, Greenback's hard to beat. Much of the recent growth in the community has been retirees taking advantage of our climate, beautiful mountain scenery, and low taxes and cost of living. If it's outdoor recreation you're after, the East Tennessee area has it all: hiking, rock climbing, fishing, boating, caving, mountain biking, hunting, whitewater paddling. With mountains and lakes in every direction, the views and outdoor activities are unlimited.