Johnson City, Tennessee

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Johnson City, Tennessee
Downtown Johnson City
Downtown Johnson City
Location of Johnson City in Tennessee
Location of Johnson City in Tennessee
Coordinates: 36°20′N 82°22′WCoordinates: 36°20′N 82°22′W
Country United States
State Tennessee
Counties Washington, Carter, Sullivan
Founded 1856
Incorporated 1869[2]
Founded by Henry Johnson
 • Type Council-manager government
 • Mayor Clayton Stout
 • City Manager M. Denis "Pete" Peterson
 • City 43.3 sq mi (112.1 km2)
 • Land 42.9 sq mi (111.2 km2)
 • Water 0.3 sq mi (0.8 km2)
Elevation 1,634 ft (498 m)
Population (2015 est.)
 • City 66,027[1]
 • Density 1,534/sq mi (592.3/km2)
 • Metro 198,716[3]
 • CSA 508,260 (88th)[3]
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 37601-37604, 37614, 37615 & 37684
Area code(s) 423
FIPS code 47-38320[4]
GNIS feature ID 1328579[5]

Johnson City is a city in Washington, Carter, and Sullivan counties in the U.S. state of Tennessee, with most of the city being in Washington County. As of the 2010 census, the population of Johnson City was 63,152,[6] and by 2015 the estimated population was 66,027, making it the ninth-largest city in the state.[1]

Johnson City is ranked the #14 "Best Small Place for Business and Careers" in the USA by Forbes,[7] and #5 in Kiplinger's list of "The 10 Least-Expensive Cities For Living in the U.S.A." stating the low cost of living is attributed to affordable homes and below-average utility, transportation and health-care costs.[8]

Johnson City is the principal city of the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area, which covers Carter, Unicoi, and Washington counties[9] and had a combined population of 200,966[10] as of 2013. The MSA is also a component of the Johnson City–KingsportBristol, TN-VA Combined Statistical Area – commonly known as the "Tri-Cities" region. This CSA is the fifth largest in Tennessee with an estimated 500,538 people in residence.[11]


William Bean, traditionally recognized as Tennessee's first settler, built his cabin along Boone's Creek near Johnson City in 1769.[12]

In the 1780s, Colonel John Tipton (1730–1813) established a farm (now the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site) just outside what is now Johnson City. During the State of Franklin movement, Tipton was a leader of the loyalist faction, residents of the region who wanted to remain part of North Carolina rather than form a separate state. In February 1788, an armed engagement took place at Tipton's farm between Tipton and his men and the forces led by John Sevier, the leader of the Franklin faction.[13]

Founded in 1856 by Henry Johnson as a railroad station called "Johnson's Depot", Johnson City became a major rail hub for the Southeast, as three railway lines crossed in the downtown area.[14] In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Johnson City served as headquarters for the narrow gauge East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (the ET&WNC, nicknamed "Tweetsie") and the standard gauge Clinchfield Railroad. Both rail systems featured excursion trips through scenic portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains and were engineering marvels of railway construction. The Southern Railway (now Norfolk Southern) also passes through the city.

During the American Civil War, before it was formally incorporated in 1869, the name of the town was briefly changed to "Haynesville" in honor of Confederate Senator Landon Carter Haynes.[15] Henry Johnson's name was quickly restored following the war, with Johnson elected as the city's first mayor on January 3, 1870. The town grew rapidly from 1870 until 1890 as railroad and mining interests flourished. However, the national depression of 1893, which caused many railway failures (including the Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad or "3-Cs", a predecessor of the Clinchfield) and a resulting financial panic, halted Johnson City's boom town momentum.[16]

In 1901, the Mountain Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center and National Cemetery), Mountain Home, Tennessee[17][18] was created by an act of Congress introduced by Walter P. Brownlow. Construction on this 450-acre (1.8 km2) campus, designed to serve disabled Civil War veterans, was completed in 1903 at a cost of $3 million. Prior to completion of the facility, the assessed value of the entire town was listed at $750,000. The East Tennessee State Normal School was authorized in 1911 and the new college campus located directly across from the National Soldiers Home. Johnson City began rapidly growing and became the fifth-largest city in Tennessee by 1930.[19]

Together with neighboring Bristol, Johnson City was noted as a hotbed for old-time music; it hosted noteworthy Columbia Records recording sessions in 1928 known as the Johnson City Sessions. Native son "Fiddlin' Charlie" Bowman became a national recording star via these sessions.[20] The Fountain Square area in downtown featured a host of local and traveling street entertainers including Blind Lemon Jefferson.

During the 1920s and the Prohibition era, Johnson City's ties to the bootlegging activity of the Appalachian Mountains earned the city the nickname of "Little Chicago".[21] Stories persist that the town was one of several distribution centers for Chicago gang boss Al Capone during Prohibition. Capone had a well-organized distribution network within the southern United States for alcohol smuggling; it shipped his products from the mountain distillers to northern cities. Capone was, according to local lore, a part-time resident of Montrose Court, a luxury apartment complex now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city is featured in a song and video by Travis Tritt called "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde", although the line "rollin' north on 95" is fictionalized, as Interstate 81 and Interstate 26 intersect near Johnson City. The city is mentioned in a song by Old Crow Medicine Show called "Wagon Wheel", in the lyric "Walkin' to the south out of Roanoke, I caught a trucker out of Philly had a nice long toke. But he's heading west from the Cumberland Gap, to Johnson City, Tennessee."[22] Johnson City is approximately 100 miles east of Cumberland Gap.

For many years, the city had a municipal "privilege tax" on carnival shows, in an attempt to dissuade traveling circuses and other transient entertainment businesses from doing business in town.[23] The use of drums by merchants to draw attention to their goods is prohibited. Title Six, Section 106 of the city's municipal code, the so-called "Barney Fife" ordinance, empowers the city's police force to draft into involuntary service as many of the town's citizens as necessary to aid police in making arrests and in preventing or quelling any riot, unlawful assembly or breach of peace.[24]


Johnson City is run by a five-person commission. The commissioners are as follows:[25]

  • Mayor: Clayton Stout
  • Vice Mayor: David Tomita
  • Commissioner: Jeff Banyas
  • Commissioner: Jenny Brock
  • Commissioner: Dr. Ralph Van Brocklin

M. Denis "Pete" Peterson is the current city manager.[26]

The city is served by the Johnson City Police Department.


View of midtown Johnson City

Johnson City is located in northeastern Washington County at 36°20′N 82°22′W (36.3354, -82.3728),[27] with smaller parts extending north into Sullivan County and east into Carter County. Johnson City shares a contiguous southeastern border with Elizabethton. Johnson City also shares a small contiguous border with Kingsport to the far north along I-26 and a slightly longer one with Bluff City to the northeast along US 11E.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 43.3 square miles (112.1 km2), of which 42.9 square miles (111.2 km2) is land and 0.3 square miles (0.8 km2), or 0.75%, is water.[6]

The steep mountains, rolling hills and valleys surrounding the region are part of the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province, and Johnson City is just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Roan Mountain, with an elevation of over 6,000 feet (1,800 m), is approximately 20 miles (32 km) to the southeast of the city. Buffalo Mountain, a ridge over 2,700 feet (820 m) high, is the location of a city park on the south side of town. The Watauga River arm of Boone Lake, a TVA reservoir, is partly within the city limits.

The Nolichucky River flows 12 miles (19 km) to the south of Johnson City. Whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities exist 20 miles (32 km) south of Johnson City where that river flows from the North Carolina state line near Erwin.


  • Cherokee
  • Gray
  • Idlewilde
  • Keystone
  • McKinley
  • Melrose
  • Midway
  • Monterey Hills
  • Mountain Home
  • Piney Grove
  • Tree Streets
  • West Hills
  • Westover
  • Westover Hills
  • Westwood-Gray
  • Woodhill Addition
  • Woodstone


[hide]Climate data for Johnson City, Tennessee
Record high °F (°C) 78
Average high °F (°C) 45
Average low °F (°C) 25
Record low °F (°C) −21
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.42
Average snowfall inches (cm) 5.2
Average relative humidity (%) 59.0 71.5 69.0 67.0 69.5 73.0 75.0 76.5 76.5 74.0 68.5 69.5 74.0
Source #1: [28]
Source #2: [29]


Condominium development in North Johnson City
Historical population
1880 685  
1890 4,161   507.4%
1900 4,645   11.6%
1910 8,502   83.0%
1920 12,442   46.3%
1930 25,080   101.6%
1940 25,332   1.0%
1950 27,864   10.0%
1960 31,187   11.9%
1970 33,770   8.3%
1980 39,753   17.7%
1990 49,381   24.2%
2000 55,469   12.3%
2010 63,152   13.9%
Est. 2015 66,027 [30] 4.6%

As of the census[4] of 2000, there were 55,469 people, 23,720 households, and 14,018 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,412.4 people per square mile (545.4/km²). There were 25,730 housing units at an average density of 655.1 per square mile (253.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 90.09% White, 6.40% African American, 0.26% Native American, 1.22% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.69% from other races, and 1.32% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.89% of the population.

There were 23,720 households out of which 25.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.1% were married couples living together, 11.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.9% were non-families. 33.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.82.

In the city the population was spread out with 19.8% under the age of 18, 13.7% from 18 to 24, 28.1% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 91.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,835, and the median income for a family was $40,977. Males had a median income of $31,326 versus $22,150 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,364. About 11.4% of families and 15.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.9% of those under age 18 and 12.7% of those age 65 or over.


The transit center in downtown Johnson City

Johnson City is served by Tri-Cities Regional Airport (IATA Code TRI) and Johnson City Airport (0A4), located in Watauga.

Interstate highways

Johnson City is bisected by Interstate 26, which connects the city to Kingsport to the north and Asheville, North Carolina, and Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the south. Interstate 81 intersects I-26 a 16 miles (26 km) northwest of the city center and carries drivers to Knoxville to the southwest and Bristol to the northeast.

Major federal and state routes

  • U.S. Route 19W runs through the city, signed partially on I-26, before joining 19E near Bluff City en route to Bristol.
  • U.S. Route 11E connects Johnson City to Jonesborough and Greeneville to the southwest, and reunites with 11W to the northeast in Bristol before continuing on to Roanoke, Virginia. In Johnson City, route 11E forms a concurrency with North Roan Street, a major artery in the city.
  • U.S. Route 321, also partially located on the 11E route, connects Johnson City to Elizabethton (forming a high-speed, limited-access freeway) before continuing on to Hickory and Gastonia, North Carolina.
  • U.S. Route 23 is concurrent with I-26 from North Carolina, through Johnson City, and north to the I-26 terminus in Kingsport.

Public transport

Johnson City Transit (JCT) operates a system of buses inside the city limits, including a route every fifteen minutes along Roan Street. Main transit routes operate 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Saturdays. JCT also has an evening route that operates weeknights between 6:15 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.[32] The Johnson City Transit Center, located downtown on West Market Street, also serves as the transfer point for Greyhound lines running through the city. JCT operates the BucShot, a system serving the greater ETSU campus.


Colleges and universities

East Tennessee State University has around 16,000 students in addition to a K-12 University School, a laboratory school of about 540 students.[33] University School was the first laboratory school in the nation to adopt a year-round academic schedule.[34]

Milligan College is located just outside the city limits in Carter County, and has about 1,200 students in undergraduate and graduate programs.

Northeast State Community College is renovating a building in downtown Johnson City for use as a new satellite teaching site.[35]

Tusculum College and ITT Technical Institute have centers on the north side of Johnson City in the Boones Creek area.

Johnson City School System

Elementary schools

  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Fairmont Elementary
  • Lake Ridge Elementary
  • Mt. View Elementary
  • North Side Elementary
  • South Side Elementary
  • Towne Acres Elementary
  • Woodland Elementary

Intermediate schools

  • Indian Trail Intermediate School

Middle schools

  • Liberty Bell Middle School

High schools

Private schools

  • Ashley Academy (PreK-8)
  • St. Mary's (K-8)
  • Providence Academy (K-12)
  • Tri-Cities Christian Schools (PreK-12)


Mountain Dew traces its origins to the city.

Johnson City is an economic hub largely fueled by East Tennessee State University and the medical "Med-Tech" corridor,[15] anchored by the Johnson City Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital, ETSU's Gatton College of Pharmacy and ETSU's Quillen College of Medicine.

Johnson City is ranked #35 "Best Small Place for Business and Careers" in the USA.[7] Due to its climate, high quality health care and affordable housing, it is ranked #8 "Best Place for African Americans to Retire" by Black Enterprise magazine.[36] Kiplinger ranked Johnson City #5 in "The 10 Least-Expensive Cities For Living in the U.S.A.", stating the low cost of living is attributed to affordable homes and below-average utility, transportation and health-care costs.[8]

The popular citrus soda, Mountain Dew, traces its origins to Johnson City. In July 2012, PepsiCo announced that a new, malt-flavored version of the drink will be named Mountain Dew Johnson City Gold, in honor of the city. The drink will be test marketed in the Chicago metropolitan area, Denver, and Charlotte, beginning in late August.[37]

Major companies headquartered in Johnson City

  • American Water Heater Company (owned by A.O. Smith Corp.)
  • Advanced Call Center Technologies
  • Cantech Industries
  • General Shale Brick LLC
  • Mullican Flooring
  • NN, Inc.
  • TPI Corporation
  • Moody Dunbar, Inc.
Top employers in Johnson City[38]
Mountain States Health Alliance 3541
East Tennessee State University 1990
Citi Commerce Solutions 1700
Washington County School System 1275
James H. Quillen VA Medical Center 1259
American Water Heater Company 1194
AT&T Mobility (formerly Cingular) 1000


Johnson City serves as a regional medical center for northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia, along with parts of western North Carolina and southeastern Kentucky. Although there are two major hospital systems in the Tri-Cities, only one – Mountain States Health Alliance – has a presence in Johnson City.

The Johnson City Medical Center, designated a Level 1 Trauma Center[39] by the State of Tennessee, is MSHA's flagship institution. Also affiliated with the center are the Niswonger Children's Hospital, a domestic affiliate of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital[40] and Woodridge Hospital, a mental health and chemical dependency facility.

Franklin Woods Community Hospital is a LEED-certified facility located in North Johnson City.[41] The "green" hospital (opened July 12, 2010) encloses approximately 240,000 square feet (22,000 m2) on a 25-acre (100,000 m2) lot adjacent to The Wellness Center inside MedTech Park. The hospital has 80 licensed beds and a 22-room Emergency Department. Of the licensed beds, 20 are dedicated to Women’s and Children’s Services.

The James H. & Cecile C. Quillen Rehabilitation Hospital, also located in North Johnson City, serves patients who have suffered debilitating trauma, including stroke and brain-spine injuries.

Additionally, the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center, located in the Mountain Home community in Johnson City's southside, serves veterans in the four-state region. The center is closely involved with the East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine.


Monument of Chief Junaluska in Metro-Kiwanis Park, Johnson City


The Hands On! Museum, located in downtown Johnson City, houses an interactive gallery of exhibits and is a local favorite for school field trips.

The corporate headquarters of General Shale Brick, between North Johnson City and Boones Creek, is home to a museum that showcases a collection of historically significant bricks including a 10,000-year-old specimen from the ancient city of Jericho.[42]

The Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site is located in the south of the city. Along with a museum and education center, there are eleven other buildings on-site dedicated to preserving and sharing traditional Appalachian farming and craft methods.[43] The site hosts the Bluegrass and Sorghum Making Festival every year, as well as other events during holidays and in the summer.


The Little Chicago Blues Festival is an annual celebration of the legendary Prohibition-era speakeasies and railroad glory days of Johnson City. The festival is housed in the historic Down Home, a regional hub for Americana and bluegrass music performance. The event is a fundraiser for WETS-FM, the local NPR affiliate.

The Umoja Unity Festival is held annually in downtown Johnson City. Initiated in 1978, Umoja, a Swahili word meaning "unity", is a festival that spotlights the diverse societies of Johnson City, with an emphasis on African-American and Latino cultures. The downtown celebration includes musical performance as well as food and craft vendors.[44]

The Blue Plum Festival is a paid music festival held outdoors in Founder's Park near the downtown area. Many regionally and nationally acclaimed musical artists perform each year, mostly from the bluegrass, folk and Americana genres. The Blue Plum Festival is also known for hosting a beer drinking event called the Blue Hop Brew-Haha. The Blue Plum Animation Festival is held in conjunction with the main festival and East Tennessee State University.

Each month the downtown shopping district of Johnson City is home to "First Friday", a growing art and music festival. First Friday began as an event at Nelson Fine Art for introducing new artists to the public and has grown to include much of downtown. It features restaurant specials, gallery receptions and shopping specials.


As a regional hub for a four-state area, Johnson City is home to a large variety of retail business, from well-known national chains to local boutiques and galleries.

The Mall at Johnson City is the city's only enclosed shopping mall. California-based Forever 21 opened a XXI Forever flagship store in the mall's upper level, and Express opened in late 2010. The nearby Target Center houses Target, T.J.Maxx, Books-A-Million, and Pier One.

Much of the new retail development is located in North Johnson City, along State of Franklin Road. Johnson City Crossings is the largest of these developments. On the other side of the highway are retailers Kohl's, Lowe's, Sam's Club and Barnes & Noble.

Downtown Johnson City is seeing an increased retail presence, including art galleries, boutiques, and antique sellers. Long-standing businesses include Main Street Antiques and Mercantile, Campbell's Morrell Music, Atomik Comiks, Nelson Fine Art and Masengill's Specialty Shop. Downtown has recently become home to Asheville-based restaurant Tupelo Honey Cafe.[45]

Local media

Online is the online portal of the local television station and rebroadcasts many show segments for free online.

SaveRightNow, Tri-Cities Daily Deals was the first daily deal site established in East Tennessee and has over 50,000 locals subscribers.

ShopLocal Tri-Cities is a business organization founded in Johnson City that promotes local businesses and promotes keeping money local.



WJHL-TV is a CBS affiliate licensed in Johnson City. The station's DT2 subchannel serves as an affiliate of ABC. The city is part of the Tri-Cities Designated Market Area, which also comprises WCYB-TV in Bristol, VA (NBC; CW on DT2), WEMT in Greeneville (Fox), WETP-TV in Sneedville (PBS) and WKPT-TV in Kingsport (MyNetworkTV).


Johnson City is part of the Johnson City-Kingsport, Bristol Arbitron radio market. WETS-FM 89.5 FM, located on the campus of East Tennessee State University, is the region's NPR affiliate and the Tri-Cities' first HD radio service. WJCW 910 AM and WQUT 101.5 FM are Cumulus Media stations which are also licensed in Johnson City. The EDGE is a non-broadcasting student-run radio station at East Tennessee State University.[46]

Points of interest

  • Greater Johnson City, by Ray Stahl, 1986.
  • A History of Johnson City, Tennessee and its Environs, by Samuel Cole Williams, 1940.
  • History of Washington County, Tennessee, by Joyce and Gene Cox, Editors, 2001.
  • Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman, by Bob L. Cox, University of Tennessee Press, 2007.
  • The Railroads of Johnson City, by Johnny Graybeal, Tar Heel Press, 2007.